'Let's move on'

The head of state yesterday told emotional Lubango victims to move on with their lives.

16 May 2019 | Government

President Hage Geingob has dismissed calls for the establishment of a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to deal with the unresolved pain and anguish associated with the so-called Lubango dungeons.

Geingob claimed yesterday that the country would “go up in flames” if the Pandora's Box associated with the dungeons was opened, and insisted the Swapo-led government has done a lot to embrace the then liberation movement's ex-detainees.

The head of state also asked the ex-detainees whether they deny there were spies during the liberation struggle, and said they are not the only ones living with stigma, as the 'Boere' are also living with the stigma of the past.

Geingob said he was branded a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spy during the apartheid era and told the former Lubango detainees accused of spying for the South African government to move on with their lives and not live in the past.

“We went through things, but we forget. It is a very complicated issue and we will have to start with Koevoet first. But if wounds are now re-opened, this country will go up in flames. There are Koevoet in parliament, in the opposition parties,” said Geingob.

He added there was a blanket amnesty when the United Nations supervised Namibia during the transition from apartheid to an independent government, which covered the apartheid soldiers.

“One thing I cannot understand though is why this issue always comes up during the elections? I know exile is not a joke,” Geingob said. United Nations (UN) Resolution 435, which was adopted on 29 September 1978, compelled Swapo to free all political detainees.

This resolution put forward proposals for a ceasefire and UN-supervised elections in the South African-controlled South West Africa, which ultimately led to the independence of Namibia.

During a visit to State House yesterday a group of Lubango ex-detainees told Geingob they were not there to negotiate, but are demanding the establishment of a TRC, because there is a need for them to sit with their torturers before they can move on. They also demanded to know why Swapo has never investigated the allegations against those the former liberation movement held, tortured and even killed for allegedly being spies.

One of the victims, Justus Tsauseb, who left for exile at the age of 17 and ended up spending nine years in the dungeons, said more than 2 000 people remained in the dungeons and were never returned.

Swapo has claimed for years it only held only 201 “spies” and that they were all released.

Tsauseb wanted Geingob to explain whether the blanket amnesty also covered Swapo's atrocities against its own people.

According to him a group of 160 detainees were returned in 1989 and the last group of 16 people escaped later that year in August.

“We know we left people that were still alive and healthy and they never returned,” Tsauseb said.

A tearful Pauline Dempers refuted claims by Geingob that Swapo has embraced ex-detainees. She said they only had a favourable meeting with former president Hifikepunye Pohamba, whose administration made promises.

She added that to date they had not received feedback from Swapo and its government.

“Swapo killed and detained its own people. For years we lived with death hanging over our heads. We lived with daily uncertainties, whether we would live to see another day. Comrades would fall ill in the middle of the night and die in our arms, while we are shouting for help, and we would carry a dead body out in the morning,” she said.

Dempers told Geingob that ex-detainees who have managed to have successful careers are still being victimised, while others were rejected outright by their families because of fears of guilt by association.

“An ex-detainee moved and settled in a rural community, where she is not originally from and when she realised the community had no communal water tap, she installed one with her own resources. However, some community members refused and instigated others not to make use of the tap, claiming that it might have been paid with enemy slush (fund) money,” Dempers explained.

Others, she said, had for years lived under the radar, because they feared being killed.


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