2015/08/11 10:23 PM
December 1995. I arrived at O’shikango, the border of Angola and Namibia. To my disappointment I was not allowed to cross the border, to go beyond Santa clara.
I wanted to go to chiede, I have traveled all the way from South Africa, just to be told, “that’s it, son. You cannot go further north.” My father said with a voice of authority and the rest of the men that were part of the first meeting agreed with him.
Although I was happy to have met these men and to share some form of kinship, the years spend apart have robbed us of some vital connectivity. The sense of belonging “here” was so overwhelming but lacked the essentials, I was happy but also sad.
The war has robbed me of my family, of my childhood and stolen the beauty and innocence in me. Now I was trying to regain some of it, going beyond Santa clara was my way of regaining what I have lost, what was snatched from me that fateful morning in 1980.
For fifteen years I cherished, nourished the memories of the small town, the soccer field next to the school were we played before the war intensified. I also remember the trenches that were dug around the town giving it more of a warzone appearance. I remembered as people moved out of the countryside to build houses around the town, clustering and fend off intruders.
To go to back South Africa without reaching Chiede was returning without achieving my objective and was to continue nursing these old memories. To go forward was to face the harsh reality, to replace the romanticized childhood information that gave me the inner comfort.
For fifteen years I needed that and I nursed my discomfort, soothing away the pains with these memories. As I sat there listening to mumbling voices, men discussing issues that will determine if I should cross the border or go back to South Africa, men that are part of my inner circle. Men that are blood of my blood, yet I knew very little about them and the only reference to tie them to me were pieces of fading, disjoining memories from the childhood files that were being played from the old projector.
Things were happening fast.
One minute I was at Noordbrug, Potchestroom and the next I was at Oshikango, the Angola/Namibian border. I was under pressure to remember things, places and people to connect me to this part of the world.
Discussing the possibility of going beyond Santa clara into the Angolan territory with my father and the rest of the family was not receiving a sympathetic ears. Everyone seem to be happy that I have come this far but to go beyond was out of question, it seems that no one wanted to entertain my request, “it was too dangerous to go into Angolan territory”.
We were sitting at John Sapota’s house at Oshikango Santa clara. To them I have come this far, they saw me physically and I should not go beyond the border. “We are still in the middle of the war,” my father said, “you are safe this side. Many young man like you are being rounded up to join the army, the recruitment campaign is quiet aggressive in the rural side.”
I nodded politely and leaned back hiding my disappointed. “and if you are caught by some crazies carrying guns who are roaming around harassing the villagers and defenseless communities they will kill you because you look like a soldier,” the old man with a pipe finally said it.
Everyone at olupale nodded and there was a murmuring around me, “Okwa ita! Okwa ita.” (a soldier! A soldier!) I was actually disappointed that my own family, despite telling them that I was a kindergarten teacher from Potchefstroom they saw me as soldier. I was speechless, shocked! If that’s what they thought of me, now imagine a total stranger with no background information about me, I thought quietly as I nodded.
I sadly thought.
To tell the readers that five years prior to my visiting this place where we were sitting was a war zone and the wounds and scar of the war were still fresh, but towards the north to where I was heading, tales of sporadic gunfight erupting every few minutes here and there, told by traumatized survivors and distressed persons fleeing, searching for safety.
So this group of men around me were not misguided or misinformed when they tried to caution me, they were simply being realistic. They have lived and survived to tell the terror of the war.
I looked at the group of counsellor, the analysts who seem to agreed to each other’s wording. that my father was saying.
In fact few weeks before my arrival here a group of men stormed into Santa clara and sprayed the buildings with bullets. I read about this attack in the Citizen newspaper back in South Africa, little did I know that I was going to be there weeks later looking at the bullet holes and scars of many years of the war.
“Dino, it is good to seeing you, ntekulu wa nke,”an elderly man was saying as he puffed from his pipe, “the country is at war and is not the time for you to venture beyond Shikango.” Silence descended at oluphale. I sat there considering my options. I have come all the way just to turn back a short distance from my target. I have to navigate very carefully, negotiate with the men who spoke with authority, reality and experience that helped them to survive the war.
I too have my reasons to go over the border to Chiede!
Oshikango, 1995 was a quiet border town. Equipped with few trading establishments, but most of the trading was done under the big tree next to a tavern with gambling machine. I paid for a beer and inserted the changes into the gambling machine to kill the boredom. Suddenly the machine started spewing coins like rain on the iron sheet roof. I won about twelve coins, enough for another beer while I scouted around the place.
Oshikango was a town torn between war and peace. The socio-political implications should not be ignored and has always presented some complications to those who governed it. Oshikango or Santa clara is the same town and the natives have fought hard to keep it one, while the colonial authority tried by all means to divide it. This led to defiance and eventually armed resistance and its neighboring town across the border has become a haven for those escaping from the war. Santa clara has become, “o centro de acolhemento,” for those who have been displaced and those fleeing, forced out of the land by the war.
On arrival at Oshikango I studied the place and crossed to the other side of the border. The border post at Oshikango/Santa clara was built in the middle of the town making it difficult to manager in terms of people crossing. The local people hardly present documents when crossing. They went to and fro every day to attend family affairs. I too joined them and crossed with ease. Not having Angolan or Namibian documentation was a major concern on my side and travelling on South African passport required visa to enter into the Angolan territory. Having South African identity documents in this part of the world in this period of the history can also be interpreted as an enemy. I was moving in a very dangerous ground. And to not having spoken Kwanyama for more than fifteen years, the main language spoken at Oshikango/Santa clara was also a disadvantage to me. At twenty five years old I have spent many hours and good hours at the gym which resulted in my physique to look very sexy with more muscle that is not common in the rural and can attract unnecessary attention to those looking for trouble. my physique can be very difficult to hide when you try to blend in the country side. Then came the slight limp which becomes more obvious when walking faster. The physical scars of the war.
