By Hileni Nembwaya
IT was exactly at 18h00 on May 4 1978 when the South African air force flew over Cassinga, a Namibian refugee camp in southern Angola to carry out the largest airborne operations when close to 400 paratroopers were dropped near the town of Cassinga.
The airborne troops bombed the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) refugee camp and People’s Liberation Army of Namibia’s (PLAN) military base. The bombing was followed by ground forces that completed the massacre.
More than 600 Namibians, mostly women and children were massacred by the SADF troops, and hundreds more were injured.
Nghiyalasha ‘Hailonga’ Elisa Elia Haulyondjaba, was one of the three members of the PLAN Military Council (the War Council) at the Northern Front in 1973-1978, appointed to give advice to the two front commanders, Matias Ndakolo ‘Mbulunganga’ and Phillip Hamutenya Nandenga, also known as Zulu.
Haulyondjaba vividly remembers the horrible events of May 4 1978, saying that he was horrified to see for the first time in his life badly mutilated bodies of babies, children, women and men of all ages.
“I mourned the day of Cassinga. My family and relatives lost beloved ones, my father-in-law Nghifikepunye Simon Ndikwetepo (then aged 62) who was one of the elderly people responsible for supervising children in Cassinga, also died there on 4th May 1978. It is clear that the order was given to the soldiers on the ground to kill everyone found in Cassinga no matter that they were unarmed women or children … to kill as many as possible,” narrated Haulyondjaba.
He said that the enemy planned to attack during the time when people gathered in the morning; while people were gathered to be briefed about what was to be done for the day and to get tea.
“At Cassinga, there were many civilians including young – school students who came from their schools in Namibia. Some were voluntarily; some came on conscription recruitment basis. South Africa started it’s conscription in Namibia in 1977 whereby Namibians were forced to undergo military training to fight against their brothers who were fighting for Swapo,” said Haulyondjaba.
He furthermore pointed out that nation, especially the younger generations, needs to know what really happened during that fateful day.
“In the counselling of survivors of Cassinga they should be told what went wrong and what really happened those days. SADF attacked Cassinga with dangerous weapons, high fragmentation bombs including chemical substances. We in PLAN when orders were given to attack enemy targets, combatants always gave warnings to avoid attacking targets where women and children were present,” he noted.
This was the South African army’s first major air assault on a SWAPO refugee camp and military base.
A few weeks after the massacre, 600 Namibian children, most of whom were survivors of Cassinga, arrived in Cuba to study.
“Cuba opened its doors widely and generously to the Namibian refugees”. The South African government claimed that it was just a retaliatory raid against the SWAPO forces who had invaded Namibia with small strikes, and they (South Africans) had claimed to have withdrawn and had not left any South African forces in Angola.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015