SWAPO established its military wing, known later as the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), to start a guerrilla war in Namibia should the decision of the International Court of Justice at The Hague be in favour of apartheid South Africa. At the beginning of 1965 six young guerrilla soldiers were selected at Kongwa military training camp in Tanzania to constitute the first group (Group 1) to enter Namibia secretly. Their mission was to integrate with the local people, establish political cells, recruit and train some people militarily. Under the command of John Ya Otto Nankudhu, deputised by Simeon ‘Kambo’ Shixungileni, other members were Patrick ‘Lungada’ Iyambo, Victor Mensah Namwandi, James Hamukwaya and Nelson Kavela. The group left Kongwa in March 1965 and successfully reached Namibia via Zambia.
The conditions inside Namibia were not favourable for their mission. The population was small and sparsely distributed to shield them. There were no ideal forests where to establish operational bases. The group kept on moving their makeshift camp in north-western Namibia, first from Otamanzi in Ongandjera to Uuvudhiya in Uukwambi, then from Olupaka in Ombalantu to Omugulu-Gwombashe in Uukwaluudhi. They recruited some local men and started training them militarily.
Three other groups were lined up to follow during 1966. Early 1966 Group 2 of 10 guerrilla fighters was dispatched from Kongwa, under the command of Fillemon Nangolo Shuya (alias Castro). Other group members were Lazarus ‘Shakala’ Sakariah, Helao Shityuwete, Julius ‘Kashuku’ Shilongo, Eino Kamati Ekandjo, Festus Nakale, David Hamunime, Jonas Shimweefeleni, Elia Ndume and Nghidipo Jesaya Haufiku. In March 1966 the group successfully entered Namibia via Zambia but was intercepted in Kavango by the South African police. With the exception of Julius ‘Kashuku’ Shilongo, all the nine fighters were arrested and flown to Pretoria for trial. Upon their arrival in Pretoria, Group commander Castro was severely assaulted in front of the others and dragged away by their captors. Castro later turned into a South African collaborator.
In July 1966 the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled in favour of South Africa. Swapo was embarrassed and disappointed by the course of events. In response, then secretary of information and publicity, Emil Appolus drew up a statement which Peter Nanyemba as Swapo secretary of defence presented to the media in Dar-es-Salaam. Among others, the statement declared that Namibians would be their own liberators with or without the intervention of the United Nations. The statement concluded: “We will cross many rivers of blood before we can achieve our freedom”. This militant statement was echoed around the world and greeted with expectations.
The South African police intelligence spotted the Group 1 camp at Omugulu- Gwombashe and, with the help of Castro, kept monitoring its activities. On the morning of 26 August 1966, a combination of the South African police and military used the Ruacana airfield to launch a surprise air attack on Group 1 camp at Omugulu-Gwombashe. Two fighters were killed, nine arrested and others run away. Swapo was concerned about the impact this incident would have both on Namibians and internationally. There was need to boost the morale of the remaining guerrilla fighters at Kongwa and of the people inside the country, as well as to sustain international support for the Namibian cause. Emil Appolus issued a media release in Dar-es-Salaam stating that on August 26 Swapo freedom fighters had launched their first armed attack on a South African military contingent at a place called Omugulu-Gwombashe in north-western Namibia. The statement gave the number of the South African forces killed and that many more were wounded and large amounts of arms and ammunition seized. The statement was reverberated around the world in the press and electronic media.
As a result, August 26 was celebrated annually and eventually recognised by the United Nations as Namibia Day. However, Namibians abroad celebrated it as Heroes Day. To underscore the importance of this day to the international community, the United Nations Institute for Namibia in Lusaka, Zambia, was inaugurated on 26 August 1976. After Namibia’s independence, August 26 is celebrated annually as Heroes Day and is a public holiday.
Addressing the nation on 6 March 1996, then President Sam Nujoma stated among others: “As commander-in-Chief of PLAN [People’s Liberation Army of Namibia] and the entire combative forces I commanded them since 26 August 1966 to eliminate every enemy soldier who resisted capture or otherwise force them to surrender . . .” Today ordinary Namibians celebrate Heroes Day under the belief that Swapo freedom fighters, commanded by Nujoma himself, defeated South African troops at Omugulu-Gwombashe and at other battles thereafter.
The area surrounding Omugulu- Gwombashe campsite has now been declared a national heritage and is enclosed. A huge bronze statue in honour of former President Sam Nujoma has been erected there and was unveiled on 26 August 2013. Facing north, in his right hand Nujoma holds high an AK-47 assault rifle, a symbol of military victory.
In view of what had actually happened on that fateful morning of 26 August 1966 at Omugulu-Gwombashe, I introduce the topic above for open discussion. All points of view are welcome whether or not this site should be designated as a national heritage and this day be celebrated as a Heroes Day and a public holiday. Namibians and international historians and researchers are invited to make insightful contributions to the discussion.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015