Tears still flow for Frieda
Six years after unarmed protestor Frieda Ndatipo was killed during a clash between struggle kids and the police at the Swapo headquarters in Windhoek, her family say their pain over her unjust and unsolved death remains raw.
“I was 19 years old when she was killed. It was not easy. We lost our parents at a young age, and she took care of us. She was my mum,” Ndatipo’s sister Ndalie Maria Immanuel said this past Friday.
Throughout most of the frank interview, Immanuel struggled to hold back her tears, insisting, however, that she wanted to talk about her beloved older sister, to help keep her memory alive.
Ndatipo’s parents - Lahya Paulus and Felix Ndatipo - are both dead, and were heavily involved in the county’s liberation struggle. Her mom died on 16 December 2004 and her father on 22 October 2011. Ndatipo’s three children receive a government child grant of N$250 each month.
“She was a strong woman. Even on the day she was shot, she was there to try and help others and us. She was a warrior, always protecting and caring for us,” Immanuel said.
Ndatipo was 26 years old and the mother of three young children, then aged one, three and six, when a stray bullet entered and exited her chest, killing her immediately.
The state's inquiry into Ndatipo’s death on 27 August 2014 was concluded after an official investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman and a High Court inquest in 2015, both establishing that while her death was unlawful, it was by "an unknown person".
The gunfire was brief. All 25 cartridges found at the scene were from bullets fired within just four minutes, and were linked to 11 armed police officers at the scene.
No evidence was found to confirm witness statements that some of the struggle kids had carried or used firearms.
“I can’t stop the tears when I think of Frieda, but especially when I look at her kids, my heart hurts.”
Immanuel said her oldest niece, now 13, still struggles deeply with the loss of her mother.
The family faces not only the emotional struggle of the loss, but also the financial burden of caring for Ndatipo’s children.
“What pains me is that the government has not said or done anything. But we know one of them killed my sister. If they could at least help, it would feel better. They never gave us anything, nothing. Not even to help with the children,” Immanuel said.
She and many others believe there “was never any justice in this case”.
Lawyer Henry Shimutwikeni confirmed he is acting on behalf of the guardian of the minor children to institute legal proceedings against the police and others.
However, they face steep hurdles in the case, which involves tackling the current Police Act.
The lawyer explained that because the courts found no one responsible for Ndatipo's death, bringing a civil claim against “an unknown” person, or a “ghost”, is tricky, if not impossible.
Killed by the state
Immanuel said she does not want to confront the 11 police officers who fired their weapons, because it would be too painful.
“What they did, not any family wants to go through that. After they killed her, they said it was a ‘ghost’, that no one could be blamed,” she said, adding the family believes that the police are responsible for Ndatipo’s death.
Ndatipo’s aunt, Shalikoshi Ndaifanwa, who has helped raise the children, said: “Frieda was a brave girl. Until today, the wound in my heart has not healed."
‘Killed like an animal’
Ndaifanwa said her niece was "killed like an animal”.
“She was just a child, the daughter of my sister,” she added.
The aunt said she’s not angry, but deeply troubled and saddened by her niece’s death and the lack of any government support.
"They never took responsibility to help heal our wounds.”
An inquest concluded that Ndatipo was shot when she was standing some distance from the clash and that she had not thrown any stones or physically resisted the police.
A key finding by the report issued by the Office of the Ombudsman's investigative team was that “non-compliance or breach of the law (by the police) runs like a golden thread through the events of the fateful day of 27 August 2014”.
The report lists numerous flaws in the police’s response to the “unlawful but non-threatening” demonstration by the struggle kids and the handling of the police investigation afterwards.
Crucially, it was discovered that the positions of the spent cartridges were never marked, eliminating the chance of identifying the trajectory of the bullet that killed Ndatipo.
“When asked why not, they alleged that they picked the spent cartridges up and lumped them all together… because the struggle kids invaded the scene,” the report stated.
Had they pinned the positions, “one could have reconstructed the scene to establish the locality of the firearm, who fired it, and thus the person who fired the shot”, the report said.
Another key finding was the “arbitrary police action, the overzealous discharging of firearms and the violent dispersal of an illegal gathering”.
During interviews with witnesses, the investigative team found “some of the police officers who discharged their firearms on the scene of crime did not afterwards accurately report on the number of used or unused bullets”.
This allowed some to “tailor their explanations".
The report concluded: “The police were obviously not tolerant of the unlawful but peaceful, non-threatening gathering and their conduct escalated the situation unnecessarily”.
Moreover, it was evident that they were not equipped to deal with the escalation and that none of the police acted in self-defence to a life-threatening situation.
State of panic
Legal Assistance Centre director Toni Hancox last week said the actions of the police that day “showed a state of panic”, exacerbated by an officer in charge who had no experience in such crises.
She said while the situation might have been overwhelming to many, “it should be within the ability of the police to act in an acceptable and certainly controlled manner”.
Hancox said since then, “the police have not changed their ways to any large extent”, while pointing to various altercations between the police and civilians during operations Hornkranz and Kalahari.