BATTLE CHRONICLES OF BRIGADIER GENERAL MBANDEKA
You are a 26 year old guerrilla, for five years you have lived in the bush fighting and evading the enemy. You lie critically wounded in the jungle. Your platoon is outnumbered by the enemy and they are counting on you most. But as you lie, you think you are dying.
The enemy fire is so intense that your own men have dug a trench to hide you. As you pant for breath inside the trench, you hear the rat-a-tat and roaring sounds of the enemy machine guns and you think you may never see your family again.
The world starts to fade in and out due to loss of blood through bullet wounds. You tell yourself, “This is my departure day”. But sooner, you regain consciousness and you faintly hear some voices.
Your unit informs you that they have ducked the enemy and with them is a woman from the neighbouring village brought in to nurse you. She succeeds in lessening the pain and bringing you ‘back to life’. But during the recuperation, she tells you that you look like someone from the village and gives the name of a woman who has lost her son to the armed struggle, and that woman happens to be your mom.
No sooner has the lady left for her home than you gather your strength and scramble the little belongings you have and order your colleagues to leave the area immediately. You tell them you prefer to fight and die far from detection, far from anyone who might know you.
That was the nature of and philosophy behind Brigadier General David Angula Mbandeka‘s wars. Brig. Mbandeka can best be described as a heroic fighter in Namibia’s struggle for independence.
Born in 1953 at Oniipa, Oshikoto Region, to Sakeus Titus Ipinge yaMbandeka Amutenya, a teacher by profession and Saima Namutse Tangeni who was a nurse, Mbandeka’s exploits in the liberation struggle sound like an excerpt from one of the Rambo movies.
He attended school at Oniipa Primary School before moving to St Mary`s Mission School Odibo, Ohangwena Region, in 1968 where his father was a student and a teacher at the same time. In 1970 he returned to Oniipa for his standard six where his classmates included Ndenga Ndaitwah, Shikuma Shakamati, Juuso Shikongo and Sackey Namugongo.
After two years, he left for Windhoek to work at the Breweries and later at Keurwyn Bottle store as a salesman.
“In 1972 I joined the Swapo Party two years later I left Namibia via Angola to Zambia as a member of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). We were stationed at Kalabo for a few days but later on moved to establish the Oshatotwa Military Base where we were trained by Patrick Negumbo, Mario Sikindo, McNamara, Shafombambi and Kenyatta, among other prominent Comrades that time,” says Mbandeka.
He graduated as a drill and physical instructor after training, together with Abed Mushalenga and Lidia Nganyone and was mostly responsible for camp Number Two. In early December 1974, Mbandeka was one of the 100 volunteers who left Zambia for Angola.
He explains: “That group was comprised of tough People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) cadres led by Commander Elia Ambambi (Kwasha), and included comrades Niilo Taapopi Kambwa Kashilongo Shikuma Shakamati, Leonard Nambahu Kuumbo, Abed Mushelenga Nkrumah, Tomas Itamalo Kakukutu (Second Power) among others.
“In early 1975 we established Okasapa Base where I continued as a Drill and Physical Training Instructor and was also Platoon Commander of the new base where Fillemon Malima (Lumumba) was the commissar and political instructor. Later we moved to Omupanda, commanded by Aaron Embashu (Shongambele), General Martin Shalli was Commander of Anti-Air guns while John Kanandjembo and Kaboy Kasser Omuyamba Gwiimene Kuumbo Nambahu were staff members of the base.
In early 1976 the group left Omupanda and other comrades went to Efitulyiiti yanaNjamba where Dimo Haamambo was operating from while Mbandeka was sent to Omulumba-Base under Akapandi as a base platoon commander. By June 1976, Mbandeka had already matured to lead his own platoon.
“I commanded an Infantry platoon that attacked an enemy company at a temporally base comprised of UNITA bandits and Boers near Angola/Namibia border. We pursued the enemy convoy of 8 trucks as from 08h00 until 18h00. As the enemy was preparing their sleeping positions at Elundundu lya Shinota we waited till late evening. Around 20h00 we attacked them and I wanted to command the attack by throwing hand grenade but realized that we were too close and it might injure my soldiers so I decided to command with an AK 47.
