• September 22nd, 2019

Richard Kapelwa Kabajani: A national hero

By Kamwi Kabajani

MAY 17, 2007 marked the end of a veteran’s life. A dark cloud had fallen over Namibia and the Kabajani family in particular. It is a day that will go down in the history of the family and nation with the fondest memories of sorrow and sadness at the loss of a special son, friend, brother, father, uncle and indeed a hero of the Namibian struggle for freedom and independence of our motherland Namibia.  

Kapelwa Richard Kabajani was the first man from the Zambezi Region to be appointed a Minister in the Swapo Party-led government after independence. He was the first man from the same region to be appointed Ambassador and the first to be accorded hero status and laid to rest at Heroes’ Acre. Ba Kapelwa was the first Defence Deputy Secretary of the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) from 1970 to April 1983. He was the first man to act as Secretary for Defense after the demise of veteran Ndilimani, Peter Nanyemba from April 1983 to 1986. He was the first Minister of Works Transport and Communication in the Republic of Namibia. He was surely the first in this family to attend upper primary and secondary school. We endorse that he was the first man to gain formal education and gainful employment in the family. What a hero we had?

Ba Kapelwa was however the third born son in the family with ten other siblings, five women and five men. Despite the distance in the family hierarchy between me (at number seven) and him (at number 3), Ba Richard, as he was casually referred to by many of his political peers, had confidence of note in me and shared with me the suffering and pain he went through and endured during his time in exile. He also shared his best days, worst days, disappointments and excitements during his time as Minister and Ambassador respectively. I live today with the greatest memories of his life before and after the protracted war of liberation. He shared with me countless stories of his time as a soldier and all that he went through in exile. Thanks to the founding and sitting presidents of Namibia for the trust and honour bestowed on my brother. 

Ba Richard Kapelwa Kabajani was born on the 15th of February 1943 in a small village called Ivilivinzi some 117 kilometres east of Katima Mulilo. This story is a synopsis of the political highlights of this noble person, as an ex-PLAN soldier and as a politician, whose history in the liberation struggle of Namibia was clear but whose history and life in exile was not known to many in Namibia. It is a story that we keep relating in an attempt to keep his political profile and to simply use his commitment and participation in the war of liberation as a source of inspiration for members of his immediate family, relatives, friends and the youth of Namibia in general. We deem it necessary given the time he spent in exile and the massive contribution he had made in the struggle for the liberation of Namibia. 

He went into exile in 1964 and upon his arrival in Mbeya, Tanzania, in 1964, Ba Kapelwa chose to go for military training as he felt it was the quickest approach to liberate Namibia. This choice demonstrates his bravery and commitment to fight for freedom. Ba Richard would surely have completed an advanced post-graduate qualification in engineering had he chosen the academic route. He spent some days in Mbeya, with many of his compatriots before Tobias Hainyeko took them for military training in Kongwa where all freedom fighters from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, South Africa and Namibia were being trained. Ba Kapelwa became part of this camp for close to two years. He however faced one challenge in the Swapo camp, the majority of the comrades in the camp only spoke Oshiwambo, which he could not understand nor speak. He immediately thought that in order for him to be part of a successful team of fighters he had to start with the language of the majority of his colleagues and comrades. He met only three persons who he shared the same language with him namely the late veteran Ba Fredrick Matongo, a certain Ba Ndopu and Ba Raimond Buiswalelo, who worked for logistics. It took him less than three months in the camp to master the Oshiwambo language. The first part of his mission was accomplished. 

He was inspired by the industrious character of Ba Buiswalelo in the camp. A man of good political character who served as a source of inspiration for many freedom fighters in Kongwa. The combatants in Kongwa, Tanzania, had a special instructor by the name of Nghaamwa, who specialized in explosives and the firing of a 303 rifle. Nghaamwa was trained in the then Soviet Union. He taught them how to mix chemicals to make bombs. Besides the group that was in Kongwa there were other colleagues who were sent to different countries for military training such as Mzee Kaukungwa and Maxton Mutongulume, who were undergoing military training in China. Swapo was represented by Ba Chrispin Mulonda in Algeria at the time. Ba Chrispin was a strong diplomat and a committed Swapo cadre. Ba Kapelwa worked extremely hard and completed his military training in 1966. By then he had been promoted from the position of secretary of the camp to commander of the camp. That year they were fully trained soldiers, who were prepared to face the enemy and fight for the freedom of their country. 

All commanders in Kongwa received a message from Peter Nanyemba in Dar es Salaam to select combatants to go and fight inside Namibia. This was not good news for some combatants, as it was time to fulfil their commitment and sacrifice by facing the baptism of fire. Trucks and busses were sent from Dar es Salaam to Kongwa, while the commanders readied themselves with their combatants. The first group was dispatched prior to August 1966. This was the group that eventually got attacked at Omugulugwombashe in the Omusati Region on the 26th of August 1966. Ba Kapelwa’s group was the second to be dispatched to Namibia for combat. They travelled from Kongwa by buses to Lusaka and across the Zambezi River into Namibia. The journey was completed without incident. The other members of the combat team that were part of his mission were Ndafenongo Kambwela and Ba Wilson Matengu. What followed after this initiation into the war zone inside Namibia constituted the rest of Ba Kapelwa’s life in Swapo from 1966 to the day he returned to Namibia in 1989. It has been a marathon of a liberation experience worth recording in the books of history. Ba Kapelwa was trained as a PLAN Commander of the Mechanized Infantry Brigade in the Soviet Union between 1977 and 1978. He retired from politics in 2004 and indeed paid homage to all brave sons and daughters of this country, who fought alongside him and to all the fallen heroes and heroines whose blood waters our freedom. In his own words he was quoted as having said: “I volunteered my youthful years to free this country and my contribution was not in vain as Namibia is today a free, democratic and a sovereign state.” Ba Kapelwa was a central figure in cementing the political portfolio of the then Eastern Caprivi on the total liberation agenda for Namibia. This was demonstrated by his mobilization of many of his fellow comrades from the Zambezi Region in Mbeya and Kongwa, who harboured separatist tendencies. Many with such separatist motives failed the liberation test and were removed from the military training programme. He was also central to the liberation history of Namibia, especially the role he played in rehabilitating the Shipanga rebel combatants into the mainstream PLAN combatants. His period as acting Defence Secretary was the time that the war of liberation was at its highest ebb and so in return put in place counter-actions to repel the enemy. Many of the combatants who worked with him in the military structure of Swapo and PLAN can testify to that. 

Ba Kapelwa served this country with distinction in various capacities. In1989 he was appointed to head the election campaign in then Caprivi Region (the present day Zambezi Region). He was appointed the first Minister of Works Transport and Communication. He also became Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation and was later appointed Minister of Youth and Sport. He was also appointed Namibian Ambassador to Cuba in September 2000. His last words as we concluded our recording of his life in Swapo were: “The struggle for the liberation of this country was not easy. There is therefore a serious need to guard jealously our hard won freedom and independence.” Ba Kapelwa was given a befitting hero’s burial that started with his memorial service on the 25th of May 2007 and was finally buried at Heroes’ Acre on the 26th of May 2007. It is our hope and trust that those who sacrificed their precious lives for the total liberation of this country shall always be remembered. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

New Era Reporter
2014-05-23 09:36:48 5 years ago

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