By Marianne Nghidengwa ngwa
THE laughter of children welcomes me to the homestead of the country’s first trained female soldier in exile, Auguste Immanuel, better known by her combat name ‘Mukwahepo’.
As I entered the traditional house at Omhedi village in Ohangwena, a six-year-old girl shouts, “Grandma, grandma, we have a visitor.”
Immediately, Mukwahepo emerged from her sleeping room, and with a welcoming smile, ushers me into the sitting area.
Surrounded by seven cheerful young ones, Mukwahepo is still the passionate childminder she was for many years, in the Swapo-run refugee camps in Angola and Zambia, during exile.
Although she never had children of her own, she looked after the children of the freedom fighters, who fought at the front, as well as those who studied abroad or who served in Swapo offices across the world.
Today, she looks after the 15 children of her deceased relatives, using her monthly grant she receives as a war veteran.
She uses the N$2 200 grant for the general upkeep of her household and to send some of her great-grandchildren to school.
“As you can see, I continue to be a mother,” she says.
In 1964, at the age of 27, Mukwahepo left her country, her family and her friends, to join the thousands in exile, who were fighting for Namibia’s liberation.
She was the only woman among a group of men who went into exile on foot.
They left in the middle of the night, crossing into Angola, on their way to Leopoldville in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Their one-year journey also took them to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Malawi, before they entered into Tanganyika in Tanzania. Over a cup of oshikundu, the 77-year-old recounted how her fiancé, Shikongo shaHangala, told her to pack her bags to embark on a “journey”.
Little did she know that these words were the beginning of an arduous journey, which transformed her from a reserved, traditional Owambo village girl, to a national heroine.
“I honestly did not know what I was getting myself into, but I trusted my fiancé, and did exactly what he told me to. Only at a later stage, did he tell me that we will be travelling out of the country into Angola, to join other Namibians to fight for the liberation of our country.”
Although faced with many difficulties along the way, Mukwahepo said that there was no turning back.
“I never lost hope. And although one wanted to go back, you couldn’t, because our movements were calculated, always designed to evade the enemy. Besides, we were in a jungle and you could get lost easily. We had a common understanding, and we were adamant to free our country from the colonial rule of the former South African soldiers”.
In an extract from her book, Mukwahepo: Woman, Soldier, Mother, as told to Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, the group was informed by the Swapo leadership that the Tanzanian government had allocated them suitable land, for setting up a military training camp called Kongwa.
“I was still a soft village girl, but soon that changed while at Kongwa. The environment I found myself in, with only men, changed me. I was no longer the nice village girl. I was a soldier and had to act like one.”
Mukwahepo was later deployed to the refugee camps, to look after the children of her fellow comrades.
“I was looking after children for many years… Their relatives collected them one by one, until I had no one left. They still visit on several occasions, though,” she said.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015