DANGER ASHIPALA: Born a hero

Recently, Namibia mourned one of its great sons – a warrior whose death marked another sad chapter of the liberation struggle.

Ruben Ashipala, affectionately known as Danger, was born 63 years ago on 26 August, a day the armed struggle was to be launched in 1966 at Omugulugwombashe, and a fight that he joined eight years later.

While working in Walvis Bay, Danger’s early life typified his generation’s struggle for a meaningful livelihood under harsh colonial social conditions, both for education and employment. This saw him becoming increasingly conscious of the colonial injustices, which were endured by the majority of the black indigenous people in this country.

By 1974, the spirit of nationalism and the urge to correct the colonial injustices had imbued him and at 27, he became an activist.

The aim was to fight for freedom and independence of his country and people. At 27, Danger along with many others was dispatched to the USSR to undergo military training and, in particular, reconnaissance, a tough job indeed.

“Danger was a remarkable man, a man of high intellect and natural intelligence. He was a fearless and brave combatant who led by example. He was inspirational and a true, committed combatant of PLAN.

“Danger was driven by the love of his country and was always determined to see and ensure the freedom of his Motherland, which he did. He was tough and physically a strong man, an endowment he fully exploited. He was at times an intimidating figure which was his trademark and was one of those who wore beards in a revolutionary manifestation,” wrote General Martin Shalli in his obituary.

Shalli, Ashipala, Martin Nashandi and Charles Namoloh worked together in the formation of a Special PLAN Battalion later to be called Typhoon.

Added Shalli, “He was humble and possessed unequalled qualities, and persistent good sense of humour, regardless of his intimidating characters and statue. He shared a common vision of Namibia, a Namibia free from the shackles of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment, tribalism and regionalism, nepotism, corruption and many other such vices, for that he was a true patriot. Danger was the greatest reconciliator.

He made friends with his former enemies such as Johan van der Mescht, whom he invited to Namibia with his family recently. He took him to Elundu Water point where he captured him during the struggle. A film and a book in his memory are being prepared. He is a man who commanded immense respect and admiration from friends and foes alike.”

He became Chief of Reconnaissance of PLAN, responsible for attacking South African bases in north-central Namibia. And became famous for capturing Johan van der Mescht from the Elundu base in 1978.

Danger went on to serve as commander of Typhoon, which operated and caused havoc in the commercial parts of Namibia, then known as the Police Zone.

A career soldier, Ashipala also served as Plan regional commander for the north-eastern front and on the eve of independence, he was attested as a commander in the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) in 1990 as Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the 3rd Battalion.

Six years later, Ashipala founded and commanded Namibia Police’s Special Field Force unit.

He retired in 2007, but was talked out of retirement by the Namibian Police Force who recruited him as Senior Advisor to the Inspector-General of the Namibian police.

In Danger, Namibia lost an illustrious son of the soil, he died on 9 May this year while still attached to the office of the Inspector General. He is buried, as per his wish, next to his mother at their family home in Omaanda Village, west of Oshikuku.

Ashipala, six months before his death had invited Mescht back to the old Elundu base, an old South African Defence Forces base.
This is where Danger had captured Mescht at a waterhole on Sunday February 19, 1978 and taken him prisoner of war across the border into Angola where the SADF member spent four-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in the infamous Sao Paulo prison in Luanda.

Thirty one years later, Mescht, now 54, returned to the waterhole with his wife Cheryl and their two daughters, Chantal and Nadia, while his host invited Kamati-ka Elio, the other SWAPO guerrilla who was at Mescht’s capture, and one of his own sons.

The following conversation and events at the waterhole between Johan van der Mescht and Danger Ashipala were recorded by Rina Jooste from Full Circle Productions who is finishing the Ashipala-Mescht capture documentary film that is scheduled to be released early this year. Louis Bothma is busy writing the book.

“...It was around 04h00 that Sunday morning. Danger and his guerrilla soldiers approached the SADF tents close to the waterhole from the western side towards the handful of sleeping South African soldiers. It was 04h00, the moon had just set. ‘We could hear them snoring,’ Danger recounted last year. He then tapped with a stick on the butt of his AK 47, a signal to his men to get ready for the attack. He then threw a hand grenade towards the tent. It was chaos.

