Double escape from death
The exodus of people of all ages during the beginning of 1978 was certainly not a new phenomenon in the history of the Namibian national liberation struggle – many nationalists had been forced into exile, from 1960 – among them the then SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma who became the founding President of our nation.
The second President of SWAPO and Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba, who recently handed over both the State and SWAPO party reigns to President Hage Geingob, arrived in Tanganyika on December 9, 1961 when that country was celebrating its independence.
In 1977 Marianne ‘Kleintjie’ Nghihepavali (born Iyambo) from Donkerhoek in Windhoek’s Katutura arrived in Angola where she was destined to miraculously survive death twice in one day during the bloody massacre of May 04, 1978 when hundreds of Namibian men, women and children were mercilessly butchered by members of the apartheid South African Defence Force (SADF).
“Go to the trenches…go to the trenches!” someone was shouting but Marianne did not know what they were referring to when they said “trenches” for she also did not know the lay-out of the Cassinga transit centre because she arrived there towards the end of April 1978.
She ran around and then found a hiding place in a partly bomb destroyed house but a heavily pregnant woman occupant said, “child please don’t hide here, they will get you, it is not safe here…” That woman must have died there for she was also seriously wounded.
Behind the partly destroyed house was a ditch used as a rubbish dump – she went in despite the fact that there were many a corpse and heavily wounded people.
The SADF bombed the spot nearby and that is when Marianne decided to leave the place.
Her body was soaked in blood and one would have thought that she too had been wounded.
It was smoky in certain parts of the transit centre because of the teargas or whatever she had inhaled and she suddenly felt weak and went to sleep near a young tree.
The SADF paratroops who were dropped by helicopters were, according to what she heard from other survivors later, going from spot-to-spot using bayonets to “finish-off” the wounded.
She does not know how long she had been asleep but when she woke up she decided to leave the young tree but had difficulties walking, her legs were swollen. She struggled on until she reached the garage where she found the wounded been taken to a nearby Cuban military camp.
She struggled onto the vehicle but a man called David said she must get off because she was not wounded – she was pulled off crying loudly – she was only 16 years-old at the time. The driver was instructed by David to drive off.
They watched the vehicle with wounded men, women and some children drive off, somewhere, not very far from the Cassinga transit centre, and it hit an enemy landmine and all on board died on the spot! Her second escape from death and she could hardly believe it – she thanked God.
Marianne left Cassinga and later went on to Cuba where she completed her secondary education, studied nursing, worked at the Peter Nanyemba Memorial Hospital in Lubango, Angola. And after independence, she worked at a government hospital in the capital until she ended her earthly journey in 1997. She is survived by two children.
Her husband Mokahonde Ngihepavali has also passed on.