24 Aug 2016 09:50am
TAKING A BULLET FOR THE COUNTRY: THE HIDIPO WAPUNDUKA STORY
By Paulus Kiiyala Shiku
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
WALVIS BAY, 24 AUG (NAMPA) - Hidipo Livius Wapunduka, 58, one of Namibia's unsung liberation heroes was only 20 when a land mine caused injuries to his back and he fractured his left leg in battle.
Wapunduka is still haunted by memories of the enemy's soldiers he had to take down during battles and those of his own soldiers that fell to the gun during various battles in the quest to liberate Namibia.
The war may be over, but memories of the struggle, in which a bullet had to be removed from his intestines at one point, linger on.
Wapunduka, who is well known by his combat name 'Sunny Boy', narrated his story to Nampa ahead of the Heroes Day celebration in Walvis Bay on Friday.
He said he left the country at the age of 18 to join the Swapo forces in Angola and fight for freedom.
We were beaten to a point where we decided to go to Angola to get guns and get our revenge on the whites. I returned to Namibia armed with a P-10 machine gun, that is how I started fighting, he said.
Wapunduka said he deliberately made it a point to return to Namibia and face the enemy instead of fighting from Angola.
It was here at home where I wanted to wage the war because it is here where we suffered. We were determined, ready to die for our country. In most battles we were overpowered in numbers and weapons, but we resisted and continued to open fire, he said.
Wapunduka, who was in Standard Four (Grade Six) left Namibia around November 1977 with his comrade, the late France Shimwandi and other young people.
In 1978, he started six months of military training at Tobias Hainyeko military training camp in Angola.
Immediately after the training, he returned to the Namibia-Angola border along with Shimwandi, where he switched to infantry so that he could cross the border into Namibia to fight the enemy.
Infantry refers to the general branch of an army that engages in military combat on foot.
His first-ever battle took place in Ondwi village in 1978. It was however during the battle of Okambebe in 1984 where he was shot in the stomach.
On this day, he said, they were only two against four South African soldiers.
'Sunny Boy' and his companion only had pistols on them, which was no match for the South Africans R4 rifles.
I shot one soldier and took his rifle. Later I noticed I was bleeding, so we left for Ongenga for treatment, said Wapunduka.
He said the bullet was removed from his intestines at Peter Nanyemba Military hospital in Lubango, Angola.
Other tough battles took place in 1978 and 1979 at Engela and Enghandja - all in the Ohangwena region.
In 1980, he went for medical training, after which he injured his back and left leg in a land mine explosion at Ondjamba in Angola in 1981.
When I stepped on the bomb, we were investigating a site where another bomb killed comrade Helao Nafidi. Some of my comrades also died there that day, he said.
In 1986, he was sent to the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) in Lusaka, Zambia to learn English and administration.
He was also trained in education and reconnaissance (surveillance) during his years in the struggle.
He now works as an Inspector in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources at Walvis Bay.
His message to the Namibian youth as they celebrate Heroes Day is to always remember and respect the fact that blood was shed to gain independence.
Wapunduka said it should be noted that the struggle was long and bitter and a lot of people died.
Young people should not disrespect the sacrifice made for the peace we have today. Calling us uneducated is not fair, it is true we are not educated but we fought to liberate the country. So build the country and take it forward, said the former combatant.
Wapunduka said his story can be confirmed by his former commander, now Chief of the Namibian Defence Force (NDF), Lieutenant General John Mutwa.
Mutwa could however not be reached as he is out of the country, but an NDF soldier in Okahandja, Lieutenant Colonel Paulus Shatonoka confirmed his story.
Yes I know him, we fought together in Angola and Namibia. His name is also registered in many battles, Shatonoka told Nampa.
Asked wether he received recognition as war veteran, Wapunduka said he did not apply for veteran status as he thought it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs to accord him such status.
I am just waiting for my seniors to see what they can do for me since I am even about to retire, he said.
He was advised to apply for veteran status so that he can receive the financial, medical and social support given to all recognised war veterans from Government.
Approached for comment, senior public relations officer in the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, Edson Haufiku said it is not up to the ministry to search for war veterans and recognise their status.
It is their right to apply, so anyone who thinks they qualify is welcome to apply, he said.
He explained that although the ministry will continue to sensitise the veterans on the matter, they have done so adequately so far.
Heroes Day is a public holiday which celebrates and honours Namibian heroes and heroines who died in the first armed battle between the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and the South African Defence Force at Omugulugwoombashe on 26 August 1966.
The day also honours those who perished in subsequent battles during the country's struggle for liberation.