Kamati-ka Elio still remembers how Danger shouted: “Forward! Forward! Capture! Capture!”

“Johan van der Mescht was lying between the tent and the waterhole, wounded.

“I then picked him up and threw him over
my shoulder and moved him away. He was not as big as he is today.”

“We caught another one. A Big Boer. But
he didn’t want to walk. So we killed him,”
said Danger.

There were three SADF dead at that attack, Ferreira, Hunter and Bosch. Which one of the three was it? Suddenly an old man with a tattered overall jacket appears on the scene. He literally hugs Danger.

We stand around overwhelmed. “Who is he? Where does he suddenly come from ...?”

“It is Hosea Martin. We call him Shimbungu, which means wolf. He came from his kraal.” Danger points towards the west.

We listen to Danger telling us how he trained a group of chosen guerrillas, and how he used to spy around the area around the waterhole weeks before the time. Shimbungu provided him with food and water. His children admired this tall soldier with a bushy beard who was not afraid of the Boers. Suddenly they wanted to join the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), Swapo’s military wing.

“The Boers just started digging a hole in front of my kraal one day, as if it was their place,” says Shimbungu. The place is actually called Ehono, we hear.

Cheryl cannot keep her tears from flowing. Johan whispers something in her ear, a sacred moment with us as spectators.

Mescht was newlywed when he was captured. Chantal was only seven months old, Danger had been a boxer before the war and fathered 25 children in his 63-year lifetime, two of whom passed before him.

Danger relates how they had to assemble a stretcher to carry Johan. Then they moved south, west and eventually north towards the cut line (border) with him. Another group under the command of Haufiku returned on their old tracks towards the cut line and met with colonial 32 Battalion. Haufiku paid with his life. Yet another group that was supposed to attack Elundu base at the same time as the waterhole, never came into position. Things went wrong. But the main objective of the operation was achieved: to capture a white Boer alive. Not in Angola, but in South West Africa (Namibia)!

On the other side of the cut line, Johan is loaded onto a vehicle with Danger and taken to PLAN’s area headquarters at Ohaipeto. Everyone was ecstatic. Danger Ashipala was a hero.

Then to Cassinga. The final destination was Luanda, where Johan was incarcerated with the infamous “colonel” Callan’s mercenaries.

Later, Johan and Danger walk towards the waterhole alone. We can’t hear what they say. But when they turn around, they shake hands and Danger says to Johan: “We are friends now.” Just as Kitchener said to the Boers at the end of the Anglo-Boer War.

“Have you ever prayed in the bush?” I dare to ask.

“Yes, yes. We are Christians, just like you people. I prayed a lot,” says the police commissioner. He relates how he fought throughout the war; he was never caught. There were ransoms on his head. Women, even a family member, were sent out to betray him. Koevoet often showed photos of dead “terrorists” to his mother. “Here is Danger. We shot him.”

The bushes pass by. And I wonder about this man, Danger Ashipala, who reminds me of Jonas Savimbi. How will I describe him to the people at home? Swapo’s Danie Theron? Maybe a kind of Christiaan de Wet? Will anyone agree with me?

At the Eenhana police station, we are given a warm welcome by Commissioner A.K. Shivute and his workforce. But we have to answer uneasy questions.

Johan has to speak. Danger asks him: “Take off your goggles and cap and talk to the people.”

Johan turns to me. “What must I say?”

“Tell them what goes on in your heart; just that.”

“I am here because of the reconciliation between me and Danger. I believe your country is doing very well. It was not a nice war and I was no chief. The big chiefs stayed behind...”

Then the group of policemen and women sing a battle song for Johan. A song that Swapo still sings about Johan van der Mescht: There is no person on earth that doesn’t long for home. We want to go home. If the Boers don’t leave our country alone we will shoot them with our artillery. Like we shot them at Katima, and at Ruacana, and at Elundu where we caught Johan alive.

