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The war veterans joined the liberation struggle around the 1960s; they hoped to obtain change for the country Namibia. There was change happening in many African countries to liberate countries from colonialism, so most liberation participants were volunteer fighters. Namibia led a liberation struggle against the German colonial occupation from 1884 to 1914 and the South African colonial occupation from 1915 to 1990. Namibia gained her independence on 21st March 1990, and was the last colony in the southern region to gain its independence. Namibia’s independence was gained as a result of a peace agreement by the United Nations (UN) and elections were won by the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), which formed a liberation movement (Paul 2003). But before independence, Namibian people had to struggle to obtain this freedom, and as a result, many war veterans and children of the liberation struggle (CLS) were affected significantly. This essay looks to point out how the war veterans and the children of the liberation struggle have not been treated fairly in the country and some of the things they had to do to during the war and how it affected them.
War veterans and CLS close encounter with death, life in refugee camps, trauma and life in exile
The war was fought by both men and women and many individuals died while fighting. A few good examples is the incident that happened at the Cassinga Camp attack in 1978, the Omatemba battle in 1982 and the well-known battles of Quito Cunavale, Mavinga and Cahama that took place in 1987, a lot of Namibian lives were lost (Metsola 2010). And such events have psychological effects on children during their experience of living in exile. In war situations, children are exposed to traumatic circumstances which have long term psychological effects even in adulthood. Some war experiences are unexpected violent deaths, becoming victims to violent acts such as rape, witnessing violent acts, being separated from parents, and being displaced. Refugee camps are often overcrowded environments where people are restricted in their freedom of movement and these people have fled their home country due to war. The Namibian CLS who were born or raised in refugee camps definitely grew up in vulnerable circumstances that caused them physical, emotional, and psychological harm. These refugee camps also made refugees an easy target for attacks from enemies across the borders. Such as the Namibians in exile, on the 4 May 1978 Cassinga massacre left over 800 of its 3,000 occupants dead in the refugee camp in Angola (Chris 1999). In addition, many parents were also frequently absent in their children’s lives during exile because they were fighting or away for studies or other missions. Some CLS never got to see their parents often. Finally, the absence of parents resulted in the majority of the Namibian CLS being raised by guardians in different hostels and other adults in the community whom parents entrusted to care for their children (Conway, 2003).
Challenges faced after the war
Some of the former freedom fighters felt that they had been forgotten and were living in extreme poverty. Some individuals felt that when the SWAPO leadership took over the new government, that they forgot about them to the extent that some people were denied the status of being war veterans. During the war there were some war veterans who had been foot soldiers and a group of more superior veterans who had been political prisoners, political leaders or commanders. Others played a crucial role in diplomacy by negotiating self-determination for Namibia, and mobilizing resources for the liberation movement. But after independence, instead of having a better life, some faced challenges, such as poverty and negligence by the government under the leadership of politicians who had spent their youth fighting against inequality and injustice. Lastly some female war veterans were happy to have participated in the front lines of the battle but when they returned home after Independence, it seemed that no-body knew who they were, despite having stood with their male counterparts during the war (Haufiku 2014).
There was poor recording of war veterans in exile and this can be seen by the fact that the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs is now trying to verify what had happened to the deceased and missing individuals by asking their families what had happened to their missing relatives. Of which the families most likely just have assumptions of what they believe happened. The liberation movement must answer these questions (Coetzer 2011).
Many war veterans were still finding it difficult to forget all the violence of the war, the fighting, the deaths of other veterans and the loneliness of being separated from their families Reports of their fellow comrades’ deaths after the war haunted them, because lack of clarity on the causes of their deaths. They did not know whether the deaths were natural or as a result of being part of the war. They also didn’t get to properly mourn the loss of lives during the war (Metsola 2010).
According to the Veterans ‘Act, the veterans and their dependents could benefit from the veteran scholarship fund, however, this was not the case when their children applied for scholarships, they were told to contact the Namibian Students’ Fund administration. When they went there, they were told that they did not meet the criteria to receive assistance, despite the fact that their children had acceptance letters from institutions of higher learning from outside where they wanted to study fields (Harring 2009).
Once the war was won the war veterans were back in the country they had to face the reality that they needed to find jobs to support themselves and their families, and unfortunately not all war veterans found favor in the private or public sector, because some of them did not have the formal qualifications because they had been fighting during their youth years. Some war veterans were employed while others could not find any employment which put a huge burden on the relatives who were supporting their return (Amoo 2009).
War veterans went to war to fight against the colonial rulers to get back their land back, however, even after Independence; they still did not have land to settle on. They government has not done enough to address the land issue and enabling war veterans to obtain land, both in communal and commercial areas. War veterans were made to compete with everyone else, and sometimes it was difficult to meet the resettlement criteria. The major conditions for one to secure a farm were that beneficiaries should be able to farm, as well as have a background in agriculture or other related activities on which the resettlement was based (Haufiku 2014). Housing was another challenge. The veterans, especially those with a low income, complained about the lack of housing. It was found that many of the veterans were employed in the police and army. The army and police forces were some of the lowest paid sectors in the country. Most of them were accommodated in bases and police camps where they lived in small, crowded, single rooms, and they had to share bathrooms and a kitchen. Most of those who happened to have houses lived in poor suburbs, such as in Katutura, an area that was previously reserved for blacks only during the colonization. Those who either never secured government accommodation or who wanted to live on their own to maintain their privacy, opted to put up shacks made from iron sheets and in some areas, they had no electricity, water and ablution facilities or they had to share these facilities with other households (Harring 2009).
Many children were victims of their parents’ poverty, the former freedom fighters who could not afford to look after their children due to their unemployment and low income. Another factor that the government failed to address was taking care of the children of the fallen individuals during the war. This also included a lack of guidance and counseling that some children desperately needed as a result of the harsh environments in which they were living at the refugee camps and them just not being able to fit in. CLS struggle in the labor market is caused by lack of education which is noticeably low and health. These unemployed youth are condemned to long-lasting depression should they fail to turn their theoretical knowledge into practical ability (Kanyimba 2011).
These children were born or raised in Cuba, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Angola, Germany, Tanzania and Zambia because their parents were exiled soldiers. The Namibian CLS struggled to define who they were, where they belonged and what course to take in their lives. Children without any proper sense of an own identity remain ignorant of what they really want to do in life and are rather unsure of themselves. They feel out of place, socially, and believe that they are insignificant and unimportant, not only from their own point of view but also as perceived by their societies (Keilly 2009).
From this we can conclude that the government needs to make changes to its Veterans’ Act, Act No.2 of 2008, because some war veterans feel left out and have been struggling to make ends meet, even long after they die, their descendants still continue to suffer. For those still alive they do deserve recognition for even the little contributions they made during the war. The issue of land in Namibia is currently one of the biggest problems and a lot of people are not benefiting from the policies put in place, new policies that work for all citizens need to be drafted before it gets worse. Employment and education needs to be accessible to the war veterans and their children, because they do feel they deserve to be assisted after all they did for the country, it’s understandable as to why they are constantly frustrated because they fought for change and feel it’s not being given to them.
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