23 August 2013

Namibia: Women Also Endured Colonial Torture

Windhoek — Countless tales are told of the liberation struggle, which won Namibia its independence from South Africa. We know of the heroes who fought bravely against the colonial forces, but what about the women who stayed behind in the villages and who fell victim to the South African soldiers because of their support for the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) combatants?

One such a brave woman who endured police brutality during the dark days of the liberation struggle was Lahia Ndagwedha Iyambo, sister to the late legendary and inspirational hero Patrick Israel 'Lungada' Iyambo.

She was detained several times for being a Swapo supporter between 1966 and 1972.

"Some of you are saying women did little during the liberation struggle. As a woman, I endured atrocities at the hands of South African soldiers. I suffered," Iyambo told a Nampa team at her home at Okahao in Omusati.

She recalled how she was detained several times just because of her support for the then liberation movement.

"I was detained because I was feeding the PLAN combatants and specifically detained for being Patrick's sister," she said.

'Lungada' was amongst the first group of Swapo combatants. "They hated Patrick and they were desperately looking for him," she noted, adding that while she was being detained by the soldiers, he had to endure hunger and thirst in the forest.

"We invented a tactic whereby I or my children would put a stone on top of a specific pole in the field to warn Patrick when I was detained," Iyambo remembered.

When the stone was on top of the pole, Lungada knew he had to immediately go back to the forest because it meant his sister had been detained. If the stone was not on the pole, he could come home.

The children were however never really told what the true purpose of the stone and pole were.

Children being inquisitive by nature, they always questioned Iyambo about the objects, and for fear of having the tactic accidentally revealed, she had to make up a story to ensure that they would always remember to put the stone on top of the pole when needed.

"I warned them that if they do not put the stone on the pole, they will receive my dead body," she said.

Things got worse when Patrick shot and killed a policeman in 1968.

"I was detained many times at the Baobab Tree at Okahao," Iyambo said. At the tree, the South African troops would torture and hang Swapo supporters.

The National Heritage Council of Namibia declared the tree a national heritage site in September 2011.

The 89-year-old Iyambo recalled how electric shocks were used to torture her at the tree.

"Electrical wires were attached to my little fingers and little toes with clamps, and it was switched on and off. They also tied a rope around my neck which tied onto a metal hook attached to the tree," she said, adding that most of the time they were naked when they were hung from the tree.

"All this happened just because they could not trace or find Patrick," she narrated.

By that time, Lungada had been hiding very deep inside the forest, but they devised a method whereby she could find him in order to give him something to eat.

"Because I did not know where exactly Patrick was located in the forest, when I took food to him I would start singing a hymn and when he heard me singing, he would start whistling. That is how we managed to feed him in the forest," she recollected.

She said they continued to use this method until Lungada fled into exile in 1972. His absence however did not mean Iyambo's troubles were over.

"The torture and atrocities towards me continued," she noted. Lungada was also amongst the group which engaged the South African Defence Force (SADF) on August 26 1966, the day, which has since come to be known as Heroes Day.

This was when the South African security police led by a 'Captain Swanepoel', and guided by a certain 'Castoli', attacked the Omugulugwombashe military base during a surprise attack using helicopters.

It was during this battle that the torch of the armed liberation struggle was lit until the final victory was achieved on March 21 1990 after a long and protracted war, which culminated in the epic battle of Cuito Cuanavale, ushering in Namibia's independence.

Lungada passed away in Windhoek on July 25 1991, shortly after the country he fought for gained her independence.

Namibia will commemorate the 47th Heroes Day on Monday (August 26).


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