…A passionate plea for justice
What happened during the fatal Lubango dungeons-where thousands of suspected Namibian spies were tortured and killed- did not end there. People also died at the hands of their own, violently, before and after that date.
Some survivors continue to fight for justice, saying the atrocities committed by Swapo during the liberation struggle on its own people should be treated as an injustice – and that only the truth would bring closure.
These are complex answers that cannot be fully documented in one go on this matter, but the need to seek to move away from the mainstream media’s snapshot pictures and easy headlines could go a long way as the nation seeks to find closure on this dark chapter. Analysts have thrown their weight behind an inquest, which they say, must aim to investigate the real cost and impact of the dungeons to the families, to communities and – through this microscope of the intimate – this new Namibia that the Lubango Dungeon saga has ushered in.
There is scant political will to institute a probe into the matter to uncover the truth of the fatal happenings and give closure to the families.
Traumatised families dealing with unresolved grief are descending further into heartache.
What happened in Lubango was a deep echo from the party’s apartheid past. It was unrestrained and brutal. It was also said to be Swapo-administered.
In the 1980s the conflict started within Swapo which started to suspect its own comrades and set up dungeons in the town of Lubango in southern Angola, hence the term “Lubango Dungeons”.
During the war, Swapo had established a secret intelligence service to spy on other Swapo members which led to the arrest of perceived spies within Swapo at the time.
Reports suggest that about 4 000 Namibians were incarcerated in the dungeons of Lubango and many remain unaccounted for today as only less than 200 returned home in 1989 when the implementation of the UN Resolution 435 came into effect.
Bience Gawanas, a victim of the dungeons who in the past served as the country’s Ombudsman, is one of the proponents for an inquest into the saga. During an interview this week, Gawanas said an inquest must be carried out to clear those who were (and are still) labelled as spies and give them due recognition for their patriotic contribution to Namibia’s liberation struggle.
Law experts, such as serving Ombudsman John Walters, says he will support an inquest “provided that it brings closure to the families.”
Gawanas maintained that it was only when the truth about the notorious ‘Lubango dungeons’ is told that the wounds of the victims will heal.
“Fighting against injustice does not mean that injustices that are committed by your own organisation[Swapo] is not injustice. Injustice knows no (difference). It is just injustice and I will continue to fighting against injustice,” said a combative Gawanas.
She further questioned: “Is that[truth] too much to ask? Is there prove that we were spies? If yes, bring out that prove. And let us close this chapter. It is an ugly chapter in our history and we want closure.”
She went on to say: “A lot of people would say do not open up old wounds. The question is, did these wounds ever heal? Are we opening up wounds or are we saying we want the wounds to be healed. The wounds can only heal if the issues that caused them are addressed.”
Gawanas, who currently serves as the advisor to the Minister of poverty Eradication further said: “The people who are caught in this situation are human beings. They are hurting every passing day because of being accused that they were spies…that has never been proven and today all that we are saying is are we not entitled to know the truth?”
More so, Gawanas was of the view that a probe into the dungeons will not create a ‘monster’, saying: “If we could reconcile with white people who treated us without regard, surely nothing will stop us from reconciling with whoever did injustice to us. But it is very difficult for me to reconcile unless I know the truth.”
Gawanas said there was no such thing as the right time to interrogate the ‘Lubango dungeons’ saga.
“I don’t think there is ever a right time for a situation like that. It should have been (done) 27 years ago,” she charged.
According to Gawanas, she still suffers from stigma and is labelled a “traitor” by certain sectors of society 27 years after independence.
“You go to a certain place and somebody would say ‘we wish you were killed[in the dungeons]’ or ‘it’s good that you were tortured’. People throw these things at us and sometimes we say life goes on. But it hurts. I still believe in the dignity of people. I still believe in justice and I will fight for it wherever I am,” Gawanas vowed to soldier on.
Despite their immense contribution towards the attainment of independence, ‘dungeons’ survivors die as “paupers”, according to Gawanas.
To her lament, she said: “I have buried those who were also in the dungeons, we had to collect money to bury them. And they have gone to their graves without knowing what the truth was. Their families are still waiting. All of us want closure. There are people today are (still) rejected by their families because they came back as ‘spies’. Some of us were fortunate that that we were embraced by our families who believed in us until today saying I could have never been a spy.”
“I lost my elder brother who was murdered[by apartheid South Africa]. And that was my resolve[…] That I am going to be part of the liberation struggle to free Namibia so that our human rights are respected,” Gawanas narrate.
Law expert, Professor Nico Horn said there was need to exonerate those who died and spent time in the dungeons without getting a fair trial.
“There’s a section of our people who really believe that those in the dungeons got what they deserved. I have no doubt that there were spies in Swapo, there is no way there wouldn’t have been. But we do not really know who were spies and who were not spies,” Horn charged.
The punishment that those who were accused of conspiring with the enemy were subjected to was wrong, said Horn.
“The way the Swapo intelligence was trained is that the best way to get information from someone is by torturing them. But we know today that torture doesn’t give you answers, it makes people say what you want them to say for you to stop the torture. It’s a very dark chapter,” bemoaned the law professor.
Horn went on to say: “I think it will be for the better of everybody if we can assist those were in the ‘dungeons’ especially those who are innocent.[We need] allow them to tell their stories. I don’t think anybody[victims] is looking for some revenge or compensation.
They don’t want revenge. That is not the voices that I hear. All that they say is, ‘if we can just tell our stories and get the consolation and let the world know that we were unfairly convicted and that nobody ever proved that we were spies and that we were unfaithful to the struggle or to the Namibian people.”
He said: “It[the platform] is just to allow people to speak and tell their stories and somehow, maybe for some of the perpetrators just to say ‘we are sorry’. Swapo has always made statement that there are always victims in wars and we can all understand that. I think people[victims] just need closure and that process is the right thing (to do).”
The ‘Lubango dungeons’ refers to the disposal of Swapo dissidents in the dungeons during the liberation struggle on suspicion of being South African spies regarding its military operations to its enemy.
Walters, in an interview this week, an inquest into the matter will not lead to any prosecution because of the amnesty agreed upon at Independence.
“There was an inquest into the matter done by the Red Cross but the outcome was not accepted. When you do not have the full cooperation from the stakeholders it will not help anything. What I am sensing is that the victims only want to clear their names and in the process the accused will also have a chance to state their case,” he said.
According to Walters: “Many people say the incident happened more than 25 years ago so people should let it go, my argument is that the memories of those who were victims an lost loved one will not fade if they do not find closure.”
Speaking to The Patriot during a recent interview that covered a plethora of issues, Iivula-Ithana equated a probe into the Lubango dungeons to “opening a Pandora’s box that you cannot close”.
“Whoever is harbouring such an idea should know from the mouth of this woman[Iivula-Ithana] that (he or she) is opening a Pandora’s box that he or she will never be able to close,” warned Iivula-Ithana.