Face to face with Koevoet after an all night exchange of firepower, followed by a high speed desert chase, People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan) fighter Comrade Denga acted on instinct and adrenalin.
With no time to consider his own safety, bleeding profusely from a wound he had sustained from the shrapnel of a 60mm mortar, he lay still inside a bush, writhing in pain, eyes blurry as this koevoet member kept advancing.
“From the moment I saw him advancing towards the shrub that provided my cover, I began counting his steps. I figured that at the count of 12, he would be close enough for my comfort, so I readied my weapon,” he recounts.
From a distance, a helicopter had landed near the Onethindi bridge, members of the South African Defence Forces were loading the casualties of the previous night’s battle while another group was searching the nearby terrain where Denga lay dying; only that one of the Afrikaner soldiers was advancing towards this Plan guerrilla.
Comrade Denga had been left scared by the previous night’s battle and he had advised his fellow comrades to leave him behind to avoid slowing them down as they retreated after an ambush.
Rewind to the night before, at around midnight, a group of 25 guerrillas led by Comrade Johnny Walker Eenhana aka John Kahepulo swiftly moved into Onethindi to bomb and destroy the bridge that supplied the Koevoet.
Little did they know they were walking into an ambush.
“Being the second in charge, I took Comrade Kambwa and Comrade Abisai with me and headed north to scan our surroundings and provide cover for the explosives team that was busy working on the bridge,” narrates Denga, also known as Comrade Nandemupa in other regions where he operated during Namibia’s struggle for independence.
In the cover of darkness, another reconnaissance team of three led by Comrade Aaron Niilonga, headed south of the bridge. No sooner had Denga and his team found a perfect spot than a loud commanding voice barked; “Hold!”
In a flash, Denga who was in front swiftly swung his already cocked AK47 and fired in the direction of the voice. Even a debutant fighter did not need training to detect the ‘enemy’ voice from a cough.
“I suspect they were not ready to respond to our fire because they thought being three, they could easily apprehend us.”
Alas, the Koevoet had miscalculated. The three guerrillas were not ready to die yet. A massive exchange of fire soon occurred. By the time the team that had gone to recon the south of the bridge returned to report that they had seen the ‘Boers’ but had not fired at them, Commander Eenhana had heard the gun fight from the north of the bridge and ordered his comrades to retaliate to the south.
“They must have expected us to fight pulling back towards the bridge to join them escape by fighting through the ‘Boers’ in the south of the bridge. But from our position, we could not retreat, the terrain was too plain and we risked getting shot. So the three of us fought bravely and were encouraged by the sound of gun fight on the other side of the bridge.”
A barrage of guerrilla gunfire opened from behind as the main group of 22 fought its way out of the trap, leaving the trio isolated.
Like a rat which eats its way out of a trap, they pretended to be dead by ceasing fire. And the apartheid forces would blunder by advancing towards the guerrillas. Within five feet, all hell broke loose.
“We fired while advancing towards them. They could not turn back; all they could do was hide, which gave us an opportunity to run for dear life,” he relates.
But running for dear life meant giving their backs to the enemy. By this time, the Koevoet platoon at the south started firing the 60mm mortar towards the fleeing guerrillas, up north.
The louder the ‘swoosh swoosh’ sound, the closer to you the mortar was going to hit.
A few mortar bombs rained but missed the three. It was one that sounded like lightening that struck the ground next to Denga, with a very loud ear-splitting crack and a percussion airwave that threw him over.
In a split second, a grey cloud of dust engulfed the night around Denga and debris flew everywhere. Some pierced his right leg, cutting him deep under the thigh, the others landed on his waist area.
As he lay inside that shrub the following morning counting the Boer’s steps getting closer.... 5... 6... 7...he realised the sharp crack of landing mortars had deafened him. He could see the advancing Boer but not hear the footsteps.
When the ‘Boer’ reached step-count ten, Denga tightened the grip of his magazine, positioned his weapon without blinking away from the advancing enemy.