I opened fire first and my soldiers, under the section commanded by Holden Uulenga (Namweya Kagwanduka) and Mengela, opened fire and the enemy retreated. Some of them took refuge in civilian houses that night according to the information we obtained the next morning. The enemy only responded after we had already withdrawn from our firing positions.”
Later in 1976 Mbandeka was appointed platoon commander and sent to Oidiva, some six kilometres from the Angola/Namibia border.
“Under my detachment commander Kalunga Kondjafa at Eenkosa and my brother Kakuwa Kembale Ngonga yaLushindo, with his platoon in Onautalala which was parallel to mine, fought many battles in Oidiva’s water pans (Ondungu). UNITA bandits and the Boers used to get drinking water there. We would reinforce each other with Kakuwa at Onautalala and Shindungulu at Iingida to chase the enemy from the water point in areas of our operations. We lost one comrade in those water-point battles.”
In middle of August 1977, Mbandeka was sent to the Soviet Union at Simferopol where he was trained as a battery commander for the 120mm and 82mm Mortars.
He returned to the front and was appointed as mortar battery commander at the North Eastern Front (NEF) under Commander Martias Ndakolo (Mbulunganga). Ndahu Namholo Ndamushiki was the COS at the front while Shalli was commander of the Anti-Air Defence Guns and Shilongo shaElia was the regional artillery commander.
In 1978 a big operation to clear the enemy near the border inside Namibia in the area of Elundu was launched and Mbandeka was a mortar platoon commander in that operation.
After the capture of John Van Der Mecht by Danger Ashipala, the artillery unit withdrew from the border to the regional headquarters at Ohaipeto.
Little did he know that he was to become a recipient and victim of the enemy’s wrath over Van Der Mecht’s capture, as occupying forces launched heavy assaults on the headquarters using mortars and B-10 and ZU1 Guns.
“The enemy used armed vehicles and heavy artillery but we stood our ground. We were few in the base, commanded by Chief of Staff (COS) Hochi Ndahu, myself and comrade Iikokonanye Kenyata and other few men. The majority in the base were girls including my wife Martha who was then Danger Ashipala`s reconnaissance secretary. The girls took all our documents and went with comrade Ashipala to the rear because he was not feeling well.
After the enemy stopped firing, two of our men were injured in action, comrade Namholo, I and the other two comrades went after the enemy and we found them regrouping some meters from the base entrance. Since we were few we decided to go back to the trenches as it was getting dark. Later the enemy started firing at random heavy Artillery called ‘Omungwala’, the whole night. That was a battle I will never forget.”
By 1979, now more headstrong, patriotic and confident, Mbandeka volunteered with 70 other PLAN combatants alongside Martin Nashandi (Kambala) and Clemens Kashuupulwa (Mondjiva) for some of the most hazardous duty Plan had to offer then, infiltrating enemy positions inside Namibia.
No sooner had they arrived at Omashashi 20 km inside Namibia from the Angolan border than they were detected before daybreak.
This time an Alluete Fighting Helicopter started it all. The PLAN fighters at the water point even retreated to join the main group where Mbandeka was the 82 mm mortar commander.
“We heroically fought the battle. After 10 to 15 minutes of fighting I was wounded on the left leg, and Nashandi ordered 3 comrades to take me out of the enemy range. I managed to leave the battle field with the help of my bodyguard Feles (Bob Nkana) but after less than two kilometres the enemy helicopter started firing at us. However it started raining and that made it difficult for the helicopter to see us from the air.”
He was taken 5 km away from the battlefield and hidden in a thick traditional fence ‘Ongumbu’ or ‘Enkolo’, where they would dug a small trench and cover the guerrilla with bushes and thorn trees.
As they returned to the battlefield, Bob Nkana and the other three fighters decided to ambush the enemy in the direction where we came from.
“It was a calculated move, in case the enemy had followed us, they could open fire and retreat into a different direction to divert the enemy from where I was hidden. Fortunately the enemy didn’t come in our direction in that ambush.
At sunset they went to the nearest house to organise food and warm water to wash my wound. Later they came with a lady who provided me with warm water.
The next morning my leg was swollen and in too much pain. I had lost a lot of blood. The lady returned to nurse me again and she was keen in knowing me. I lied to her that I was from Engela near Oshikango and before she left she insisted that I looked like either one of Justina yaShiliva Shanehale or Saima yaShiliva’s sons. Justina is my mother`s elder sister and the Saima is my mother. I therefore asked to be moved to another place far from where we were because the lady seemed to know me very well.”
