By Simon Liseli
In the wake of remembering the heroes and heroines who lost their lives at Cassinga Camp in Angola on May 4 , 1978 when it was attacked by the South African Defence Force , Caprivi Vision caught up with the former Colonel in the Namibia Defence Force (NDF) and the current Governor of the Caprivi Region Hon. Alfea Lawrence Sampofu who shared his knowledge with the nation about Cassinga.
It is 34 years now since the camp was attacked by the then South African regime; can you explain what really transpired on that day (4 May 1978)?
I was in Zambia as a PLAN combatant, then on the 4th of May 1978 at Cassinga the then South African resistance troops attacked the Camp which is situated 300 kilometers from the boarder of Namibia into Angola. This camp was used as a recipient for Namibians who were living the country to go and join SWAPO in Angola and elsewhere in the world especially young ones ( Children) and women, those were the most people who were found in the camp as most fighters were already inside Namibia and at the boarders between Angola and Namibia in their camps while Cassinga was used as a refugee camp and a recipient of Namibians before they are sent further to Lubango, Kwanza or Lwanda even to Nyango in Zambia.
What really happened on the 4th of May 1978?
The then South Africa resistant troops went to attack the camp during the morning of that day and firstly they used Jet fighters which bombed the camp and after they brought a Helicopter which dropped Soldiers at the eastern part of the camp and in the southern part. These soldiers started shooting on everybody who was there on point black range and mostly were Children, Women with other PLAN Commanders such as the late General Dino Hamaambo the first Chief of the Namibian Defence Force and the late Greenwell Matongo with others were in the camp but they didn’t die there, General Dino Hamaambo died in Namibia after independence and the late commissar Greenwell Matongo died in 1979 after a year from the attack and he died from a Car Bomb Explosion.
Where were you by that time when it happened?
By that time I was in the western province of Zambia fighting our enemies in the Caprivi region and our camp was in Zambia where we were operating and on that day the 4th of May 1978 the South African soldiers who were dropped by the helicopters surrounded the camp and some were taken captive and on the same day also they attacked Vietnam camp in Ombaja area south west of Shangombo in Angola which was also used as a reception camp and there were young children and women who were also captured and taken to Hardap where the prisons and correctional service are today.
Approximately how many refugees were in the camp?
We understand that there were over two thousand (2000) people and around 900 to 800 people were killed and over a thousand survived.
At Vietnam, there were close to 500 Namibian refugees according to the information that we got later.
What do you think were the main aim of attacking these camps?
What they thought was to break the backbone of SWAPO because they thought all SWAPO combatants were in these two camps including all our leaders so they aimed at breaking SWAPO militarily but they failed.
Where was the founding father of the Namibian nation Dr. Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma when it happened?
I can’t remember well where he was by that time but what I know is that within 24 hours he was there in Cassinga and was pictured holding a baby who survived the attacks. After the attack the one who survived by running into places like Shamutete, Njamba were Cubans and some were collected by SWAPO trucks that were sent from Matala and were taken to Lubango in Angola.
After the attacks what decision was taken by PLAN fighters in exile?
The decision was always there that we have to intensify the armed struggle and in revenge many camps were attacked in Namibia and for us who were in Zambia we attacked Katima Mulilo base in August 1978, this was part of avenging and also celebrating the 26 August the launching of the armed struggle and we were attacking bases from that time just to avenge.
In Caprivi the bases which were attacked were Katima Mulilo base and the other one which was found between Nukwa and Mpacha and that was in July, 1978 in Northern Namibia many bases were attacked such as Eenana, Elundu base where one white South African soldier was captured by PLAN fighters, other bases were at Ruacana and at Ombalantu there were also bases which were attacked and many South African soldiers died especially after Cassinga massacre we really intensified the armed struggle up to the 1980s.
What happened to the bodies of the deceased?
All bodies (corpses) of the deceased were put in a mass grave in Cassinga where close to 900 people were buried in one grave, that mass grave is there all those years we used to go there, clean up and give respect to that mass grave and even after independence there are some who went to Cassinga to clean up and at Lubango in remembrance of our heroes and heroines.
Who can you remember from Caprivi region who died in Cassinga Camp?
Well, I can’t remember really but maybe they were there because people from this region started going to Angola in 1977 and the late Greenwell Matongo was in Angola long time before that so he did not sacrifice there but he sacrificed later.
What lesson can you give to the young generation who are enjoying the fruits of this country today?
All what I can say to the young generation is that they should always remember Cassinga and respect heroes and heroines, living with that in mind we should also always give respect to the elders in order to build our country economically and to develop ourselves. The struggle was for emancipation to have our land and develop it so that we live in harmony, I call upon all the Namibian nation and residents of the Caprivi region to be united so that we become victorious and lastly this day should be commemorated peacefully by coming together to remember those heroes and heroines in order to build ourselves economically and politically to develop our country.
Caption:( Governor of Caprivi Region Hon. Lawrence Sampofu speaking to Caprivi Vision.)