15 July 2011

Namibia: Immanuel Shifidi - a Martyr of the Namibian Revolution

The name Immanuel Shifidi is indelible in the history of Namibia's struggle against apartheid-colonialism. Together with Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo, Eliaser Tuhadeleni (aka Kaxumba kaNdola), Wilhelm Shinima shaNiilenge.

Together with John Otto Nankudhu and many others, Immanuel Shifidi was arrested by the apartheid South African security apparatus in the wake of the Omugulugwombashe battle between PLAN (then SWALA) Combatants and the South African enemy forces on August 26, 1966. They were taken to Pretoria where they were tried for having allegedly committed treason against the state.

Originally from Endola, today's Ohangwena Region, Immanuel Shifidi's political career with SWAPO started in 1960.

In that same year, he was appointed SWAPO Branch Coordinator for Walvis Bay. When his contract work expired, he continued with his political activities and was arrested and detained several times by traditional authorities who were opposed to his ideas about the same-slave contract labour system and the quest for independence of Namibia.

When the late hero, John Otto Nankudhu G1-led commandos of six combatants arrived in mid August 1965 at Endola, Immanuel Shifidi and Kaxumba kaNdola were among the first they recruited into PLAN (then SWALA) for military and political training. Thus, Immanuel Shifidi underwent military training between 1965 and 1966.

He was actively involved in setting up military camps at Otamanzi, Uuvudhiya, named oShago shongobe and Omutse goMenye and then finally at Omugulugwombashe where the first historic battle against apartheid colonialism was fought.

In January 1967, Immanuel Shifidi, who was still at large, related the Omugulugwombashe Battle to Meme Justina Amwaalwa and others when he was given cover in that house (see Tears of Courage, Ellen Namhila :93-113).

Immanuel Shifidi related that the attack on the camp happened at a difficult time of the struggle because as recruits they did not have enough weapons compared to those that the South African enemy had.

And that they were still waiting for weapons to arrive from Tanzania. But the comrades who had guns with them did the best to defend the Omugulugwombashe camp and to put off the enemy fire.

The enemy even had helicopters at their disposal and that gave them air superiority, as they would bomb at the freedom fighters' position at will.

It was on this account that Commander John Otto Nankudhu ordered his men to retreat.

While in the group of Simeon Shixungileni (aka Kambo), Immanuel Shifidi escaped by crawling under thorny barricade and hiding there until the enemy forces had left the scene. From the battlefield and with a bag of pistol ammunition, Immanuel Shifidi evaded capture until he reached the village of Okaku at a homestead of Tate Johannes Amwaalwa and his wife, Justina where he was given patriotic sanctuary for one week.

He later left but came back after a two-week absence and stayed again with the Amwaalwas at Okaku and this time staying longer as they prepared a hiding trench for him in the vicinity of the homestead and the mahangu thorn barricade (ngumbu, ongubu).

It was because of the intense search of the South African police, sometimes with aeroplanes flying over the homestead, that Immanuel Shifidi decided to flee the area into exile via Okongo and then Angola.

One day, towards the end of February, he gave the bag of ammunition to the Amwaalwa couple with instructions to hide it and he left for the village of Okongo, where he intended to flee into Angola, but was betrayed to the police by a man he thought to be his trusted friend.

Upon his arrest, he was severely beaten until he lost consciousness.

Upon regaining consciousness, they loaded him in the helicopter and flew up and down with threats that he was going to be thrown out of the flying helicopter.

This was done for him to reveal the place where he hid the bag of ammunition, which the police got wind of from the informer who betrayed him at Okongo.

After this ordeal, Immanuel Shifidi was imprisoned and tried in the famous Pretoria Terrorism Trial, together with many other freedom fighters who were directly or indirectly linked to the Omugulugwombashe attack, (Operation Blouwildebees as the South African enemy forces called it).

Just like many of his comrades, Immanuel Shifidi was sentenced to death but due to international pressure the sentences was reduced to life imprisonment at Robben Island. Only in the mid 1980s while in his early 50s was he released after spending 18 years on Robben Island. Upon his release from Robben Island prison, Immanuel Shifidi went to live with his daughter, Hilda, a nurse, who had built an extra room onto her home in Katutura.

It was considered too dangerous to return to Owamboland, where the killer police, "Koevoet", operated without restraint.

In Windhoek, Shifidi, like his former Robben Island comrades, could not find a job.

He worked for the Council of Churches in Namibia welfare scheme, which ran sewing, gardening and other projects.

Not deterred by the many years he spent in jail, during his brief freedom, Shifidi was often in court comforting relatives during political trials. However, Immanuel Shifidi was stabbed to death on Sunday, November 30, 1986 during a SWAPO rally marking the United Nations International Year of Peace.

He sat down close to the stage when the disguised members of the then Ondangua 101 Battalion arrived in a minibus adorned in SWAPO T-shirts pretending to be SWAPO members.

Later, havoc was created by this group and in the middle of the chaos, Immanuel Shifidi was stabbed with the clear intention to assassinate him.

The fact that the trial of the suspects who were identified to be his killers was halted and thrown out of court at the direct instigation of apartheid South Africa's state president, P.W. Botha, speaks volumes about where the order to assassinate Immanuel Shifidi came from.

Immanuel Hafeni Augustus Shifidi was born in Windhoek on July 16, 1929. He went to the Endola St Mary's Mission School in the Ohangwena Region.

He matriculated while in Prison at Robben Island. He was married to Sara Nathanael and had four children.

Today, a senior secondary school in Katutura is named in honour of Immanuel Shifidi.

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