Maxton K. Shitilifa
When the Swapo leadership came together in Tanzania in the early 1960s to strategise and send a clear message to the South African regime of the Namibian people’s determination to liberate their motherland through the barrel of a gun, that coming together resolved that the first Swapo comrade be sent to Cairo-Egypt for military training.
The group of six left Tanzania in 1961, led by Tobias Hainyeko. The group returned in 1963.
Military training started in Kongwa, Tanzania, in early 1964 and Swapo formed a military wing named South West African Liberation Army (SWALA) in 1964 and by 1965 SWALA dispatched a group of few combatants back inside Namibia, led by John Otto Nankudhu, to mobilise and recruit new fighters.
Their mission was successful and on 26 August 1966 the war of national liberation began at Omugulugwombashe in northern Namibia.
Swapo by then had the full backing of the President of Tanzania Julius Nyerere and his Zambian counterpart Kenneth Kaunda.
It was difficult to wage a guerilla war from Tanzania considering the distance to reach Namibia. It was then decided with the blessings from UNIP leadership under President Kaunda to operate from Zambia, preferably the Western Province of the country.
The Western Province of Zambia stretches from Kalabo, a town bordering Angola/Zambia to Sesheke/Singalamwe towns, bordering Angola/Zambia/Namibia along the Cuando River.
It’s against this background that SWALA leadership, led by legendary commander Tobias Hainyeko, arrived at a village called Litambya in Senanga district of the Western Province of Zambia. In the late 1960s they approached Mwenelumbala Kanjonja, the village headman, for accommodation after convincing him that they will pay rent every month. He gave out his big shop to them.
The first group that arrived in Senanga had more or less nothing to support their stay in this foreign country. They solely depended on the support of the villagers for food. They could not even afford to pay rent for the shop, which they turned into an accommodation house. They named it Freedom House. Fortunately people understood their cause and supported their efforts.
Among these people were the likes of Hamutenya Ndadi, McNamara, Titus Mwailepeni, Jesus Hawala, Hamunyela wa Shalele, Hamutenya Nandenga-Zulu, etc.
The numbers started to soar every year and by 1970 Senanga had become a second home to many Namibians who left their motherland to take part in the war of national liberation.
After Swapo reaffirmed its support for the armed struggle on the 31st December 1969 at a party consultative congress held in Tanga, by then Swapo was restructured with the name SWALA changed to the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
Freedom House in Senanga became the commanding headquarters from where fighters were dispatched when entering Namibia through the Caprivi Strip and even after the establishment of the operational front known as the Eastern Front. All supplies from Lusaka to the front, such as Kaungamashi, passed through Senanga.
By 1972 Freedom House in Senanga was full of PLAN soldiers, among them Hanganee Katjipuka, Jonas Haiduwa, David Mbango, Alfonso Ngeama, Kambwela KaNdafenogo, Dimo Hamaambo, Fredrick Matongo, Greenwell Matongo, Elias Haulyondjamba, Mbulunganga, Zulu, Nakada and many undocumented heroes of the Namibian revolution.
The 100 PLAN volunteers that were dispatched to Angola in 1973 went through Senanga.
The year 1974 became very important in Swapo history because thousands of young Namibian men and women streamed out of the country through Angola, travelling through towns such as Kalabo, Mongu via Senanga before arriving at Shatotwa base in Shagombo district and interestingly all the supply from Lusaka to Shatotwa passed through Senanga.
After the enemy noticed a huge presence of guerilla fighters in the Western Province of Zambia in 1976 the Shatotwa base was attacked. After the attack PLAN established different posts around Senanga and women and children were moved to Lusaka and Nyango in Kaoma district.
Senanga continues to be a very important area in the history of the Namibian people.
In 1977 Swapo held its second congress, which was held in Senanga, and this gathering brought together many Swapo leaders to Senanga again.
Nevertheless the South African soldiers through their air force continued to bomb places suspected to be PLAN hideouts, in the end destroying and killing many civilians, especially the constant bombing of the Kalongola ferry, the only form of transport that could make possible the crossing of the Zambezi River when trying to get to Caprivi from Senanga.
This situation of constant bombing put the Zambian government under pressure from even some UNIP members for allowing military activities in Zambia, but President Kaunda persisted in supporting the Namibian people, even at the expense of destruction from the South African air force, which caused heavy damages to the government in the Western Province of Zambia from 1976 to 1979
By 1980 the Eastern Front was officially closed, meaning all PLAN military activities had shifted to Angola. It’s unfortunate that Senanga remains an unknown name to the young generation because all Swapo activities had shifted to Angola.