After listening to my father and other family members I drew up a list of pro and cons before making the final decision.
I was determine to go to Chiede and my reasons were difficult to explain. “I will go to Namacunde tomorrow morning. I may not go to Chiede but if I do then I will take the necessary precaution,” I said and tried to end the meeting. There was murmuring, each man protesting, trying to air his opinion.
At least going to Namacunde will give me another perspective and will feed some childhood memories. The last time I was at Namacunde was in 1979 and my memory of the place was foggy. The meeting adjourned. I took a walk with my father to the border again.
Studying the movement around the town, being observant without being too conspicuous. I kept reminding myself that was moving into the war zone and as such need to prepare for any eventuality. Fight or flee… stay alive.
My father bought some commodities and then we marched to the border. The excitement of walking along side my father was overwhelming. Here and there he would introduce me to some of his friends and acquaintances. Few meters from the immigration I bid him farewell. After all this years it was amazing looking at my old man. I walked back to tatekulu John’s house to plan for the last leg of my journey the next day.
The transport to Namacunde was an old military truck. I paid and jumped to the back where other passengers sit huddled. It rolled through potholes and pieces of asphalt until we arrived at the market. I jumped off and started looking around for any familiar point of reference. There was none.
Namacunde of my childhood was not the same place before me. What was before me was a mix of market and a refugee camp. With outbreak of the war again after the election of 1992 many people fleeing from different part of the country came to hide here. They build shacks next to each other to offer protection. They also setup a market that sold everything. The place was overpopulated.
I squeezed between people, making my way into the market. Moving from one stand to the next, looking at different commodities that were being displayed. I kept moving, randomly engaging in conversation just to make myself comfortable but also collecting as much information to help me decide if I should continue to Chiede or not. Walking in the market was to determine my safety and by talking to different people was basically trying to see how they reacted to my conversation. After fifteen years away I was an outsider, a stranger in my own backyard and to expose myself to that side of weakness was opening myself to a possible attack.
After walking around the market I started looking for the transport. Every time a vehicle came around I approached it to enquire if it is going to Chiede. After various attempts I realized that no vehicle goes to Chiede. That was sad, I told myself almost resigning to the idea of going… but soon I found a good source of information who told me that there was a vehicle that goes to Onthaku, near Ohongo. The vehicle with a Namibian registration was the only vehicle that goes that way, my source briefed me. He looked at me for few seconds then said, “tas a ir no Chiede tem la o que? Ou es da Unita?” he walked away. Leaving me standing there, puzzled and not sure if I should thank him.
It was only in the afternoon that I got hold of the Nissan 1400 with the Namibian number plate. After negotiations, money changed hands and the driver agreed to take me to my destination. The owner of the Nissan 1400 needed more passengers, we drove around, inviting every person who stood around and seemed not have a place to go. The many the merrier, I thought as the vehicle navigated between the potholes. Picking one passenger here and there until the man behind the steering wheel was satisfied then we were heading north east. My blood started pumping and the heart beating faster, louder…
Last time I travelled between Namacunde and Chiede must have been in 1978, my mother and her sister were taking to the hospital at Namacunde. we were travelling in a military vehicle and somewhere along the way the tyre burst and the vehicle swerved violently through the slippery road. Panic, chaos broke out sending everyone to crawl on the surface of the vehicle. Someone was screaming, “Imbuscada! Imbuscada!”(Ambush! Ambush!) until the driver brought the vehicle to a complete stop. The wheel was changed and resumed the journey and arriving safely at Namacunde and back.
This stretch of the road of about twenty five kilometers became increasingly dangerous from that time onward with ambushes, landmines and threats of air attack.
As the Nissan 1400 steered through the high and low of what was left of the road, I looked around. There were wreckage and debris of the what was left vehicles and crosses that indicate some form of grave along side the road did not escape my eyes. I was also looking around for any suspicious movement behind the bushes and trees. As we moved away from Namacunde I could feel the danger lurking behind everything. In my minds eyes I could see and hear the staccato gunshots erupting from all around. I started wondering if the door panels of the 1400 could stop bullets. My mind was running wild, playing different scenarios.
I thought of the conversations with the elders the day before and started regretting. I underestimated what they were telling me. The 1400 almost dived into a rivulet that the rain from few days has created, but the skillful driver negotiated, and brought the small vehicle to the other side of the water that has cut the disappearing road. I was impressed and wondered how often vehicles come to this part of the world. If they do, definitely do not drive in this road.
Few more driving minutes, that seems to have lasted a lifetime of some insects. The driver brought the vehicle to a stop, the excitement at the back of the vehicle as the people started collecting their belonging I thought something was amiss. “I thought the people were going to Chiede,”I mumbled more to myself but the driver heard me.
“we have arrived at Chiede,” the skillful driver said. “this is Chiede!”
I climbed off the vehicle and as I scanned around I could see rubbles and part of the walls of the once dwelling structures. I was indeed at Chiede but not the Chiede of my childhood, where we play futebol barefoot with the balls made of stockings and other materials that we could find. Even the school was destroyed. This was what was left after the nightmare.
I was staring at face of the war, the horror and the pain and the sorrow. What happen to my school friends, those that have survived. I stood there paralysed with shock. The driver bid me farewell and caution me to stay on the paths, “this is a minefield.” He sped off. Over the years I have faced challenges. I have overcome obstacle and have prepared myself for worst, endurance. Nothing prepared me for this.