Cassinga Still Cuts Deep

03 May 2018 14:50pm
By Linea Dishena

WINDHOEK, 03 MAY (NAMPA) – The morning of 04 May 1978 remains a highly emotional day for Cassinga survivors who to this day, vividly remember the tragic event which left hundreds dead and several others wounded.
Selma Kamati was only 16 years old when the South African Defence Force attacked the refugee camp at the Vietnam military base in the Tchetequela village in southern Angola, about 25 kilometres from the Namibian-Angolan border.
Reliving the events of that day, Kamati, now 57, says she remembers the horrific day as fresh as yesterday.
“Memories of that fateful morning still bring tears even after 40 years,” says a teary Kamati.
Narrating her ordeal to Nampa on Wednesday, Kamati said the event left her emotionally traumatised and physically bruised and battered.
The attack found her asleep and by the time she woke up, bombs were dropping all over and some buildings were already on fire.
She brightly pictures the screams of innocent women and children seeking help as the bombs drop mercilessly, everywhere.
Amidst the rampage, Kamati could not reach the hideout trenches meant for hiding during an attack on the camp.
However, she managed to escape to a nearby field with three other comrades.
But to her dismay, they were spotted, captured and taken to an army camp at the Oniimwandi village near Oshakati in the Oshana Region where they were kept until August that year.
“Here, we were subject to torture, harassment, hunger and all inhuman ills one can imagine,” she recounts sadly.
After three months of mayhem and agony, Kamati and other captives were moved to an army camp in Mariental, Hardap Region where they were kept for six years without trial.
“For all those six years, we were tortured, treated inhumanly and there was barely enough food,” she recalls.
After experiencing the long hardships in captivity, Kamati and fellow Cassinga survivors were released in June 1984.
Upon her release, she went to school at the Oshakati Secondary School in 1987 and 1988, before moving to Windhoek at the dawn of independence in 1990.
In Windhoek, Kamati had to find ways to feed herself and her family and to make ends meet, she enrolled for short courses in hospitality in efforts to get employment.
The proceeding years were tough for Kamati as she found it nearly possible to find a job.
Her lucky break came seven years down the line when she joined the Namibian Police Force where today, she holds the position of Warrant Officer Class 1 heading the Patrick Iyambo Police College Library.
The emotional scars left by the Cassinga Massacre are so deep that Kamati has not been able to narrate the evils of the most miserable years of her life to her 29-year-old son.
“I cannot tell him because every time I attempt to tell him, I become emotional as you can see me now. So I leave him to only know what he knows about Cassinga,” she said.
Kamati then expressed her heartfelt appreciation to the government for spearheading the commemoration of the day, as innocent lives were lost and should be “remembered and honoured”.
Another Cassinga survivor, Mwafengeyo Mandume, recounted that his survival was by luck, as the group of children he was amongst, were captured and not killed.
Some, however, witnessed the dreadful death of their parents.
“I cannot recall much because I was only six years old, but I remember crossing the river in a group and entering a train to Lubango.”
From there, the group of children were airlifted to Cuba in 1979, where they continued with their education under the then leadership of Cuban President, Fidel Castro.
Mandume, who is now a police officer at Okongo in the Ohangwena Region, noted that the commemoration of Cassinga should not be seen as a celebration, but an occasion that caused heartache and pain, though in the end, served its purpose.
“We were lucky children and Cuba helped us, so this day should be a remembrance of where the struggle for independence came about, the help we got from Angola and Cuba, as well as the innocent lives lost,” he said.