Farewell, Panduleni Kali

Paul Trewhela on a voice from beyond the grave that tells of Namibia's atrocious past

Panduleni Kali, one of the most remarkable and emblematic women in recent Namibian history, died in Windhoek on Monday 14 June and was buried last Saturday. She was in her early 50s. She leaves behind her twin sister Ndamona: like her, a witness to Namibia's schizophrenic past and its unclarified present.

At her death, Panduleni was a senior statistician in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in Namibia. Ndamona is a senior statistician in the National Planning Commission.

These two eminent women's horrific experience in exile in Angola in the 1980s at the hands of the now governing party of Namibia, the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO), is the subject one of the most powerful first-hand accounts of SWAPO's atrocities against its own members. It appears in full in a chapter, "A Namibian Horror", in my book, Inside Quatro: Uncovering the exile history of the ANC and SWAPO (Jacana, 2009), having appeared first in a banned exile magazine edited in London, Searchlight South Africa (issue No. 4, February 1990), of which I was co-editor.

Panduleni's account, reproduced below, is the transcription of a recorded interview with the two sisters made in London in November 1989 by two former South African political prisoners and exiles, Roman Eisenstein and myself. Roman had been sentenced to five years imprisonment in Pretoria prison as a member of the African Resistance Movement sabotage group, having spent the whole of World War Two as a child in his native Poland in hiding with his father.

A further brief appreciation of Panduleni Kali is by Erica Beukes, whose brother, Walter Tiro, died in SWAPO's prison camps in Angola, and who campaigned tirelessly with her husband Hewat Beukes in the 1980s to bring SWAPO's atrocities to the attention of international organisations. The deaf ear of international organisations to any revelation of these abuses appears in my book in another essay, "SWAPO and the Churches: An International Scandal", first published in Searchlight South Africa No.7 in July 1991.

Born to Owambo-speaking parents in 1958, Panduleni and Ndamona Kali attended Martin Luther High School in Omaruru, north of Windhoek, from 1974 to 1978. At school they took part in political activity in the Namibian Black Students' Organisation (NABSO). In 1978 the political situation was tense and, harassed by the South African police, they left the country for Angola to join the military wing of SWAPO, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). They received military training at Thobias Hainyeko camp in 1979.

Ndamona was then sent to the Soviet Union for political training, Panduleni to Cuba . Both studied Lenin, Marx and Engels: Ndamona at the Komsomol in Moscow: Panduleni with the Federation of Cuban Women. After completing her course in the Soviet Union, Ndamona returned to SWAPO bases in Angola and was then sent to join Panduleni at the University of Camaguey in Cuba, where they both studied economics. Ndamona was a leader of the SWAPO youth at the university, Panduleni a leader of the women's council.

The senior professional status of these two women in Namibia is testimony to their outstanding ability and to their major contribution to African independence. Their treatment by SWAPO in exile, however, is testimony to a terrible heritage which has still not received attention in any Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Particularly dreadful is the record of SWAPO's treatment of women.

They were arrested in November 1984 at the University of Camaguey by Cuban state security police, stripped, internally examined, and flown with three female and two male Namibian colleagues to Angola, where they were handed over to SWAPO. From Luanda they were driven by SWAPO security officials, handcuffed, and in pain, to the Karl Marx Reception Centre at Lubango in southern Angola. There they were separated, not to meet again as prisoners for another two years.

Each was tortured by being stripped naked, handcuffed and hung stomach-downward between two horizontal poles. They were then beaten with sticks by male security officials, with a cloth being put in their mouths when they screamed in pain. They were ordered: "Tell what you have been hiding".

This continued for many months. They were then detained in damp pits in the ground for five years, before being released in 1989 as part of the negotiation process leading to Namibian independence.

Sexual abuse of women prisoners by their male guards was a normal part of this disgraceful history.


PANDULENI KALI: A Namibian Horror

Panduleni: Later [after we arrived] in Angola we learned that the main accusation against female comrades was that they were supposed to be carrying poisoned blades in their private parts.

I persisted under the torture for eight months. There was no alternative, I had just to make up a story, so I said I had been trained in Nyobo by two Boers living there in a high building with 'South African Military Training' written on the wall. I put the time when I was still at school. I thought they would find out and free me because no white people live at Nyobo, and there are no big buildings there. But I stayed in that dungeon for five years.

Generally dug-outs were normal for the war situation but they were only used for emergencies, not for sleeping in. We were in them all the time. The men who were guarding us, the 'loyal sons of SWAPO', slept in ordinary rooms.

There was a small layer of bricks at the top of the hole to serve as windows. We covered ourselves with empty rice bags, sleeping on boxes. In one corner there was the toilet, and we were so overcrowded that the last person had to sleep only a few centimetres from the toilet. There was no fresh air. The dug-out served as hospital, dining room, toilet, and even in one case as maternity room.

We were kept completely uninformed, we were not even allowed to read SWAPO bulletins, everything that was happening was a big secret. We could only tell of the coming of visits [by SWAPO leaders] from the behaviour of the commandants.

We were visited by Sam Nujoma, the president of SWAPO, on 21st April 1986 . Before the arrival of the president we were visited on 4th April by Solomon Hawala, the chief of security of SWAPO, and Dimo Amaambo, the army commander. Amaambo is the top military leader of PLAN and Hawala is supposed to be deputy commander of PLAN. We were told to gather under a big tree, and 'Jesus' Hawala introduced us to Dimo saying, 'Those are the traitors of the nation, who have betrayed the Namibian nation'.

He said that some of the 'females' - that was the general term for us, the 'females' - had come with blades hidden in our bodies and had killed many combatants of PLAN.

