Ya Nangoloh loses veteran status fight

The human rights activist says the Veterans Board failed in its duty when it made a “politically driven” decision.

24 January 2019 | Justice

An application challenging a decision by the Veterans Appeal Board was struck off the roll by High Court Judge Harald Geier yesterday.

NamRights executive director Phil Ya Nangoloh had lodged an application with the High Court in May 2018 in an attempt to overturn a decision by the Veterans Appeal Board that his application for veteran status is disapproved.

The Veterans Appeal Board concurred with a decision by the Veterans Board in March 2017 that Ya Nangoloh's application for recognition as a veteran of the liberation struggle be dismissed.

The Veterans Board had argued that Ya Nangoloh had deserted the liberation struggle when he refused to return to Swapo in 1980 and that he allegedly failed to explain his activities between 1980 and 1986.

The Veterans Act of 2008 defines a veteran as someone who was a member of the “liberation forces” and has “consistently and persistently participated or engaged in any political, diplomatic or underground activity in furtherance of the liberation struggle” up to the date of independence.

The Act further states persons who “discontinued” their participation in the liberation struggle – or who are considered as “deserters” - are not to be considered as veterans of the liberation struggle.

“He [Ya Nangoloh] went on his own which constitutes an act of desertion. Therefore not recommended,” the Veterans Board concluded.

Ya Nangoloh said he had fled Swapo fearing for his life after a number of threats against his life and “several warning signs” after he was associated with Andreas Shipanga who had formed Swapo-D after a fall-out with the Swapo exile leadership.


Ya Nangoloh in his court application argued that the Veterans Appeal Board had failed to apply its mind by not recognising that the rightful owner and custodian of the liberation struggle is the Namibian people as a whole and not an individual party – Swapo, in this instance.

He argued that the board erred in law by equating the liberation struggle with Swapo, or by equating Swapo with the Namibian people.

He said abandoning Swapo does not mean that he has abandoned the liberation struggle.

He said after he developed a “reasonable fear of real arbitrary or extrajudicial execution” on a perceived association with the so-called Shipanga rebellion, he had made a “timely and pre-emptive decision” in 1980 to leave Swapo.

He said the only option left to him to save his life was to flee, refrain or desist from returning to Swapo in Zambia or Angola where large numbers of fellow PLAN or other Swapo members had been sentenced and subjected to arbitrary or summary executions, prolonged detention without trial, torture or other inhumane treatment and enforced disappearances.

Ya Nangoloh said the appeal board concurred with the Veterans Board's “politically-driven, arbitrary and unreasonable decision” that argued that “fleeing for one's life, resigning or deserting from Swapo” must automatically mean an “absence or lack of consistency or persistency” in participation in the liberation struggle.

Moreover, he said assisting Shipanga, whom he considered a personal friend, cannot be interpreted as having been in favour of colonialism, racism and apartheid, or being against the liberation struggle of the Namibian people.

Ya Nangoloh said he was a full-time student at the New York Institute of Technology between 1981 and 1986 where he studied to become an electrical engineer.

He said upon his return to Namibia he was an active official of the Parents Committee of Namibia and had persistently and consistently participated in the political struggle and the campaign to secure the release of political prisoners held by both apartheid South Africa and Swapo in exile.


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