She escaped death by a whisker

By Sibangani Dube
September 2013
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The 1970s atmosphere was a highly politically-charged one, engulfing the young, the old and the professionals alike. And Veico Hangapo (nee Nakathingo) remembers a lot of her teachers quitting their professions to join the liberation struggle.


Today, she forms part of the long list of some of our unsung heroines whose blood, sweat and tears watered our freedom.


At a very distinct moment, the pressure became too much to bear for the then 15-year-old, Standard Six (Grade Eight) learner, as well as for others around her, who later left the country to face the enemy. She would join the band-wagon, putting her life, her education and her future on the line.


At the time, the main agenda of the unsettled atmosphere was unclear but her decision to leave the country would be aggravated when she found herself on the receiving end. Her father, who was then a very active Swapo member, had fallout with a certain Ongandjera King, which led to the King  accidental death.


This accident would play itself the wrong way in political hands, leaving Swapo and the colonial regime feeling Hangapo’s father had deliberately eliminated “their King”.


What followed was Hangapo’s father’s kith and kin succumbing to the colonial forces’ total surveillance. This state of affairs would lead to psychological torture for her family. She eventually felt enough was enough.


Through careful planning, they soon reached southern Angola, not knowing where to from their alighting point. Fortunately, the late Sam Shivute received them and then enlightened them on how to carry themselves henceforth. Since the enemy was always aware there were people crossing into Angola, it was always ready to stop them in their tracks.


She recalls how cadres such as the late Uno Kanana and David Shimwino helped them overcome their initial hurdles.


Their ultimate plan was to go to Zambia for better education but before that, they would have to pass through Ondjiva; the reception area for all who had come from whichever corner of the country.


Since getting to Lusaka, Zambia, was either by bus or train, they opted for the latter, which took them from Villa de Pondo to Selpa-Pinto. From there, there was no transport to Kasapa, and then to Zambia. To make matters worse, they did not know which direction Kasapa was from Selpa-Pinto. The only option at that point, was to walk a seven-day journey. As she recalls, some of her companions fell sick on the way, some got discouraged while others had to be carried on the backs of others to make it through the journey.


They finally arrived at their final destination; a very big camp called Cassapa. It was here that they met most of the PLAN commanders, such as Nakada, Shongambele, Ngilingili, Martin Shali and Vurunganga.


They would begin their guerrilla warfare training in April 1975. Four months later, Mozambique got its independence which meat that Angola’s independence was imminent


After her training, she would be selected, amongst others, to return home instead of going to Lusaka in Zambia. Along the way, they encountered a few skirmishes between União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) Unita and Frente Nacional de Liberatacio Angola (Fanla) but luckily they survived.


But their luck did not last long for when they reached Kwandu-Kubango, they found themselves under attack by UNITA, FNLA and the SADF. Some of their members were captured as others survived and regrouped. These unfortunate incidents did not dampen their spirits for nothing would deter them from reaching the border to confront the enemy head-on.


The course of 1975 saw the war get hotter and hotter at the border, with South African troops rallying solidly behind Unita and Fanla, making military operations rather dangerous for Hangapo and her colleagues.


Angola would soon attain its independence, thanks to Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola (People’s Armed Forces for Liberation of Angola)FAPLA with the help of Cuban forces.


In 1976, Hangapho was selected to attend military training in India together with others. Unfortunately, this dream did not materialise as she ended up at Cassinga and later at  the Tobias Hainyeko Training Centre from where  she was part of the first crop to graduate.


Following her graduation, she was appointed as the radio communications instructor, as well as the deputy chief of logistics and armoury at the THTC..


Seeing as there was no stopping her political dreams, she would get chance  in 1979 to further studies in the Soviet Union (now Russia) but she ended up in Romania instead where spent six months and a year in the then Soviet Union. Upon her return back to Lubango in 1980, she refused to settle at the Tobias Hainyeko Training Centre.


“I wanted to be at the warfront to fight, since I was trained to fight I had to do exactly that, fight, and not to stay in the camps at the same time I was losing my patience by remaining in the centres,” she highlights.


Her wishes would finally be granted. However, the enemy had then intensified the battle by strengthening both their aerial and ground forces in Southern Angola from the 1980s.


In one encounter as part of comrade William Amagulu, the then deputy political commissar of Plan and current permanent secretary in the Ministry of War Veteransled Unit. Hangapo fell victim of an aerial bombing, which left her badly wounded. This time Hangapo was the head (chairlady) of the female Plan combatant at the war front in Southern Angola.


She would then be put under the care of FAPLA for temporarily until she received proper treatment at a Plan medical camp at Omunghete. Because of her condition she had to undergo a surgical operation in Lubango at Peter Nanyemba Military Hospital in 1981.


Even while recuperating in Lubango, Angola, she never lost hope. As she was the one responsible Plan  female combatants in Southern Angola. Her role was to co-ordinate operations from the north-east, the north and the north-west while reporting to head quarters in Lubango.


In 1982, she would return to the defence head quarters to marry her husband, John Mwashimiwa Veico. Due do her new marital status, she was required to remain at the defence headquarters in Lubango until 1983 when she decided go back to a formal school after eight at the warfront.


Still, she lived in Lusaka from 1983 to 1986 after graduation she worked at the Swapo head quarters. In 1986, she got a scholarship to study in France.


While she was in upon her return in 1989, Hangapo enrolled once again at UNIN for a second diploma in public administration and international relations from 1988 to 1988. However she had to put her studies in preparation for the UN supervised elections. After the elections she went back to complete her studies.


After independence, she worked under the Ministry of Local Government Housing and Regional Development, in Keetmanshoop, Oshikoto and Ohangwena as a community liaison officer. She would later serve as the deputy director of fixed assets at the Ministry of Works and Transport where she still works.


While Namibia “enjoys” political independence, she is wary that not all is totally as it should be since the means of production are still in the hands of the minority.


“People need to understand what independence means, what it entails, what reconciliation means to all and how we can go about as nation”, she pleads.


From a community development perspective, she laments the lack of proper housing, poverty levels, inaccessible health services, not to mention proper education, with the Grade 10 failure rates being a case in point as “worrisome” aspects of this nation.


“Vocational training need to be increased, the Ministry of education and the outcomes from each one of them should be closely followed,” she advises.


She therefore puts the blame on “too much” freedom and perceived human rights, which have diminished parental control like before. She expressed concerned that the meaning of freedom and human rights has been taken out of proportion.


The country might have attained independence but one can always tell the deep-rooted pain in those who fought for it. In this regard, Hangapo says, “The issue of ex-fighters’ place in Namibia is a very sensitive one and it needs concerted efforts from both Government and spiritual leaders. The type of life we have gone through runs deep in our minds and souls.”


In the meantime, it’s Aluta Continuafor Hangapo the ardent freedom fighter, loyal Swapo party cadre and hard working civil servant. She has always put the interests of the nation first before her own, she submits. Moreover, she serves as a councilor in the City of Windhoek representing the Swapo party.


“Thus the life we have chosen!” She sighs, reflecting on a number of responsibilities she has to juggle with.  PF