Johan walks to the vehicle. Time for a cold beer. He is not the hero. Danger Ashipala is. But Danger cannot be the hero without Johan.” PF

Recently, Namibia mourned one of its great sons – a warrior whose death marked another sad chapter of the liberation struggle.

Ruben Ashipala, affectionately known as Danger, was born 63 years ago on 26 August, a day the armed struggle was to be launched in 1966 at Omugulugwombashe, and a fight that he joined eight years later.

While working in Walvis Bay, Danger’s early life typified his generation’s struggle for a meaningful livelihood under harsh colonial social conditions, both for education and employment. This saw him becoming increasingly conscious of the colonial injustices, which were endured by the majority of the black indigenous people in this country.

By 1974, the spirit of nationalism and the urge to correct the colonial injustices had imbued him and at 27, he became an activist.

The aim was to fight for freedom and independence of his country and people. At 27, Danger along with many others was dispatched to the USSR to undergo military training and, in particular, reconnaissance, a tough job indeed.

“Danger was a remarkable man, a man of high intellect and natural intelligence. He was a fearless and brave combatant who led by example. He was inspirational and a true, committed combatant of PLAN.

“Danger was driven by the love of his country and was always determined to see and ensure the freedom of his Motherland, which he did. He was tough and physically a strong man, an endowment he fully exploited. He was at times an intimidating figure which was his trademark and was one of those who wore beards in a revolutionary manifestation,” wrote General Martin Shalli in his obituary.

Shalli, Ashipala, Martin Nashandi and Charles Namoloh worked together in the formation of a Special PLAN Battalion later to be called Typhoon.

Added Shalli, “He was humble and possessed unequalled qualities, and persistent good sense of humour, regardless of his intimidating characters and statue. He shared a common vision of Namibia, a Namibia free from the shackles of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment, tribalism and regionalism, nepotism, corruption and many other such vices, for that he was a true patriot. Danger was the greatest reconciliator.

He made friends with his former enemies such as Johan van der Mescht, whom he invited to Namibia with his family recently. He took him to Elundu Water point where he captured him during the struggle. A film and a book in his memory are being prepared. He is a man who commanded immense respect and admiration from friends and foes alike.”

He became Chief of Reconnaissance of PLAN, responsible for attacking South African bases in north-central Namibia. And became famous for capturing Johan van der Mescht from the Elundu base in 1978.

Danger went on to serve as commander of Typhoon, which operated and caused havoc in the commercial parts of Namibia, then known as the Police Zone.

A career soldier, Ashipala also served as Plan regional commander for the north-eastern front and on the eve of independence, he was attested as a commander in the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) in 1990 as Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the 3rd Battalion.

Six years later, Ashipala founded and commanded Namibia Police’s Special Field Force unit.

He retired in 2007, but was talked out of retirement by the Namibian Police Force who recruited him as Senior Advisor to the Inspector-General of the Namibian police.

In Danger, Namibia lost an illustrious son of the soil, he died on 9 May this year while still attached to the office of the Inspector General. He is buried, as per his wish, next to his mother at their family home in Omaanda Village, west of Oshikuku.

Ashipala, six months before his death had invited Mescht back to the old Elundu base, an old South African Defence Forces base.
This is where Danger had captured Mescht at a waterhole on Sunday February 19, 1978 and taken him prisoner of war across the border into Angola where the SADF member spent four-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in the infamous Sao Paulo prison in Luanda.

Thirty one years later, Mescht, now 54, returned to the waterhole with his wife Cheryl and their two daughters, Chantal and Nadia, while his host invited Kamati-ka Elio, the other SWAPO guerrilla who was at Mescht’s capture, and one of his own sons.

The following conversation and events at the waterhole between Johan van der Mescht and Danger Ashipala were recorded by Rina Jooste from Full Circle Productions who is finishing the Ashipala-Mescht capture documentary film that is scheduled to be released early this year. Louis Bothma is busy writing the book.

“...It was around 04h00 that Sunday morning. Danger and his guerrilla soldiers approached the SADF tents close to the waterhole from the western side towards the handful of sleeping South African soldiers. It was 04h00, the moon had just set. ‘We could hear them snoring,’ Danger recounted last year. He then tapped with a stick on the butt of his AK 47, a signal to his men to get ready for the attack. He then threw a hand grenade towards the tent. It was chaos.

