PLAN’s role in the fight for Namibia’s independence

I am still pondering why perhaps our armed liberation struggle has been half told by those in the know and, more importantly, why less effort is being made to write books on the volunteers of PLAN. Is it taboo to talk about our own successes and failures, if there were anything at all to talk about, or how under the sun will the generation of the 2040s know that the country they call theirs was once upon a time a colony of successive colonial powers and that this country was liberated through the barrel of the gun? 

On a more serious note, who, in the first place, has that noble responsibility of documenting this important milestone in the fight against the colonial forces in this motherland and our generation, or have we become a nation of people who shy away from telling their own history? Hopefully not. 

We did not initiate the war; therefore we have nothing to lose by telling how we committed our youthful energy and efforts to wage that liberation war until victory over our adversaries was achieved on 21 March 1990.

Dear comrades, former PLAN Combatants, it is regrettable that a knowledgeable, committed, and inspirational PLAN combatant fighter comrade Peter Ekandjo and many others have sacrificed their lives at time when the Swapo Party and party cadres are yearning for their contribution during the most bitter and protracted struggle for economic emancipation to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged category of PLAN combatants. 

What necessitated the formation of PLAN? What motivated the Swapo leadership in the 60s to establish a political organisation? And why three fronts? First, the legacy of the political, diplomatic and armed liberation struggle speaks for itself. The Swapo Party flag (blue red and green) is a vivid testimony to the facts. 

The formation of the tribal police force, the South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF), South Africa Police Service (SAPS), Koevoet, and other special security forces by the colonial government were indicative of how brutal the regime was. The imposition of martial law in 1972, the 1976 Internal Security Act, the infamous Sabotage Act of 1967 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (1967) were enacted to suppress the struggle for independence. 

Many sons and daughters sacrificed their blood, tears and sweats to achieve our political independence. An indicative of the above, on 1April 1983 the first Secretary of Defence of PLAN died in action, and on 1 April 1990 the unarmed PLAN combatants were massacred under the nose of the United Nations in the current Ohangwena Region. 

The slaughter of our women and children at Cassinga, Oshikuku, and other places are a case in point. The incarceration of our young Namibians in internal and external prisons for political reasons is vivid in our minds.

What induced or motivated the SWAPO leadership in the 60s to establish a political organisation? The aim was to unite the people of Namibia, irrespective of race, religion, sex, or ethnic origin, into a mass political party born and steeled in the crucible of a popular and heroic struggle for national independence to liberate Namibia from colonial occupation.

What was the role of political front? The political front was an administrative body serving as a mirror through which all the organisation’s activities were monitored and evaluated. The diplomatic front was created to lobby and critically examine and evaluate the impact of the party’s political and military propaganda on international platforms. 

According to Mao Zedong, “war is an extension of politics”, hence the third military front was an extension of politics by intensifying the armed struggle. Our struggle was and remains characterised by the colours of the Swapo Party flag; that we will fight to liberate the minerals and the wealthy of Namibia; that we were going to cross rivers of blood, tears and sweat to attain our national independence, and that we fought for the land, its agricultural potential and the vegetation.

Why was it necessary to establish as military wing? And what came first, the egg or chicken? Just like the formation of Swapo, the first military structure was known as South West Africa Liberation Army (SWALA). It was formed between 1964 and 1970.

Some SWALA Military Council and founding members in 1964:

Late Tobias Hainyeko, Leonard Nangolo Philemon Shuuya ‘Castro’, late Peter Hambiya; late John ya Otto Nankudhu; late David Uushona; Titus Mwailepeni; late Nelson Kavela and late Peter ‘Shinyafa’ Haitembu. Other unit commanders were Richard Kapelwa Kambandjani, Jonas ‘Mwabwa ya Nafenya’ Haiduwa, Frans Dniel Joseph Amunyela wa Shalali; Aron ‘Shoongambelo’ Embashu; Eknonia ‘Kambwela’ Ndafenongo; Jenus Hamukwaya; Nande Shafombambi; Jona ‘Nawa; Shiweda and Kalangula Hedimbi

Please take note: Cde Tobias Hainyeko served as the first commander of Swapo military wing, SWALA, from 1964 to 1967, and died in action on 18 May 1967 between the Zambia-Namibia borders.


It was one of the Tanga Consultative Congress agenda points to re-energise and reform itself into readiness to liberate Namibia from colonial bondage. Further, the congress took principled decisions to create Swapo departments, including the Youth League, Elders’ Council, Women’s’ Council, and most importantly, to reorganise the military wing, SWALA, which was then renamed the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) by the congress. 

