Ephraim Katatu Kasuto is one of the children of the storm and features among the first black legal professionals who left an indelible mark on Namibia’s profile during the years of upheaval.
But Katatu has fallen through the cracks. He studied in South Africa, obtained B Juris qualification at the University of Zululand and an LLB from Forthare University during the 1970s.
He was admitted as advocate in 1984. That was at the peak of rugged apartheid in both South Africa and Namibia, a period that came to characterise Kasuto’s contribution to Namibia’s struggle for justice.
On a humorous note, the name Katatu in Otjiherero means a tree scalp (otjitatu) - to depict his tiny posture. The word katatu in Bantu languages means ‘three times’ (tutatu in Otjiherero, gararo in Setswana and katatu in Zulu, lutatu in Oshiwambo).
It so happened that while he was a student at the University of Zululand Ephraim visited Barakwana hospital and the doctor gave him medication with the inscription “katatu”, meaning three times in Zulu. As he left, Ephraim’s eyes fell on the word katatu and, mindful that he had never given the medical personnel his Otjiherero name, he assumed that the Boers must have discovered his name though clandestine means and were out to poison him.
He took back the medicine and walked away from the clinic, to the amazement of the clinic personnel.
The first miracle of Katatu presented itself with his schooling. He was an astute animal tenderer in his homestead in Ovitoto where the family first lived as well as in Aminuis where they later settled. His parents were reluctant to take him to school until he was 14.
Ultimately they did and that opened the road to Advocate Kasuto. After doing his articles with the law firm Fisher Quamby and Pfeifer, Ephraim was admitted as advocate in 1984 and started his bumpy legal career in 1985.
He was among the first legal practitioners of his statue and close affiliation to the liberation movement Swapo. As such he had a double card assignment. He played a participatory role in the leadership of the party while he had to clandestinely tend to the welfare of the freedom fighters, at times having to arrange for their legal defense whenever they were captured and had to appear in court. This association gave birth to much more dangerous avenues and in the process he found himself travelling with them under the cover of darkness to uncover or verify evidence in their defense. And, gradually, he was exposed to more roles of having to ferry dangerous weapons across frontiers.
On a day, he travelled from Grootfontein with a consignment of weapons under masquerade. His normal cover would drive kilometers before him to clear the road. This time, the shoe was on the other foot. The army had erected a makeshift roadblock at Kombat after the cover had passed and Kasuto fell right in the trap. As fate would have it, one of the senior commanders on the road block was a village boy from Aminuis by the name Tjipuka Kaendo. When Kasuto was pulled over, Kaendo rushed forward to inspect Kasuto’s car. When he opened the boot he found an assortment of weapons mixed in with hand grenades.
Kaendo quietly looked at Kasuto, closed the boot and signaled the guards to let go. This was one of the several times Kasuto jumped by millimeters a stiff Robben Island jail term or even death penalty.
Once, Kasuto recounted the incident at a funeral in Aminuis and openly thanking Kaendo for having saved his life in spite of the fact that the two at the time represented opposite military operations. As fate would have it, Kaendo is one of the former Koevoet functionaries in his late sixties who do not qualify for veteran status. He lives in Ozondjiva in the Aminuis Constituency, battling diabetes and is virtually blind.
On an evening Kasuto was visited by Reverend Hendrik Witbooi of the African Methodist Church in his capacity as Swapo vice-president, along with Daniel Tjongarero and Mokganedi Thlabanello. They were conducting a critical Swapo central committee meeting and had no quorum.
They wanted him to go and help them form a quorum. Unfortunately, Kasuto could not go and he could not disclose the real reason as it was sensitive to do so. Kasuto was one of the very select comrades who could accommodate freedom fighters in their houses and already then he had six in his house.
Fortunately they were scheduled to leave the same night and he took them to their pickup point under the cover of darkness.
Ephraim had worked closely with braves during the struggle in support of the cause. He would travel to the war zone at times clad as a Herero woman looking for witchcraft in order to link wounded freedom fighters in hiding with medical assistance. A notable aid in this context was Mrs Shangala, wife of Bishop Josaphat Shangala and mother of Namibia’s current Minister of Justice Sacky Shanghala. Mrs Shangala was a professional nurse and one of the fearless comrades through whom Ephraim worked and they did this at personal risk. Mrs Shangala was killed in the Oshakati FNB bomb blast in the process of the struggle and she is one of those gallant fighters whose blood will forever water our freedom. Like Ephraim Kasuto Dr Thomas Ihuhua, Dr Solomon Amadhila and others, they stood firm.
On a day Reverend Erwin Tjirimuje and Mrs Karuaera went to Ephraim. A comrade who worked at the shop of David Meroro in Okondjatu was captured by Koevoet and had disappeared. Ephraim was assigned to investigate and he travelled to Okondjatu via Omitara, alongside Comrade Rudolph Hongoze. Between Omitara and Steinhausen, three of the wheels of their car just flew off and the car rolled several times. Ephraim was hurt badly. The left bone of his forehead disintegrated, his left eye was left half-blind and his left arm became permanently disabled. Fortunately, Rudolph Hongoze was saved and mid-wived the exercise to get Kasuto ambulance services to Gobabis. Kasuto remained unconscious for several days and left family, comrades and friends gaping for words for the longest time. Upon closer inspection in came to light that the wheels of his car had been tempered with.
The state declined suggestions that Ephraim be taken to South Africa’s Groote Schuur Hospital. In the end the family made own arrangements to get him there, after which he was flown to Germany with the assistance of the Swapo. President Sam Nujoma played a critical role in getting Kasuto to Germany for further medical attention. Kasuto stayed in and out of medical institutions for about two years and in the end he recovered substantially to return to legal practice.
Ephraim worked with the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) for about six years as head of the Legal Assistance Centre and that is where I came to work closely with him in the process of linking detainees and prisoners of the liberation struggle with legal services as well as with life sustaining resources for their families.
New Era Reporter
2019-02-06 10:08:53 6 months ago