STUCK IN THE PAST AND RUNNING FROM CASSPIR
By Sawi Hausiku
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
WINDHOEK, 18 MAR (NAMPA) – In 64-year-old Kilinya Sikongo’s mind, Namibia is still at war. Civilians are running from soldier-led Casspirs, bomb explosions, sniffer dogs and helicopters.
Sikongo is convinced that the South African apartheid army force will stop at nothing to track and kill him for participating in the country’s struggle for independence.
He trusts no one, not even family who often tell him that Namibia is now forever free from South African control since 21 March 1990, and that he has nothing to fear. But Sikongo does not think so.
He lives in fear at Mutwarantja village in the Kavango East Region, where his family built him a hut that he is not fond of. Some days Sikongo disappears into hiding at sun set.
Mutwarantja village is located some 18 kilometres east of Rundu.
Sikongo is convinced Koevoet, a paramilitary wing of the apartheid administration, would spot him and his hut easily so he created something to mislead them.
About 500 meters from his homestead, Sikongo created a hideaway with a huge tree trunk and smaller shrubs on top to have it blend into the landscape.
What appears as a pile of wood has an entrance and a floor that is covered in black garbage bags.
He is convinced that when in the hideaway, the South African forces’ Casspir will drive by without them noticing anything. Here he feels safe.
When the sun sets, Sikongo sits in front of the entrance and scans the surroundings for any signs of invasion by the South African army.
He sleeps inside the hideaway at night and only gets out after sunrise to head home.
Kresentia Kapango Sikongo, his sister, told Nampa their family used to feed and hide People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) fighters at Magcuva village in the Mashare Constituency.
She, who was 13-years-old then, said they created a communication system whereby she would hang a plastic bag in a nearby tree to signal the absence of the South African forces and safety for the PLAN fighters at their homestead.
Kresentia said Koevoet would sometimes abduct her brother with cattle from their kraal, detain him somewhere, and later return the then 30-year-old man but definitely not their cattle.
“I would also be tortured if I did not know the whereabouts of my brother or the PLAN fighters. But I remained tight-lipped as this was how our parents trained us to be,” Kresentia recalls.
Her parents, she said, would fill a metal bucket, known as ureki, with food for her to take to Sikongo and the PLAN fighters in the bush.
But that was not always the case.
On 22 November 1983 at around 21h00, the apartheid forces horrified the family and opened fire on the Sikongo homestead.
“The PLAN fighters, my brother and entire family were eating when the attack occurred.”
Kresentia remembers how the first gunshots were aimed at her brothers’ hut and after a few hours, their homestead caught fire and burnt to ashes.
“During the shootout I escaped through a very small hole and ended up on the top of a tree. My brother also escaped but was badly wounded on the right side of his leg. Till today, he has a bone protruding on the inside thigh.”
She said the armoured vehicles then followed Sikongo’s blood trail until they found him lying under a tree.
Kresentia said they then abducted her brother and kept him in Pretoria, South Africa for about six months, where he was castrated and tortured with electric shocks.
“When he came back, my brother was mentally not fine anymore. Everything he utters is about the war and how he still hears the sound of Casspirs and gunshots.”
She said ever since his return, Sikongo keeps to himself and does not like being in public.
Having him eat is also an issue.
“If I eat from your food, the soldiers will come for me, don’t you see them standing with guns?” Kresentia quotes her brother.
Sikongo lives off leaves he collects in the field or mahangu grains he finds lying around; a situation heroes and heroines honoured on 21 March, Independence Day, did not fight or die for.
Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) District Secretary in Rundu Rural Constituency, Alex Ndumba told Nampa he learnt about Sikongo during a door-to-door campaign for the 2015 Local and Regional Authorities’ Election.
“I saw an old man sitting alone in a homestead and when I came closer, I realised that there is a problem with him,” Ndumba said.
“Sikongo’s story is touching and one that nearly made me cry. He is traumatised by what the apartheid system did to him.”
After learning about Sikongo, he took the matter to the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs in Rundu but received no response to date.
Government, Ndumba says, is doing a great job by taking care of our living unsung and sung heroes and heroines but that more needs to be done.
“Our country has many veterans who contributed immensely to the liberation struggle like Kilinya Sikongo, who do not benefit from the veterans’ grant.”
He said equally, there are those who might be benefiting from the programme but who contributed nothing to the independence of the country.
Namibia will celebrate Independence Day on Tuesday in recognition of people like Sikongo, who were brave to put their lives at risk for the liberation of a nation, but are in the end physically and emotionally scarred, let alone castrated.
Councillor of Rundu Rural Constituency, Michael Shikongo said he visited Sikongo at his hideaway several times and took the matter to the Veteran’s Ministry to get him registered for the recognition and benefits.
He said it, however, seems the ministry does not want to recognise Sikongo, for reasons only known to them.
“I know Sikongo’s story of the liberation struggle as well. This man suffered and thus deserves to benefit from the veterans grant as well as for disability.”
Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku recently analysed Sikongo’s situation and told Nampa he could be suffering from a state of halted reality outlook.
“Anything that may be normal to you and me may just be abnormal to him. Even if you were to build a decorated mansion there, you would be piling garbage to him,” said Haufiku, adding Sikongo needs a proper assessment by a psychiatrist and medication to stabilise his mind.
Haufiku said Sikongo can be brought back to normal cognitive functions but it would take a while because he has been in that state for a long time.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs, Ambassador Hopelong Ipinge said his office is aware of Sikongo but that he needs to confirm whether he was in exile.
“I do not know whether he is a veteran or registered. I cannot confirm nor deny. I have to check the records with my office. If he is registered, then we will have to check where he registered and whether he is a veteran.
Ipinge stressed that veteran status is not just granted.
“We cannot just call somebody a veteran, we have to confirm whether he is an aspiring veteran or if he qualifies for veteran status.”