It should be understood that prior to the establishment of SWALA on 17 June 1964, the first military wing was then known as (NAPLA), but according to existing information it did not last long before being renamed SWALA. 

It is vital to note that the congress further elected then Swapo president Sam Nujoma as the first commander-in-chief of PLAN and chairperson of the Military Council. The late Peter Nanyemba ‘Ndilimani Yomukunda Gwa Ampolo’ was elected as the first secretary of defence and transport. 

The defence secretary was tasked by the congress to secure all necessary military and logistics equipment and also to ensure that all able-bodied Namibians were properly military trained to engage the colonial occupation troops inside the country. 

Other comrades elected into various positions were the late Brendan Simbwaye, who was elected in absentia as the Swapo vice president and; the late Moses Garoeb as Swapo’s administration secretary. The consultative congress also elected new members to the central committee and ten members of the national executive committee.

Most significantly, the congress reaffirmed one principal decision which was taken earlier, namely that “the armed liberation struggle is the only effective strategy to bring about the liberation of Namibia”.

Peter Nanyemba (1961-62)

Who was Peter Nanyemba ‘Ndilimani Yo Mukunda Gwa Ampolo’?

Cde Peter Nanyemba was born in 1935 in the current Oshikoto Region. He worked as a contract labourer at a young age in Walvis Bay and became a member of the People’s Organisation (OPO) in 1958. In 1960, Nanyemba became one of the leading political activists as a Swapo branch secretary for Walvis Bay.

Because of his political conviction, Nanyemba was arrested in 1961 and detained before his deportation to Ovamboland. Nanyemba escaped into exile to join other SWAPO members abroad in Da-es-Salaam, Tanganyika, (United Republic of Tanzania) in 1962. From 1963 to 1964, He worked with Maxton M’tongolume in Botswana, before he was recalled to Tanzania to represent Swapo in East Africa, a position he held until 1969. 

During the SWAPO Tanga Consultative Conference held in Tanzania at the end of December 1969 until January 1970, Nanyemba was elected as secretary for defence, a very challenging and crucial assignment at the time, because the armed liberation struggle for Namibia’s independence was very intense.

With the defeat of Portuguese colonial occupation in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, hundreds of young Namibians took the opportunity and voluntarily joined the Swapo in exile, mostly through Angola, and most of us became members of (PLAN) as combatants or “Freedom Fighters”. In that time Nanyemba continued to play an instrumental role in arranging military training and equipment for the PLAN combatants.

In 1977 with the assistance of Soviet Union’s military specialists, Nanyemba established PLAN’s military centre called the Tobias Hainyeko Training Centre (THTC) in Lumbango, the capital city of the Huila Provence of Angola. The referred to training Centre was named after the first former PLAN commander Tobias Hainyeko, who died in action on 18 May 1967.

As part of his military strategic planning, Peter Nanyemba established four military regional fronts, namely the Eastern Regional Front in the Western Province of Zambia, the North Eastern Region; Northern Region and North Western Region. All the last three regional fronts mentioned were in the Cunene Province of Angola bordering Namibia. 

In addition to the establishment of Tobias Hainyeko Training Centre (THTC), Nanyemba also established in 1978 another military training centre in the west of Lumbango, called Jumbo Training Centre (JTC). Notwithstanding that, while establishing military training cenres in Lumbango, a Defence Headquarter, and the Operation Command Headquarter were also set up to serve and supervise all PLAN military operations.

It was on the basis of the establishment of the training centres, including the Defence and Operation Commanding Headquarters that PLAN, under the dynamic leadership of Nanyemba recorded commendable achievements in the liberation struggle for Namibia.

It’s in that context that the historical contribution and commitment of individuals to the liberation legacy cannot and should not be forgotten or erased. It should be recorded as such and honoured accordingly. Comrade Peter Nanyemba Ndilimani Yo Mukunda Gwa Amupolo, was a charismatic, military strategist, inspirational, and action-oriented PLAN secretary for defence. 

He died in action at the front in Angola, on 1April 1983. May his soul rest in eternal peace. For sure, we have crossed many rivers of blood as a price to attain our national independence, and that history cannot be compromised. “Their blood, tears and sweat waters our freedom”. 

That hope was achieved on 21 March 1989. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5, Verse (9). 

By Rtd. Commissioner Nkrumah Mushelenga, founder and chairperson of PNPCVT


Long live the revolutionary legacy of Comrade Peter Nanyemba & Comrade Tobias Hainyeko. May God bless Namibia, the land of the brave!