24 Aug 2016 08:00am
MALAKIA EILO LOOKS BACK ON LIBERATION STRUGGLE
By Paulus Kiiyala Shiku
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
WALVIS BAY, 24 AUG (NAMPA) - Many have heard the story of South African soldier Johan van der Mescht who was captured by Swapo combatants, but not much is known about his captors.
The name most often connected to the incident is that of the late Danger Ashipala, who was commander of a Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) battalion and the group that captured the South African Defence Force member.
One of the soldiers who was part of the historic event in 1978 was Malakia Kamati Eilo, now aged 64.
Nampa spoke to the man known as Kamati KaEilo while in combat, about his contribution to the liberation struggle ahead of this years Heroes Day commemoration slated for Walvis Bay on 26 August.
Heroes Day commemorates the battle of Omugulugwombashe on 26 August 1966, when South African soldiers attacked Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) fighters, marking the start of the liberation struggle.
Speaking from his home at Iishanaputa in the Omusati Region, Eilo said he joined Swapo on 15 August 1975, at the age of 23.
He said published stories indicate that the capture took place at Elundu village, but the incident instead unfolded at the Eenghono waterhole in the Oshana Region.
Van der Mescht did not know what hit him. We captured him in the evening at the waterhole close to their camp in Eenghono, he said.
He recalls how he was armed with an AK-47 rifle and a revolver, and that the South African soldiers were sleeping when his group attacked the camp.
There were close to 10 soldiers in that camp but I cannot remember anyone who survived apart from the young man we captured. My comrades wanted to kill all of them but instructions were given that Van der Mescht should stay alive, said the former combatant, adding that it was decided Van der Mescht should stay alive so they could obtain information from him on the SA defence forces operations.
The South African soldier was filmed in captivity to convey the message that he was in Swapos custody and to convince the enemy that Swapo is taking over.
Van der Mescht was released after the war and returned to South Africa.
The whole saga occurred after Eilo completed training at Okasapa Military Camp in Angola in 1977.
In 1975 I left home in Uukolonkadhi and crossed over into Angola via the Calueque Border Post, he said. He undertook the journey along with two others a man and woman who he referred to as a female member of the army and a friend.
In 1979, he broke his right leg in car accident in Ombandja, Angola when their car crashed into a vehicle of the People's Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FAPLA).
South African helicopters shot at FAPLA and they took cover on a path we were also driving on. It was very dark because we were driving with the lights off, so we drove into each other and I broke my leg.
The ex-soldier narrated that during the same year, he was in charge of a receiving camp at Omakutu village in Ohangwena, where he received and then sent further new Swapo recruits for training.
My camp was attacked in 1979, two nurses and a soldier died. After that I went to Germany for counter-intelligence training in 1981, he recalled.
After the training Eilo returned to the battlefield before being sent back to Germany from 1984 to 1988 to study fisheries.
After independence, he worked as an inspector in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources at Walvis Bay, where he retired two years ago.
Asked what his message is to young Namibians, he said now is the time for hard work, to grow the economy and deliver efficient and effective services.
Eilo stated that young people should not relax and must be concerned about building the country further.
When you are in that office please work. Stop sitting around doing nothing while there are documents to be processed and people queuing for assistance. We used to hit the ground running and even ate our food hot as there was no time to relax, he said.
With regards to his future, Eilo said he applied for veteran status a few years ago but his documents were returned for correction.
I am still finding time to re-submit my application so that I can also get the benefits. For now I am surviving from my retirement package and old age pension grant.
Once granted veteran status, beneficiaries amongst others receive a cash lump sum payment and monthly payments for the role they played during Namibias struggle for independence.