Since September 1994, Namibia's de facto State of Emergency along its northeastern border with Angola has resulted in at least 376 persons killed, or missing and presumed dead. At that time, Namibia tightly closed its border along Angola's Cuando-Cubango province, a key UNITA stronghold.
But now, Angola's long civil war has formally ended. UNITA and the MPLA are in the process of charting a compromise coalition government for Angola's future. In light of this, the Namibian government's refusal to reopen its northeastern border is unjustifiable. The Namibian government has unnecessarily prolonged the suffering of the people living in southeastern Angola. Humanitarian relief and assistance coming through Namibia is prevented from reaching those parts of Angola controlled by the anti-Communist UNITA movement.
On November 29, 1994, Namibian President Sam Nujoma, without any authority derived from the Namibian constitution, ordered Namibian police and military to "shoot on sight" anyone attempting to cross the Kavango River "illegally." The Presidential decree to "shoot on sight" is in violation of the Namibian constitution which stipulates in Article 6 that: "The right to life shall be respected and protected . . . No executions shall take place in a Namibia." Also the President, by his use of an executive order, by-passed the lawful constitutional mechanisms for declaring a state of emergency. And it should also be noted that there were no specific officially-designated border crossing posts along the river.
In December, 1994, the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) ambushed missionaries from Frontline Fellowship who were re-entering Namibia from southeastern Angola. By the grace of God, despite the large amount of ammunition expended, none of the missionaries was injured. They had also already successfully delivered a large shipment of Bibles and medicines to Southern Angola. The missionaries were eventually released by the police, after some "unscheduled opportunities" for prison ministry.
On September 27, 1994, three Namibian men, including Kavango businessman F. Dikuwa, were shot dead by unknown gunmen and a woman was raped in a mysterious attack blamed on "UNITA bandits." Two days later, and in response to this single event, Namibian President Sam Nujoma declared on national television, the attack was "a threat to Namibia's stability." He then declared the eastern Angolan/Namibian border closed, unilaterally imposing a de facto State of Emergency. Members of the NDF and police were deployed in the area to enforce the closure. Many have questioned why the Namibian government reacted so strongly to this single incident, especially considering that, since Namibian independence, numerous incidents of abductions, robbery, rape, torture and murder have also taken place along Namibia's northwestern border (with MPLA-controlled Angola). Yet no such suspension of movement was made there.
Supposedly the border closure was a security measure by the government, to protect residents from "acts of banditry." However the de facto State of Emergency has become a source of atrocities against both Namibian and Angolan civilians. Orders to shoot at any persons crossing the border makes a mockery of the original claims by the Namibian government that the suspension of border crossing was aimed at protecting human lives and property!
On Sunday, January 29, 1995, three young women were attempting to cross the Kavango River in order to visit relatives at Calai in Angola. As they were about to cross the river, they were approached by 6 men thought to be soldiers. Panic-stricken, the young women ran for the river. Two of them managed to cross safely into Angola. The third, a certain Gloria Chilombo, was caught by the soldiers. After dragging her back onto Namibian soil, they took turns raping her. She screamed frantically and cried for help as her rapists strangled her. After Gloria lost consciousness, the soldiers supposed that she was dead and threw her into the river. But she regained consciousness in the water, so the soldiers finished her off by slitting her throat and throwing her lifeless body back into the river.
On March 27, 1995, four men were returning from Calai where they had been visiting relatives. They were paddling their dugout canoe across the Kavango River when two of them were shot dead. One of the victims was a certain Antoniao Jose Chiyengo, a catchiest of a local church which ministered on both sides of the river.
These are just two of the many eyewitness testimonies documented by the Windhoek-based National Society of Human Rights (NSHR). Since President Sam Nujoma issued his "shoot on sight" orders, the bodies of many who were shot dead on the river were left there until they decomposed. Bodies were also frequently seen floating in the river, some having decayed beyond recognition. As of October 1996, 376 persons have been killed, or are missing and presumed dead. Yet no member of the NDF or police has been prosecuted or convicted for any of these crimes.
