Col (Rtd) Hafeni Hamunyela
“Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world - the fight for the Liberation of Mankind”. These famous words by a Russian writer Nokolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky is a befitting description of the late Col (Rtd) Lazarus Hashetu Shihepo Hamutele who passed on 20 July 2020 at his home in Windhoek. He was one of the famous Field (Detachment) Commanders in the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia’s (PLAN) War for Liberation. He remained a commander in the Namibia Defence Force and participated in the spillover of Angola Civil war into Namibia’s Kavango region as well as in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)’s Operation Atlantic in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1999 where he was a commander of a battle group.
The late Col Lazarus Hamutele was the son of Tatekulu Shihepo sha Hamutele while his mother was Meekulu Tabita Mwalengwa ya Kalola. His maternal grandfather Kalola ka Sheetekela was the son of King Sheetekela sha Huundulu of Ombandja Kingdom. King Sheetekela and his people fought heroically against the Portuguese colonialism. Kalola ka Sheetekela was also a well-known warrior who fought against the Portuguese both in Ombandja and in Oukwanyama.
Col Hamutele grew up at Ongenga village in present day Ohangwena region and was brought up by the late Rev. Paulus Neilenge who was the pastor at Ongenga Parish and an uncle of his mother. Col Hamutele joined the liberation struggle as a PLAN combatant in 1972 as commander at different levels and fronts.
I met Commander Hamutele in 1979 in Angola when he became Detachment A Commander at PLAN’s North-Eastern Front (NEF). I was then a Fire Support Platoon Commander in that unit. Our main base was located at a village called Ohambongo and we were operating in what is now eastern Ohangwena region and part of the current Oshikoto region. Later in December 1979, I was promoted to be the Deputy Detachment Commander.
Commander Hamutele proved himself to be a resilient, farsighted, good communicator and above all as someone who is endowed with quick decision-making skills. Quick and logical decision making is the art that military commanders like Hamutele have not only learned at military academies but have experienced through trial and error in the battlefields. In war, quick decision taking is the difference between defeat and victory. This was Hamutele wa Shihepo’s hallmark.
I will enumerate some of the battles he commanded or participated in as I witnessed them or narrated to me by those who were with him at different fronts. One of the PLAN commanders who served with him in the Eastern Front in Zambia, Col (rtd) Elly Shilomboleni (Shingwalulu) remembers Hamutele as a brave and decisive commander.
He narrated the battle in June 1975 near Bwabwata in Namibia when Hamutele was wounded while capturing enemy war material from a badly damaged enemy Unimog truck. The overall commander was the late commander Vilho Nande Shafombabi. He stated that many enemy war materials were captured during that battle. One of the other battles was when they fought for about four hours at Kamenga near Singalamwe in Zambia where they also inflicted heavy enemy causalities. Commander Hanganee Katjipuka who was a deputy regional commander was killed in action during a meeting engagement when he was leading a platoon to reinforce the tactical group under Hamutele.
In the NEF, commander Hamutele cooperated with the Far East Detachment Commander Philip Salom Kamati (Shikuma) who incidentally was also a maternal grandson of a well-known Counsel of the Ondonga Kingdom namely Tatekulu Namupala Gwa Amoomo who fought the German troops at the Battle of Amutoni. Often the two detachments used to contact joint operations. The battle on 4 May 1979, at Oshitai west of Omboloka village, was one of such joint operations. Many enemy soldiers were killed, wounded and some war material captured. Two of our soldiers were killed in action. The battle at Omupembe, Okwatiwalunga were some of the battles he commanded.
As a commander, he was responsible to be in charge at battles and to command his subordinates. They in turn also participated in various battles such as the battle at Onhumba west of Okongo on 1 February 1980 where our Detachment Commissar Boas Munalye was wounded and some enemy soldiers were also killed. Two of our soldiers also sacrificed their precious lives at the same battle.
Under Hamutele served brave commanders who also participated in various battle either with or without him. They include among others; Petrus Aluvilu Shithigona (Komeho), Fanuel Nakanwe (Mutwe Weenumbilila), Henok Ashipala (Vietnam), Gotfried Jesaja, (Ngoto), Amutenya gwa Ngalamwithi. Commander Komeho was fatally wounded at Omhito ya Valyange northeast of Oshikunde in March 1980. One of our platoon commanders Jerry Nambuli also sacrificed his precious life at Omuntele in Oshikoto region in 1979. These are clear indications that Hamutele waShihepo was an active Commander. Other commanders such as Edward Mungonena (Katila), Nghiimbwasha Valombola (Ikombo yaNdongoli), Jeronimo Shikoko, (Mkonda wa Lusia) Gideon Amakali (Kashima) to name but a few proved themselves and ended up commanding Detachments later on. This again proved that Commander Hamutele has mentored and inspired his subordinates to lead. He was respected and liked by his subordinates and peers alike for his farsightedness, decisiveness, resilience and good humour even during difficult times.
Another case that proved his care for the civilians was when one day a villager Tate Mwafangeyo was abducted with his cattle by UNITA in Angola near the village of Okatunhu. Many of our troops were in Namibia however, Commander Hamutele managed to muster some soldiers, pursued UNITA and managed to recover the old man with slight injuries and his cattle minus one slaughtered by UNITA. This proved Hamutele’s quality as a commander and his care for civilians. As Mao Ze Tung once said: “Guerrillas should move among the people like fish in the water.”
After retirement, he was engaging in farming and transport business. I used to meet him at his house in Pionierspark, Windhoek. As we used to speak about topical issues, I realised that it pains him very much to see the Swapo Party under whose banner he and others fought being torn asunder for partisan interests. “What is done is done, why don’t people concentrate on what needs to be done now and move the party from the ditch we find ourselves?” he once asked me that rhetoric question. We will only honour him and other fallen heroes if we pull together to serve our nation and keep the noble aim of the struggle alive.
This land, Namibia, our country is called the Land of the Brave because of the bravery of the gallant sons and daughters like Commander Hamutele. It will remain the Land of the Brave indeed if we put our collective interests above our individual benefits. We will honour their legacy if we pull together in unison for a common goal. As I used to discuss with him, I know that was his innermost wish.
As the adage goes ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away’, like a guerrilla in war, he left quietly noticed by few though his life touched so many. His voice and advice will never fade from our memories.
May his soul continue to rest in eternal peace!