Katima Mulilo 1978, Paying homage to our Heroes

Mr.Derrick Masangu

In commemoration of the up-coming Heroes’ day on the 26th of August 2022, please allow me to share a word of two in your column, on this vital piece of history that I personally feel is often underrated and most of our children, or even some of those of my age don’t know, but it’s nostalgic to many of the older generation. It’s events like this among many others across the country,  which need to be celebrated as they have played a vital part of our country’s history, as far as our national liberation was concerned.

Let me begin by saying, for many of us who were born in the 1980s and post-independence Namibian era, Heroes’ day really has no meaning! Not because, it doesn’t have value, but because it’s significance and relevancy does not really resonate with us. When it does, it’s only the 1966 event that we picture, and celebrate, because of its constant re-telling, during our annual National Heroes’ day event. I think it’s really a good for us, to celebrate August 26th, but I also think more has to be done, during this August month where we need to highlight, some of the pivotal events that took place during the whole time-line, towards independence. I think we need to name this Heroes’ Month.

Many regions in Namibia if not all, are very rich in such events and moments, and Zambezi Region which was formally known as the Caprivi Strip has it’s own fair share, in telling such stories. Those familiar with Mao and Ho Chi Minh’s writings will agree with me that, sabotage is one of the strategies of any guerrilla war fair . SWAPO as a guerrilla movement, often waged military attacks, and other acts of sabotage on various government installation across the country, which made the South African forces, and administration hang on it’s toes and realize the enormity and seriousness of the kind of organization, they were up against.

When Angola attained it’s independence in 1975, PLAN also started to enjoy strong support of the MPLA led government of  the Angolan government, which was still fighting a civil war, with UNITA. These two factions were mainly MPLA which was backed by the Cubans and communist former Soviet Union and UNITA that was backed by the capitalist Americans and apartheid South Africa (SWAPO’s arch nemesis) which controlled most of Southern Angola. From 1975, it took another 15 years, for Namibia to finally attain it’s total independence and sovereignty. However even so, PLAN still managed to  continue with its operations in  Northern Namibia, including the far North Eastern parts, which was then The Caprivi Strip.

Similarly, with some of SWAPO’s combatants still operating in Western Zambia at the time, this meant that PLAN would Swiftly carry out attacks in the Caprivi Strip in the late 1970s, via the Zambezi River. One of the prominent and most talked about event, that many of the former PLAN fighters in Zambezi Region often talk about when asked to narrate their military experiences of the war,  is the attack on 1978.

As alluded earlier on, this attack took place on the 23rd August 1978, on Katima Mulilo Military Base near the British Oversees Military/Mandated Administration (BOMA) headquarters. This is a nostalgic day re-called by many PLAN combatants and older residents of Zambezi Region. According to different reports and oral accounts from those who were present, on that fateful day, some PLAN combatants crossed from neighboring Zambia, to attack a military base in Katima Mulilo (Namibia), while some bombarded it with long range rockets from Seshele Zambia.

According to De Visser (2018)  “Soon after midnight, on 23 August 1978, at 01:15, Katima Mulilo was woken up by a wave of explosions. Within one minute, a wave of 122mm rockets came screaming across the river and fell in and around town. The last rocket hit a barrack inside Katima Mulilo military base, just as soldiers were scrambling to leave the building. Ten were wounded, and ten were killed outright.”

This attack was claimed by SWAPO as retaliatory attack, on their Cassinga refugee camp in Angola, three months earlier when South African forces entered Angola and carried out a series of attacks on suspected SWAPO camps. Some analyst even said “It is also safe to say that, the events of the 1978 attack, played a role in the adoption of the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 435, in the following month of September, 1978”.

In addition, let me leave you by saying it was brave men of 26 August 1966 and 23 August 1978, and many other countless attacks around Namibia that helped keep the momentum of the war. Men such as Brendan Simbwaye(1934-1972), Greenwell Matongo(1945-1979) and many others who sacrificed their lives during the whole struggle and those who are alive today, were very much effective, in the successful operations of PLAN in the various war fronts, because of their knowledge of the different terrains. From how to survive mosquito infested swamps, to crossing crocodile infested rivers, to paddling dug-out canoes up to navigating through thick bush jungles, which could easily pose hardships to someone who was not familiar with the area! It is up to us, as youth to document this crucial history as narrated by primary sources and preserve it for future use.

In conclusion, as we celebrate this year’ Heroes’ Day, let us also remember the areas and people, who played pivotal roles during the war of national liberation. From Omungulumbashe in the North to Wenela Border Post in the North East. From Kaokoland in the North West to Gibeon in the South, as we owe this history to our future generations. As the saying going that “When two elephants fight is the grass that suffers” so did the people who lived in those areas at the time. Let us also embrace, this year’s theme: Honoring our Martyrs (Heroes and Heroines).

Happy Heroes’ Day Namibia.

By Derrick Masangu ( Independent blogger and Social Sciences teacher, but he writes in his own personal capacity).








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