By Denga Ndaitwah
I would like, from the onset, to express my profound gratitude and appreciation to all the readers of the articles that I have been writing for over the past three years, since my retirement from active military service. I have written about 40 articles. Over the three years, there has been a persistent demand from a certain quarter of the readers, for me to compile these articles into a book, instead of having them scattered all over the place.
As the demand persists, I have decided to stop writing articles, unless it becomes absolutely necessary to do so. I am going to be preoccupied with the compilation of my published articles into a book, as per readers’ demands.
I am already hard at work, and it is very likely that before the end of the year, the book will be sitting on the shelves of book shops. I am contemplating adding more flesh to the topics that I have covered. I will compile them into one book, and possibly write another book with an academic stance. Be on the lookout for them. But before I say adios amigos to all my readers, I want to do it in a military style, by saluting and thanking you all.
This will be my last article. I want to underline that I do not want to finish writing without dealing with what I strongly feel is a wrong perception about the Namibian Defence Force (NDF). It is my understanding, and rightly so, that the moment you are seen in Namibia putting on a uniform, with whatever type of a weapon in your hands, in the eyes of many people, you are an illiterate or you have just attained informal and low-level education, if any. The wrong perception painted into the brains of many in this country is that the only thing a soldier can do is to pull the trigger, whenever ordered to do so.
That wrong perception is a historic one, which started way back, before Namibia’s independence. It was a wrong perception that some of us have experienced during the liberation war, as many of us never had a chance to further our studies during that time. The only chance that was accorded to many of us was to go for military training on how to engage the enemy in the battlefield.
It is through military training, knowledge and tactical skills that we were able to effectively engage the enemy, and make this country what it is today. As that wrong perception continues to be so deep-rooted to date, it will require the application of extraordinary mind power, to uproot it. That wrong perception has also created a situation of disrespect of soldiers, from a certain quarter of our society.
Let it be clear that soldiers in many countries are highly respected. To substantiate my argument further, in many countries, soldiers are considered invaluable national assets for states. Particularly after they have retired, they are quickly employed by other structures, to continue ploughing back their wider experiences and knowledge to the nation. The most basic answer to that is that soldiers are normally trained in multiple fields, more than any other person.
It is through effective multiple military training that a trained soldier is always versatile in thinking, knowledgeable, skilled and able and capable of deploying others, even in complex battlefields, and get them out alive. No other person can be entrusted with the responsibility of commanding others into combat, but a trained soldier can. In military structures, the lowest unit commanded by the lowest rank is for about 10 to 12 soldiers. But the higher you go in terms of rank structure, the higher the number of soldiers under your command. Hence, high-ranking officers are always charged with the responsibility of commanding thousands and thousands of souls, under a single command. This is what made soldiers gain more respect from their societies.
From the foregoing premises, there are many countries today that do not let trained soldiers retire. After their retirement from active military service, they are always redeployed for some other duties.
One good reason for that is that if an officer was able and capable of commanding thousands of souls in combat, when the situation is so deadly, why is the officer not capable of leading, for argument’s sake, less than 10 souls in a company, in a peaceful environment?
Today, it is so disheartening to see the majority of retired NDF officers lying idle and doing nothing, and yet they do possess the abilities and capabilities to lead. This situation is created by what I shall term as a wrong perception about soldiers, who are considered as people who do not know anything outside of pulling triggers. That wrong perception needs to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves.
As an experienced and seasoned soldier myself, I must say it unequivocally that gone are the days when soldiers are regarded as people who are only capable of pulling a trigger. In many countries, soldiers are leading in technological discoveries, once given they are give chances. Why must the NDF be an exception? I know the August 26 Holding Company and its subsidiaries have employed some ex-soldiers.
The subsidiaries of August 26, like Windhoeker Maschinen Fabrik and Sat-Com (PTY) Ltd, are highly innovative and they are leading in technological advancements in this country. That is so because of the injection of soldiers’ brains in those companies. One needs to appreciate the efforts of the Ministry of Defence to employ ex-soldiers at those companies. That move needs to be extended further to some other governmental institutions and private sector companies, as an exigent gesture.
That wrong perception continues to disadvantage retired soldiers, despite them having advanced in education. Apart from those who are employed by August 26 and its subsidiaries, as well those who are employed on ad hoc basis by the Ministry of Veteran Affairs, you hardly find any other retired soldier employed by anyone. I must, however, express my deep appreciation that two institutions of high learning in this country namely, Unam and IUM took me on board as an academic. I tip my hat to them!
As far as I can remember, there are only two proper retired soldiers who are employed within the government structures, the current advisor to Ohangwena Regional Governor, Major-General (retired) Peter Nambundunga, and Zambezi Regional Governor, Colonel (retired) Lawrence Alufea Sampofu. Of course, there might be some who are employed by default. By and large, that tells us that there are no deliberate plans of action to employ able soldiers, after they have retired from active military serve.
Furthermore, I do not want to apply a thumb-sucking theory, to tell the readers as how many members of the NDF are holders of bachelors and masters degrees today. It must however, be said that from experience, many of the NDF members, who were disadvantaged by war, went on the offensive to further their studies after independence.
Apart from technical and specialised doctors that are employed in the Ministry of Defence and the NDF structures, there are two more doctors who have been added last year to the previous list. While one is a civilian, by the name of Dr Welhemina Shivute, the second one is a professional soldier, namely, Brigadier-General Dr Mathew Alueendo. That is indeed an eye-opener that must serve to clear the minds of those who consider the NDF as a structure of illiterates.
In light of the above, let me now clear the minds of many people. Even though the majority soldiers are ex-combatants, they do not live in the past. They are soldiers who are living in a contemporary world, like all other soldiers. They highly respect education as key to what they are doing. They know well that the world of today is for those who are highly educated. They are quite aware that it is only those who are highly educated that will be able to employ sophisticated technologies, which are moving at a supersonic speed. They are aware it is only those who are advancing at the same pace with technologies, who will be able to effectively employ war machines at the disposal of the contemporary defence forces.
Generally, it is only militaries that are able to invent the most sophisticated technologies in the world, before it is copied to the rest of the society. It is only foot soldiers who can fire and destroy a target hundreds of kilometres away, without even causing collateral damage. It is military pilots who can fly the most sophisticated and the speediest war machines, and safely land them again, without getting lost in outer space. It is only naval sailors, who are capable of sailing a submarine deep underwater, and safely
surfacing it again, before anchoring in the harbour, without getting submerged forever in the deeper blue waters.
Even though disrespected by some people, those are the same professionals we have in this country.
In a nutshell, soldiers of the NDF, like all Namibians, were not born to be disrespected. They took up their profession, with a clear understanding of serving the nation, while in a uniform. Serving a nation while in a uniform is a daunting sacrifice that only a few can offer. Soldiers must be regarded with national pride and life assurance, because they are. Soldiers are the national shields and fortresses. Those members of the NDF, who joined the profession, have done so without any promise that there shall be a reward. As a national structure that we must all cherish, hanging up boots at the time of retirement must always be accompanied by respect. Resounding recognition and respect, after service rendered and sacrifices made by a retired soldier, is a fitting reward. Adios amigos!
*Retired Lieutenant-General Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force, part-time lecturer at Unam and head of department and senior lecturer at IUM. He is a holder of MA in Strategic Studies
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