Kamati-ka Elio still remembers how Danger shouted: “Forward! Forward! Capture! Capture!”

“Johan van der Mescht was lying between
the tent and the waterhole, wounded.

“I then picked him up and threw him over my shoulder and moved him away. He was not as big as he is today.”

“We caught another one. A Big Boer. But he didn’t want to walk. So we killed him,”
said Danger.

There were three SADF dead at that attack, Ferreira, Hunter and Bosch. Which one of the three was it? Suddenly an old man with a tattered overall jacket appears on the scene. He literally hugs Danger.

We stand around overwhelmed. “Who is he? Where does he suddenly come from ...?”

“It is Hosea Martin. We call him Shimbungu, which means wolf. He came from his kraal.” Danger points towards the west.

We listen to Danger telling us how he trained a group of chosen guerrillas, and how he used to spy around the area around the waterhole weeks before the time. Shimbungu provided him with food and water. His children admired this tall soldier with a bushy beard who was not afraid of the Boers. Suddenly they wanted to join the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), Swapo’s military wing.

“The Boers just started digging a hole in front of my kraal one day, as if it was their place,” says Shimbungu. The place is actually called Ehono, we hear.

Cheryl cannot keep her tears from flowing. Johan whispers something in her ear, a sacred moment with us as spectators.

Mescht was newlywed when he was captured. Chantal was only seven months old, Danger had been a boxer before the war and fathered 25 children in his 63-year lifetime, two of whom passed before him.

Danger relates how they had to assemble a stretcher to carry Johan. Then they moved south, west and eventually north towards the cut line (border) with him. Another group under the command of Haufiku returned on their old tracks towards the cut line and met with colonial 32 Battalion. Haufiku paid with his life. Yet another group that was supposed to attack Elundu base at the same time as the waterhole, never came into position. Things went wrong. But the main objective of the operation was achieved: to capture a white Boer alive. Not in Angola, but in South West Africa (Namibia)!

On the other side of the cut line, Johan is loaded onto a vehicle with Danger and taken to PLAN’s area headquarters at Ohaipeto. Everyone was ecstatic. Danger Ashipala was a hero.

Then to Cassinga. The final destination was Luanda, where Johan was incarcerated with the infamous “colonel” Callan’s mercenaries.

Later, Johan and Danger walk towards the waterhole alone. We can’t hear what they say. But when they turn around, they shake hands and Danger says to Johan: “We are friends now.” Just as Kitchener said to the Boers at the end of the Anglo-Boer War.

“Have you ever prayed in the bush?” I dare to ask.

“Yes, yes. We are Christians, just like you people. I prayed a lot,” says the police commissioner. He relates how he fought throughout the war; he was never caught. There were ransoms on his head. Women, even a family member, were sent out to betray him. Koevoet often showed photos of dead “terrorists” to his mother. “Here is Danger. We shot him.”

The bushes pass by. And I wonder about this man, Danger Ashipala, who reminds me of Jonas Savimbi. How will I describe him to the people at home? Swapo’s Danie Theron? Maybe a kind of Christiaan de Wet? Will anyone agree with me?

At the Eenhana police station, we are given a warm welcome by Commissioner A.K. Shivute and his workforce. But we have to answer uneasy questions.

Johan has to speak. Danger asks him: “Take off your goggles and cap and talk to the people.”

Johan turns to me. “What must I say?”

“Tell them what goes on in your heart; just that.”

“I am here because of the reconciliation between me and Danger. I believe your country is doing very well. It was not a nice war and I was no chief. The big chiefs stayed behind...”

Then the group of policemen and women sing a battle song for Johan. A song that Swapo still sings about Johan van der Mescht: There is no person on earth that doesn’t long for home. We want to go home. If the Boers don’t leave our country alone we will shoot them with our artillery. Like we shot them at Katima, and at Ruacana, and at Elundu where we caught Johan alive.

Johan walks to the vehicle. Time for a cold beer. He is not the hero. Danger Ashipala is. But Danger cannot be the hero without Johan.”PF