Alvine Kapitako Windhoek-For 47-year-old Paulus Shimweefeleni, a former member of the notoriously infamous Rooi Oog (Red Eye) gang, the nickname ‘Ninja’ brings back bad memories. “Paulus,” he replied firmly when this reporter called him ‘Ninja’ during a visit to the maximum security Windhoek Correctional Facility on Friday afternoon. Shimweefeleni earned the name ‘Ninja’ for his marshal art skills which he learnt in exile. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in February 1999. Shimweefeleni was also slapped with a 22-year jail sentence for robbery with aggravating circumstances and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition. “When you called me by that name it brought back bad memories. That name has a memory that I don’t want in my life. It brought so much trouble that each time I caused trouble my mother ended up in hospital. The past is my enemy. I can never go there and do the things I used to do,” Shimweefeleni said in a two-hour discussion with New Era. Neatly dressed in olive-green prison attire and wearing blue Nike sneakers, Shimweefeleni, with strong emotions, spoke of the events that led to the murder of a taxi driver who himself was out on bail for murder. One evening in June 1997, Shimweefeleni and two other escapees went to town in search of a pickup (bakkie) that would transport them to Angola. “I don’t like to talk about this – it’s just because you are here to interview me,” he says as he clears his throat and his eyes well up in tears. “On that night we hijacked a taxi,” he said, after composing himself. Shimweefeleni and his friends stopped a taxi and asked the driver to take them to Grootfontein. “He said no. That’s when things changed,” explained Shimweefeleni. “I pulled out a gun, pointed it at him [taxi driver] and told him to take us to Goreangab dam,” he said. There, a road was under construction and Shimweefeleni asked the taxi driver to get out of his car. “When he got out of the car he took a stone and hit me on the forehead in an attempt to escape,” said Shimweefeleni. The taxi driver was however not fortunate enough to escape. He was caught. “I was looking for a tree where we could tie him up so that we could drive away, but there were no trees surrounding the road because there was construction,” he said. But when the taxi driver attempted to run away for the second time, Shimweefeleni fired the first shot. His friends also fired shots until the man fell down. “We were just shooting. It’s not that we planned to kill someone. I don’t know how these things happened. I went there to see and I told my friend that this man is dead,” related Shimweefeleni. It was later discovered that the bullet that killed the taxi driver struck him in the back of his neck. “Until today I don’t know whose shot killed him. It could be mine or my co-accused. We left the corpse there,” he added. They picked up a friend in Khomasdal but did not mention what had happened. “He kept on asking where I got the car from and I told him I brought it from Single Quarters. We drove to Okahandja and went on our journey. Knowing what happened in Windhoek, in my mind I just wanted to get away.” Along their journey, the police intercepted them, which led to their running away. They were arrested the next day some 60 kilometres to Opuwo. For most part of the interview, Shimweefeleni, who initially appeared nervous, spoke of how regretful he is of the choices he made. “I never used to sleep. I only recently forgave myself.” He explains that in the beginning his life seemed to be a carefree adventure. “At the time I was young and we were doing things that we saw in movies. We didn’t care. We wanted freedom. But when you’re on the run you realise that you’re not a free man because you cannot have a nice time, every time you’re just hiding from everybody,” he reminisced. Looking back at the occasional arrests and escapes from custody, Shimweefeleni realises that the people with whom he robbed and harassed innocent people were not really his friends. “They were just using me,” he says. It all started in 1992, one year after he came back from Cuba, where he spent most of his childhood during Namibia’s liberation struggle. His parents had separated because of their contrasting political beliefs, the very beliefs that sent Shimweefeleni into exile. “My mother was a Swapo supporter but my father was on the South African side,” he added. Of the eight siblings, including Shimweefeleni, only two went into exile, he says. The two, he adds, initially were the favoured ones because they were seen to be their father’s supporters. “But when I came here in 1991 I did not have a place to stay because for us who went to exile, my father did not treat us well,” he said. This resulted in Shimweefeleni moving in with relatives in 1992. It was during that time that he stole a television from his uncle, landing him a six months’ prison sentence. “I wanted money to buy shoes to go and train,” he said, explaining that he wanted to become a professional boxer. In prison, ‘Ninja’ met friends who admired him for his multilingual skills. “This is where wrong things started to happen,” he recalled. Shimweefeleni started staying with his new friends. He was introduced to the business of stealing cars, which they smuggled into Angola. “I ended up stealing cars for these people and because I speak Portuguese they needed me to go and translate at the Angolan border. Sometimes we would go to Lubango.” Around the same time, he joined the Rooi Oog gang. His big physique and fighting abilities earned him the respect of fellow members and things looked promising as the notorious group became untouchable. The gang, Shimweefeleni says, “terrorised” people, mainly by robbing them and if there was no compliance physical violence was the next automatic course of action. His life was a series of armed robberies, arrests, bail and escaping from custody until 1997 when he was arrested for the murder of the taxi driver. The once feared ‘Ninja’ says he is now a changed man and that he hopes to be pardoned on parole for his crimes. “I’m praying to God for the day that I’ll go out,” he says, adding that his aim is to educate the youth that crime does not pay. The father of four says he is ashamed to be called a father because he has not been able to meaningfully contribute to the lives of his children.
New Era Reporter
2018-02-05 09:21:40 9 months ago