And very much surprising, the response of Dimo was, 'I wish I can see these blades, I've never seen anything like that'. That was the response of the army commander in 1986, and yet many females have been arrested right from 1980, 1982, with this main accusation of having blades.

My impression was that Dimo Amaambo did not really believe in these blades, but he didn't say anything more. Then on 21st April the president came. He was accompanied by Peter Shehama [former representative of SWAPO in Cuba], Ananias Angula, Peter Mueshihange [a former SWAPO secretary for defence] and of course Solomon Hawala was there.

We were put in parade formation, in rows. Among other things, Nujoma said that we were enemy agents, that we came with poisons to kill the combatants of PLAN, some of us even tested our poisons, we put them in the water and food of PLAN combatants, and these people died. He promised that they would fight more than ever before to liberate Namibia, and to take us to our mothers and fathers, and we would be paraded at a revolutionary square where they were going to hoist their flag and the nation would decide what to do with us.

Nujoma was told by us that we were never enemy agents, that we were forced by torture to confess: Theresa Basson was one who intervened, and Magdalena Goagoses was another. They both told Nujoma that people were forced to make false confessions, and it was even put clear to him that some of the interrogators gave people advice to make false confessions to save their lives. There was no reaction from the side of the president, he left.

Nujoma came back a second time to Minya Base in March 1987. By then Ndamona and I were together. He was told the very same thing, by Ilona Amakutua and Sarie Eises. Marta Angula also spoke. Emma Kambangula went to the extent of undressing herself to show the scars of interrogations, and also to show that she had had an operation while very young, on her back.

She had been operated on in South Africa, and had later gone to the German Democratic Republic for medical treatment. When she was arrested, SWAPO security claimed she had a radio communication in her back. She tried to demonstrate to the president that that was a lie. Nujoma said nothing, he didn't mention any investigation, nothing.

One girl said, 'The moment you turn your back, we'll be beaten. You must tell these people not to beat us any more'. The only response was: 'I heard'.

On 10 January 1989 we had another visit, from the SWAPO administrative secretary, Moses Garoeb. His main mission was to tell us that the leadership of SWAPO had decided we would be released. He said that on 1 April, the UNTAG forces [United Nations Transitional Assistance Group] were going to take over in Namibia under Article 435. He informed us that there would be no second dungeon for us in Namibia. When he said there would be no second dungeon for us, by implication that means death. He said Namibia was going to be free, we were going to find the Boers, including those who had sent us to infiltrate SWAPO.

After Garoeb left, a video team visited the camp. At that time there were about a hundred women in the camp and about twenty men. We received no visit from the Red Cross. Only the women were videoed. If you see these videos, it appears that the people being interviewed are really speaking from the depths of their hearts, but we were intimidated into sitting for the video.

We were told, 'If you don't confess, you'll face another situation'. Those who did not appear before the video did not arrive in Namibia. We were told later in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees camp in Lubango that Gerhard Tjozongoro, who had been held at Mungakwiyu, had not returned. Only security men were present at the interview, many who had tortured us. The interviewer was Peter Nambundunga, the chief of logistics of PLAN, wearing military dress.

[PT: Following SWAPO's video recording of these forced 'confessions', the women prisoners were then visited by representatives of UNTAG, as well as by journalists from West Germany, France, Angola, Cuba and Namibia. Andimba Toivo ja Toivo introduced the women to the journalists as traitors who had betrayed the nation, but who had been forgiven and were going to be returned to Namibia. By the time they arrived in Namibia on 4 July 1989, SWAPO's fabricated videos were already circulating in the country, stating that they were enemy agents.

The mother of Panduleni and Ndamona died on 10 September the same year, barely two months after their return. The two sisters had had to stop visiting her in hospital because of threats to ambush and kill them. They believed their treatment in exile and in Namibia contributed to their mother's early death].

Panduleni: For them [SWAPO], everything is a threat. Our main aim is to make the world know what was happening inside SWAPO. All these crimes against the

Namibian people in the name of the Namibian people have been kept a secret. We feel it is our duty to make these things known to the international community, so that friends of Namibia can help us by pushing for an Independent Commission of Inquiry to clean our names, to bring these atrocities to light and to let the blame be put where it lies.

[PT:] No such Independent Commission of Inquiry has ever been convened in Nambia, although reports by Amnesty International and serious academic studies place this testimony by Panduleni Kali - made 20 years ago - beyond question. The voice of this remarkable, brave woman will continue to speak truth to the people of Namibia, and beyond.

Lihambile, iqhawe lamaqhawe.


From Erica Beukes, in Windhoek:

Dear Comrades,

Panduleni Kali passed away some minutes past 12 on Monday night [14 June]. We buried her yesterday [Saturday 19 June]. Friends and comrades from all walks of life came to pay their last respects, and a fitting tribute in respect of her career as statistician was made by one of her colleagues.

She was a strict disciplined professional. She was intolerant to ill-discipline, but was patient and accommodating in training the young personnel. She touched every person, every child with her household and labour force surveys as senior statistician in the ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. She left a legacy of good practices.

We appreciated the tribute as it is common knowledge here that the two sisters [Panduleni and Ndamona] worked as if they were in the private sector and not in the public sector, where if you come tomorrow it is also OK.

Ndamona received all the support from her comrades, but naturally it was a devastating blow as they were identical twins in every sense of the concept. In Hewat's [Beukes's] classes with them at high school they obtained identical marks and at University they passed with identical grades.

Ndamona is posted with the National Planning Commission where she also works as senior statistician.

We will try to give her all the support she may need.

Comradely greetings,


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