Sunday 18 April 2021
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Remembering Cassinga …40 years later

May 4 marks 40 years since the Cassinga massacre, where hundreds of civilians were killed by the South African military regime.
This was seen as the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians during the liberation struggle. The killings have been described as a massacre worldwide.
As Namibians prepare to commemorate Cassinga Day next week, The Patriot spoke to some survivors to narrate their ordeal.
Some Cassinga survivors feel they are not getting the honour they deserve. Memories of that dreadful day still seem to remain fresh to most survivors, with many continuing to a replay of episodes of their near death experience in which friends perished. Having not only lost loved ones, limbs and a part of their sanity too, the survivors still find it challenging to come to terms with the way in which the massacre transpired and how they are not properly honoured by government for their sacrifices to date.
“I still cry because it hurts me when I think of Cassinga because I lost my peers whom I do not know if they were ever really buried at the massacre graves in Angola” narrated Toini Iitenge, one of those who made it out alive.
In an interview with The Patriot earlier this week, Iitenge shared her tale of how she almost lost her life at the hands of SANDF.
The night before the massacre she had just arrived from Tchetequela. A young vibrant Iitenge who was 18 at the time, highlighted that she and a group of her friends were very excited to have come to the base as this was where the path to their education was to begin.
“I will never forget how happy we woke up the following day, we were told to meet at the parade, this is where we were briefed on what we were going to do for the day,” she said. In the midst of the briefing, she explained that they all noticed aeroplanes flying towards their direction. An inexperienced Iitenge however had no idea that they were war planes.
“All of a sudden I saw small objects falling from the sky to the ground, however the impact of those small objects was massive. This was when we realised that they were bombs, one fell directly next to me” she said.
She explained that as the bombs went off, those who had more experience kept shouting the words ‘Take cover’ which she did not know what it meant.
Iitenge then noticed how people quickly fell to the ground whilst crying, covered by dust and smoke, she then heard another voice shout ‘Go to the river’.
“Unfortunately I had no idea of where the river was, I then looked to the person who was next to me and I kept poking her to get up and run with me, she however did not respond and this is when I noticed she was dead” explained Iitenge. Clearing the smoke from her eyes, Iitenge looked on again and noticed that the dead person’s lower body had been detached from the upper part of her body.
Out of panic, having seen this ordeal, she stood up and ran as fast as she could with the help of God and she ran into the direction of the river which seemed out of place as it was red in colour because of the blood that was shed that day. This is where she then met other survivors with whom she helplessly swam with across, to a side where it was filled with high rising shrubs in which they hid till the SANDF left the base.
“Still frightened, we then continued running until we came across one of the commanders named Greenwell Matango, who led us out of Cassinga” she noted.
A tired, hungry and thirsty Iitenge and the rest were instructed by Matango that they were not to drink water.
Still traumatized by the events, Iitenge revealed that in 2016 when she had gone to Cassinga to view the mass graves and she broke down emotionally.  “I still see the images replaying in my head which troubles me so much and to make things worse the state of the graves are in a terrible condition” she highlighted.
“We have pleaded with the Namibian, Angolan and Cuban government to properly fix the graves because the rain has washed away most part of it. These three governments also promised us a statue to honour us but up to now we are still waiting” she explained.
Iitenge further explained that no one will ever understand the pain of Cassinga as it would be better understood by those who had been there that day but urged the government to do more.
“I cannot demand but there is definitely more that can be done to honour us” said Iitenge.
Having come from camp Windhoek, 30 km from the Swapo base, Albertina Shuumbwa, a survivor herself explained how she found herself within the massacre.
She was 16 years old when the massacre happened, and although she was not based at Cassinga as a permanent resident, she and a group of others had just arrived at the Swapo base with the late Kayambu Amupolo in the early hours of 4 May 1978. Initially the plan was for them to go to Cuba for studies.
“We then went to take a bath at the river, where we just heard bomb sounds, and out of fear we ran away but because I was trained I hid behind a tree because I was told to do so if ever I found myself in a war like situation,” she highlighted.
Thoughts of going to look for her gun, flustered around her mind but it was impossible because SANDF would have spotted her. Shuumbwa said the tree where she hid was surrounded by dugouts where people could hide during combat.
“Inside the dugout I found some people who were dead because SADF had shot them from the outside with grenades, those of us who were lucky enough to not have been touched were then told to surrender which we refused to do” said Shuumbwa.
Shuumbwa highlighted that during her training she was always told that one should never surrender to their enemies unless they die.
The SANDF then tried to convince, Shuumbwa and the rest of the survivors in the dugout to submit with the promise that they would not harm them, which however did not come to pass as once they left the dugout gunshots started going off. “Those of us who still remained untouched by the bullets were then taken to an area where they kept those they had captured. They then took us to Namibia in prison and that is how I survived because I was one of those put on the truck” she explained.
Shuumbwa and the rest were then transported to a base in Mariental where they were jailed for six years and upon being released, they then decided to go back to Angola.
“We made our way to Onjiva where an Angolan soldier took us to Lubango who transported us to Ongulumbashe where they chose us to go to the United Nations in Zambia” highlighted Shuumbwa.
A saddened Shuumbwa with tears in her eyes explained that each year on 4 May she finds herself crying because the memory is one that she doubts she will ever forget.
Shuumbwa still feels that nothing much has been done at the mass graves but she and the rest of the Cassinga survivors have formed an association where they communicate with the government to try and bring their trauma and needs to light.
“We have created an account where we save money to assist the government with the up keep of the graves, I however feel that the government should recognised us”.
Shuumbwa further noted that the survivors this year will also attend the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Cassinga massacre where the Angolan President, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço has accepted an invitation by President Hage Geingob to pay a state visit to Namibia.

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