As Namibia commemorated Cassinga Day yesterday some of the survivors of 39 years ago, when racist South African troops attacked Cassinga refugee camp in Angola, said they are still filled with vivid memories of the loss of lives, injuries and emotional trauma suffered on that fateful day.
May 4, 1978 was the darkest day in the liberation struggle, when hundreds of unarmed Namibian refugees were massacred in cold-blood by South African troops at Cassinga in southern Angola.
The camp hosted a total of 3 068 people including 500 children under the age of 14 years, women and the elderly.
Out of the 3 068 people, 300 children, 294 women and 165 men were slaughtered in an attack that left 200 missing, bringing the total number of dead to 959, while 464 were wounded and 200 taken prisoner.
In commemoration of Cassinga Day yesterday many people, including some of the survivors, gathered at the UN Plaza in Katutura where survivors gave a collective account of that day in 1978.
The Khomas regional governor, Laura McLeod-Katjirua, who officially addressed the crowd at UN Plaza after laying a wreath at Heroes Acre, said the blood of Namibian sons and daughters that was shed at Cassinga remains a stain on the hands and conscience of the perpetrators of that heinous crime, as well as those who supplied them with arms and protected and condoned such naked aggression.
“During the difficult time, and in the aftermath of the Cassinga Day massacre, we were consoled by friendly help and assistance rendered to us by the revolutionary people of Cuba, under the leadership of the late Fidel Castro Ruz and other friendly states, as well as other revolutionary leaders across the world,” she noted.
According to her, the people of Namibia will forever remain thankful and indebted to the people of the world for the solidarity and assistance they rendered to Namibia during the difficult years of the liberation struggle for freedom and national independence.
She said Cassinga Day should also be a day for Namibians to reflect and understand that independence came at a high price and should never be taken for granted.
Additionally, she noted, the Cassinga Day experience should serve as a lesson for the young generation to study, learn and work hard to ensure the economic freedom and prosperity of Namibia.
“As we commemorate the heroes and heroines of our independence, let us recommit to hard work and perseverance. We must reverse this drastic and tragic situation of poverty, unemployment, hunger, diseases and ignorance by recommitting to nation-building at all times. Let us dedicate ourselves to honour our fallen heroes and heroines by uniting as one people, one Namibia, one Nation, in the spirit of Harambee to build a Namibian House worthy of their struggle,” she implored.
Cassinga survivor Vahongaifa Mwanyekange, who spoke on behalf of other survivors, said the sacrifices of those who lost their lives during the Cassinga and Vietnam massacres and in other battles during the dark years of the struggle for the liberation of Namibia, shall never be forgotten.
He said although many years have passed, the Cassinga massacre is something that will remain in their memories for as long as they live.
“Today, 4th May, Thursday marks an ‘historic’, as it fall exactly on the same day of the week like in 1978, 39 years ago. We the survivors vividly recall that fateful morning of 4th May 1978. Around 08h00, we were gathered at the morning assembly to receive information on our daily assignments in the camp when the racist South African troops attacked us with Buccaneers, jet fighters and helicopters, cold-bloodedly killing and maiming our defenceless innocent people, mostly children, women and elderly whose only crime was to want freedom,” he recalled.
Further, the survivors said the bombing was followed by South African paratroops who stormed the camp to complete the massacre, whereby the wounded were finished off with bayonets, and those who survived aircraft bombings and artillery were all shot dead on site.
Last year, about 300 Namibians mainly the survivors of Cassinga and Vietnam/Tshetekela, commemorated the day at Cassinga sites in Angola for the first time, marking the beginning of the planned yearly commemoration at Cassinga.
The survivors thanked the Namibian and Angolan governments for making that possible by providing support and logistics.
They said the idea is to pay respects to the fallen heroes and heroines. It was an emotional occasion for many because most of them had never gone back to Cassinga since the attack in 1978.
The survivors extended a special invitation to all Namibians to join them in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Cassinga massacre on May 4 next year in Cassinga.