As we mourn our mother, our grandmother, our sister, our comrade and our hero, Meekulu Mukwahepo (Aguste ya Immanuel), we must also celebrate her long legacy of personal and political contributions towards Namibia’s independence.
Meekulu Mukwahepo passed away on Wednesday 30th May 2018 in Engela hospital.
Mukwahepo was born on 7th October 1937 and was the last born in her family.
In 1963, Mukwahepo left her home village Onengali on foot, an only woman in a group of men led by her fiancé, Shikongo sha Hangala into exile.
Without knowing what she was getting herself into, she crossed the border into Angola.
She survived war (oita yomakatana), hunger and eventually made her way to Tanganyika, via Cabinda, Zaire, Zambia and Malawi. It was a journey that took one year.
Mukwahepo was one of the ﬁrst Namibian women to go into exile.
She became the first and only Namibian woman to undergo military training at Kongwa camp between the period1965 to1974. For nine years she was the only woman in SWAPO’s Kongwa camp. This is very crucial in the sense that women in the context of the liberation struggle are stereotyped to have only been involved in ‘soft and feminine’ activities.
The stereotypes are at time maintained in how the liberation struggle is narrated and represented.
The Eenhana National Shrine counteracted those stereotypes by making a woman soldier as the centre piece of the shrine.
In the midst of men and being the only female, she was dubbed Mukwahepo.
In her biography she narrates the story behind the name Mukwahepo “When we arrived at Kongwa I was still a village girl, very nice and soft.
I was constantly intimidated by men, and was still trying to play the role of a girl from my childhood upbringing. The men’s world I found myself was foreign to me. All trainees at Kongwa gave themselves new names, combat names.
I too called myself Namubaduka.
However, my male comrades unilaterally decided to name me Mukwahepo [which means one who belongs to the poor clan] (in other words, ‘the poor thing’).
They called me Mukwahepo to tease me because of my situation, woman alone in a military training camp, amongst men.
Mukwahepo became my name and has remained so ever since, no matter how hard I tried to resist. My actual clan name or my real name was never heard of again, except on formal papers.”
At Mukwahpo’s book launch, Founding President and Father of the nation Dr Sam Nujoma asserted: “She became the first woman to be trained with SWAPO at Kongwa Military Training Camp in Tanzania together with other Comrades, including those who were in the G1 group led by Commander John yaOtto Nankudhu – the first group that crossed back into Namibia to engage the South African occupation forces.
You can imagine how hard and difficult it was for Comrade Meekulu Mukwahepo as the first and only woman among men at Kongwa Military Training Camp in 1965, where she remained for 9 years until 1974…
She also spent time in Mbeya transit camp to receive SWAPO fighters who had been trained and were on their way to Zambia, to cross into Namibia and engage the enemy occupation forces” (Nujoma, 2013).
It is women like Meekulu Mukwahepo who are the catalyst of many Namibian women taking up arms for Namibia’s liberation.
In 1974, Mukwahepo was transferred from Kongwa camp to Zambia where she was assigned the responsibility of taking care of children and young people in the SWAPO camps in Zambia and later Angola.
Mukwahepo became the mother and grandmother and in her own words, she once said “The way I got involved with children was not something I had planned and I do not think anyone had planned it.
I was urgently called to go and help out at our hospital in Nyango. When I got to there, our nurses told me that, a young lady gave birth smoothly to a very healthy baby girl but suffered severe after birth trauma.
They gave me the baby and asked me to look after the baby as the mother is referred to hospital in Lusaka and when the mother returned from Lusaka she lived with me.”
The number of children needing Mukwahepo’s motherly care increased as more people join the SWAPO refugee camps and her home was like a kindergarten.
This is what one of the first women at the Old Farm said about Meekulu Mukwahepo during an interview: “We were fortunate to have Mukwahepo join us at the Old Farm in Lusaka Zambia in 1974 because she was excellent with children and young people.
Mukwahepo was instrumental in the establishment of kindergartens in the various SWAPO camps, especially at the Old Farm and in Nyango. She became mother and grandmother in the camps, taking care of children of those sent to school or at the front or those not able to look after their own children”.
(Mary Njaw popularly known as Ma George in an interview July 2017)
SWAPO had full confidence in Mukwahepo’s ability to care for children in need, malnourished children, sick children and even healthy children of parents that were away at war or school. Mukwahepo shared some of her experiences while in Kwanza-Sul, Angola: “In 1987, the SWAPO office in Kwanza-Sul informed me that I was wanted in Luanda.
So, I quickly got my few things and left for Luanda. In Luanda I was given a plane ticket to Lubango. Upon arrival in Lubango, I was told that a small baby whose mother was too ill to take care of the baby awaits me.
The SWAPO leadership had decided that Mukwahepo must take the child and look after it.
That was it, I got the baby, and I spoke to the mother and left with my baby to Luanda and eventually back to Kwanza-Sul.” Meekulu Mukwahepo expressed her bravery, always committed and dedicated to the interest of the children and everyone in the camps.
Mukwahepo spent and dedicated all her life looking after and guiding the lives of Namibian children, youth and many others in exile.
Many children had no parents and Mukwahepo became the mother and grandmother ﬁgure in the camps.
In one of her interviews that led to the publication of her biography Mukwahepo, Woman, Soldier, Mother (2013), Mukwahepo fondly says: “If you asked any of the children who their mother was? Mukwahepo, they would reply.
Who their father was? They would reply, Mukwahepo.” Mukwahepo performed this responsibility whole-heartedly and with dedication.
She crisscrossed different places looking after children in the SWAPO camps. She continued with that role even after Namibia’s independence.
In 1989, Mukwahepo was repatriated to Namibia with five children.
One by one their parents came to reclaim them as soon as they resettled, until she was left alone.
Already in her fifties, and with little education, Mukwahepo could not get employment in an independent Namibia. She survived on handouts until the Government introduced a pension and other benefits for veterans.
Mukwahepo was naturally very joyful with a humble personality. She made outstanding and remarkable contributions to freedom and liberation of Namibia. She was not a high ranking or public figure but an extra ordinary woman who performed extraordinary duties for her country during the liberation struggle.
Mukwahepo was committed, courageous, determined and loyal to freedom and independence of her country and her people.
Meekulu Mukwahepo, you will always be remembered for the contribution you have made in the struggle for liberation for Namibia.
Taking from Timothy 4:7, Mukwahepo fought the good fight, she has finished the race, and has kept the faith.
May Her Soul Rest In Everlasting Peace. Amen