Cassinga day commemorates the Cassinga Massacre. Every year on the fourth of May, the date remembers those (approximately six hundred) killed in 1978 when the South African Defence force attacked the SWAPO base Cassinga in southern Angola. Commemorations are marked yearly by ceremonies at Heroes’ Acre, outside of Windhoek. These ceremonies are attended by many important national political figures. These include the likes of former Presidents Hifikepunye Pohamba and Sam Nujoma (as of 2016).
The Cassinga Day attack
On the morning of the fourth of May, 1978, the South African Defence Force ran an airstrike on camp Cassinga near the village of Cassinga. This was followed by a deployment of paratroopers. Exiled SWAPO sympathisers and their families inhabited the camp. A total of 165 men, 294 women and 300 children died in this attack. Later the same day, the nearby camp Vietnam in the village of Tchetequela was also attacked. As of 2016, the graves are unmarked, but the Namibian government plans to erect a memorial site.
The official toll of the Cassinga Raid was 624 dead and 611 injured civilians and combatants. This according to an Angolan government white paper. Since many combatants were female or teenagers and many did not wear uniforms, the exact number of civilians among the dead could not be established.
The South Africans declared the attack on Cassinga to be a great military success, even though disaster was so closely averted by the intervention of the SAAF and in the face of a SWAPO propaganda campaign that labelled the event a massacre. Despite inflicting heavy casualties, the SADF did not kill or capture Dimo Amaambo or any other senior SWAPO leaders. The SADF casualties were low for such an attack.
Most of the Cassinga survivors were flown to the Island of Youth, the second-largest Cuban island, immediately after the attack, following founding father Sam Nujoma’s request.
Almost thirty years after other African counties, Namibia finally gained its freedom from colonial rule in March 1990. The attainment of formal independence was a momentous occasion, particularly for those who had suffered from the harshness of first German and South African control and who had taken part in the bitter liberation struggle.
The legacy of South African rule was widespread. It included a severe fiscal crisis, a dependent economy, uneven development, inadequate social services for the black population, and the continuance – while negotiations over its status were in progress – of formal SA control over Walvis Bay, Namibia’s main port.
Struggle for independence
Sam Nujoma notes that “The struggle for independence was long. It started a long, long time ago with our traditional historical leaders like kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, kaptein Jacob Marenga, chief Kahimemua Nguvauva, chief Samuel Maharero, chief Nehale lyaMpingana, chief Mandume yaNdemufayo, chief Iipumbu yaTshilongo, chief Hosea Kutako and Kakurukaze Mungunda. We just followed in their footsteps with the armed liberation struggle activities,” he noted.
The liberation struggle, he continued, was fought through political means, diplomatic ways and militarily, as the South African Apartheid regime wanted to silence all types of resistance to their colonial occupation of the country.
Since then, Namibia has shown remarkable signs of political stability. Our freedom means that we have the opportunity to speak, act and pursue happiness without unnecessary external restrictions. Freedom is essential because it leads to enhanced expressions of creativity and original thought, increased productivity and overall high quality of life.
As Namibians, we should never underestimate the sacrifices that went into us attaining our freedom. Join us in observing Cassinga day and remembering those who gave their lives to give us our freedom