“We spent the night in very thick bushes. Early the next morning, Commissar Clemens Kashuupulwa, now Governor of Oshana Region, came in the area with his group looking for me because they had heard of my injury.
I remember the tensions as Kashuupulwa’s group was coming in. Bob Nkana signalled and the intruders had the correct password, were it not that, there could have been another blood bath.
Two donkeys were organized to take me to Angola to a clinic where I was kept under the attention of our regional doctor, Uutoni Omumbuto Nuuyoma until I completely healed.”
He remembers other battles after his return, such as the 1976 at Elundundu lyaShinota with Holden Uulenga, the 1979 bombardment of Okongo Base with mortars, together with Shikuma shaKamati, and the Sept ‘79 bombardment of Ruacana Military Base with his GP Rocket launcher, together with David Shivute (Nevonga IyaPenda), Peter Nghilukilwa Kambwela under Shilongo shaElia as Artillery Commander.
Being one of the top gunners feared and revered for his artistry in artillery, he soon assumed the name, Ipinge yaMbandeka and in 1981 was appointed regional Chief of Personnel north western front with Ernest Joomba (Baby Omutangwa) as regional Chief of Operations under Uno Shaanika (Kanana) as regional commander.
Between that time and 1982, they formed one of the most successful fronts of PLAN capturing war material and destabilizing the enemy. They performed reconnaissance, interdict the movement of South Africa troops and Unita Bandits supplies and personnel and they were good at it. Mbandeka and his group captured and destroyed enemy weapons, while using their speed and manoeuvrability to keep their own losses at one of the lowest rates of any unit in the bushes.
He attended a leadership course in 1984 in the former USSR in Moscow together with Frans Kapofi (John Paul), Matias Shiweda (Ben Heik), Fredrick Siluzungila (Dadab, Koper) and Amwandi Shilombwelwa. His pseudonym became Carl Michael and upon completion of the course, he went back to the north western front. In 1988 he was transferred to the northern front as Regional Chief of Personnel under Regional Commander Festus Sackaria Shidjuu.
“I survived the air attack when a Buchania enemy plane fired at the car I was driving taking Commissar Nefidi to Ondjiva,” recounts the father of seven.
Married to Martha, a war veteran, Mbandeka doesn’t talk much about the battles, the fighting or the enemy. It takes a great deal to have him release all this after more than 20 years. But he talks more about his friends, his comrades, some still alive and others departed such as Clemens Kashuupulwa, Bob Nkana, Erasmus Mungongolo and Kamati kaNaambo Nghihupulwa who are among his heroes.
He talks about adventures on liberty and on life. Most importantly, he talks about the feelings he had then and still has now about being a Namibian, fighting for Namibian ideals.
He says, “I still believe to this day that I went in and served for all the right reasons. If I had to do it over, I would do it all again. That does not mean I agree with war, I still believe in the military and in Namibia.”
At independence, he was inducted as Staff Officer - Personnel and Recruiting as the Namibian Defence Force re-integrated, through the amalgamation of one-time foes. By 2000 he was lieutenant Colonel and was soon promoted to Senior Staff Office Human Resources Development responsible for supervising military events at ministerial and national level.
He became Acting Chief of Staff Personnel in 2005 and a year letter appointed Defence Advisor to President Pohamba, the Commander in Chief of the Namibia Defence Force, a position he holds to date.
With military medals that include his participation in the Atlantic Operations Missions mission in the DRC war (1999-2000) and the Independence Medal he received in 2008, Brigadier Mbandeka is a modern soldier, holding various courses from the Canadian Command and Staff College (1995), UNAM, National Defence University in China, Zimbabwe and many others, including Basic Computer Courses at IUM in Windhoek.
In the infamous DRC war, Mbandeka was the NDF Contingent Chief of Operations based at the Allied Forces headquarters in Kinshasa. He was also the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Allied Forces, deputising Brigadier General Gatsheni of Zimbabwe.
His current role includes providing advice to the President on aspects related to defence and security at national and international levels, and also advising the Commander in Chief on matters of defence legislation, policies and programmes.
He is also responsible for the day to day military updates to the Commander-in-Chief.PF