Besides the immediate threat to life, the closure of the border has resulted in immeasurable suffering. Prior to the border closure Angolans residing in the vicinity of the Kavango River received much of their basic food and most, if not all, of their medical treatment from across the river in Namibia. Since the border closure, many women and children are said to have died from hunger and disease. These deaths would most likely have been prevented if it weren't for the imposition of Namibia's de facto State of Emergency.
Ironically, it was not too long ago (on May 18, 1994) that Sam Nujoma received a message from U.S. President Bill Clinton whereby he was roundly congratulated: "Your country's successful transition to multiparty democracy is a remarkable achievement and is a model for . . . the African continent. Namibia's respect for human rights and for peaceful expression of diverse political opinion has rightly earned the admiration of many Americans."
The NSHR asserts that the real motive behind the indefinite border closure is to prevent humanitarian relief assistance from reaching the civilian population in the UNITA-controlled Cuando-Cubango province just north of the Kavango River. The Namibian SWAPO government is very sympathetic towards the Angolan MPLA government. The border closure effectively keeps continuous pressure on UNITA while they are negotiating the peace settlement with the Angolan MPLA government. A NSHR report stated it was upon the request of the Angolan MPLA government in 1993 that Namibia began to impound emergency food aid intended for Angolan civilians in southeastern Angola. This act was even in defiance of the UN Security Council which had called upon all concerned to ensure "free and unrestricted passage" and supply of humanitarian relief and assistance throughout Angola.
Upon investigation, the September 27 shooting turned out to be quite different from the initial reports. UNITA bandits had been immediately blamed for the attack which resulted in the death of Mr. F. Dikuwa and two others, and the rape of a certain woman. However, the circumstances surrounding the incident suggest that neither robbery, nor "UNITA banditry," was the real motive for the shooting. With the exception of a car radio receiver, nothing else, not even cash, had been removed from Mr. Dikuwa's vehicle. Also it was known that the late Dikuwa was himself a notable sympathizer of UNITA and an ardent supporter of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), Namibia's main parliamentary opposition to the SWAPO government.
Mr. Dikuwa's widow dismissed government claims that UNITA was responsible for the murder of her husband. Rather, she questioned the manner by which the death of her husband was used to impose a state of emergency under which many innocent people, especially women and children, were killed and property destroyed. She was of the opinion that certain local residents motivated by jealousy might have killed her husband because of his business or on account of his being an influential member of the DTA opposition.
And rather suspiciously, just one week after F. Dikuwa had been murdered, three heavily armed MPLA soldiers were apprehended in the area by the Namibian police. They were held only one night in the Rundu police cells before they were removed and spirited away, allegedly by Angolan government officials.
The people of southeastern Angola have endured great hardships on account of the border closure. Many even within the church have been greatly discouraged because of the Namibian blockade. Now the only Christian visitors from across the border are the missionaries of Frontline Fellowship. The only Bibles and medicines they have received have had to be smuggled in in defiance of the blockade.
Pray for the Angolans struggling to survive, that in their time of need that they would diligently seek the Lord, that the Lord would encourage and strengthen the hearts of Angolan Christians, and that their testimonies would shine forth brightly in this time of trial.
Contact the Namibian Embassy nearest you and call upon their government to immediately rescind its "shoot on sight" policy along the Kavango River and to reopen its northeastern border with Angola.
Peter Hammond is the Founder and Director of Frontline Fellowship and the Director of United Christian Action (a network of 20 Bible-based groups working for revival and reformation in Southern Africa). He is an international speaker, presenting about 400 lectures or sermons each year throughout Africa, Eastern Europe and America. Peter is married to Lenora and they have been blessed with three children — Andrea, Daniela and Christopher. Donations for Peter Hammond should be made through:
In Touch Missions International
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