“Somehow, as he reached my target mark, he turned a little towards the west after being signalled back. It was a relief. As soon as they were out of sight, I crawled into the hands of one old woman who nursed me,” exclaims Denga.
Later that day, the 25 year-old was cycled back to Oniihua where he joined the rest of his group; he was immediately transferred to Oukango Assembly Point. The intensity of his injuries landed him in Angola at a hospital headed by Utoni Nujoma. Later they transferred him to Peter Nanyemba Military Hospital where the shrapnel was removed.
“There is still one comrade that we do not know what happened to him that night. We have never heard of him ever since,” he says.
But it was only afterwards that the full significance of his heroics became clear. His prey turned out to be one of the highest casualties inflected on koevoet in terms of injuries.
A year later in 1983, he found himself in Zambia at the UN Institute where he graduated in Development Studies in Management in 1986. Before returning home in 1989, he became a member of the editorial board of ‘The Combatant’, a Plan publication working with the likes of Asser Ntinda, Garry Munyama, the late Chris Ulenga and Fanuel Kadunge. By now he was called Comrade Vladmir.
Because he had been a political commissar during the struggle, at independence, Daniel Kashikola was assigned to establish a Swapo Election Sub Centre in Okongo.
From that lucky escape in 1982 to numerous other battles where he diced with death, Kashikola is now the Chief Regional Officer (CRO) of Ohangwena Region. Ohangwena Region is one of Namibia’s fastest growing regions having transformed in a short space of time from being 100% rural to having two proclaimed towns and three soon-to-be proclaimed settlements (Okongo, Ongenga and Ongwelume).
“At independence this region was a war zone. Our regional capital Eenhana was a village with only a military base and a mission hospital. When we started in 1993, my predecessors had to drive to Ondangwa, 100km away, for telephone and fax services. I arrived here in 1996 from Rundu and there were only three brick structures at Eenhana, that’s the Haimbili Haufiku Secondary School, the primary school and the building for the traditional authority. Everything else was corrugated iron, and there was only one road,” he says.
When things started taking shape in 1998 as the town planning was nearing completion, the challenge of proper communication infrastructure remained higher.
“All the roads were gravel which made public transport a challenge, there was no water infrastructure, only Eenhana, Ondobe and Ohangwena had electricity. Today, almost all the growth points in the region, the schools and other major centres now have power, 78% of the region now has access to clean water. At the completion of phase six at Ondobe and Omnonga constituencies then 85% of the region will have clean water, hopefully by the end of the year. The biggest obstacle is access to major centres because most of the roads need to be expanded first. Lack of access through roads will affect health, education and other social services. Currently we have very well tarred main roads but these only connect the towns, they do not get to where the people are deep in the reserves.”
Health is still a major challenge, the region currently has only three district hospitals in Eenhana, Okongo and Enghela and those in the rural areas still foot long distances to access the nearest clinics. For a region with the biggest scars of the liberation struggle and the highest number of war veterans, those physically challenged and the elderly, Ohangwena’s health systems remain a far cry and gives the CRO sleepless nights.
Kashikola notes with concern with growing learning population in the region. Currently Ohangwena has the highest enrolment in the country, with over 90 000 learners each year. The introduction of free education is expected to increase the enrolment figures extremely.
“We have 243 schools in the region but we have a backlog of 300 classrooms. Until now, we have had 330 classes taught under trees or corrugated iron sheets. Over the last three financial years, we managed to construct, 70 new classroom blocks, and this year we should be done with 14 classrooms. One should note the difference between classroom and classroom blocks,” he says.
According to Kashikola there is an urgent need for central government to provide all the services to the regions.
“Things are now happening in our regions but at times the bureaucracy delays the process of development at regional level. The aim of decentralisation was to cut the red tape. There are a lot of people that want to settle in our towns and they apply for business or residential plots, but then there is no serviced land. In Okongo alone, we have a list of 1500 people that have applied for plots. We have delays in proclamations, all which delay progress.’
But for someone who sacrificed his all for the motherland when he crossed into Angola in 1976 at the age 19, the efforts of the struggle are starting to bear fruits. PF