Exposing military atrocities

The years under apartheid were tough for journalists of The Namibian newspaper, which was founded in 1985. There were always consequences for much of our investigative reporting which then had to do mainly with exposing the dirty tricks and atrocities perpetrated by the South African colonial regime. These included bans, attacks on our offices, arrests of journalists and constant death threats and harassment. It was difficult to report many of the acts of brutality by security forces, due to constant denials on the part of either the South African Defence Force (SADF) or police that they were responsible for gross human rights violations of civilians, especially those living in the war-torn north of the country bordering Angola, then known as Ovamboland to the locals or as the ‘operational area’ to the military occupiers. For months we had claimed that on many occasions when the SADF killed insurgents of the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), fighting to free then South West Africa, they strapped the bodies to the sides of their Casspir armoured vehicles and paraded them through the towns and villages to inspire fear and to deter the local population from joining Swapo or giving support to their fighters who came across the border.

Again, the military denied they were responsible for any such actions. Finally, we were vindicated thanks to the bravery and foresight of a young activist from the north named Nico Kaiyamo. He sent us a Polaroid photograph he’d taken clandestinely of the macabre spectacle. With the photograph already in our possession, and without telling them we had photographic evidence of the atrocity, we’d again approached police spokesperson Kierie du Rand for comment. Another vehement denial was the response.

Our front page the next day was headlined ‘Parade of death’, and it featured the photograph prominently displayed, along with the police disclaimer. We did not at the time name the young man who’d taken the photograph at risk of his life because of the inevitable attrition that would ensue for him and his family. The day after publication, that edition was banned by the Publications Control Board in Pretoria, but it had already sold out and proof had gone out into the world of the cruelties meted out to civilians under the jackboot of apartheid.

Parade of Death: Police and army deny public display of dead Swapo soldiers

The Namibian, 16 January 1987

Both the police and army have denied liability for an incident in northern Namibia on December 29 last year at midday, when the bodies of dead insurgents were paraded to locals at Ondobe near Oshikango, by members of the security forces. In spite of numerous denials by police and army over the past year of the parading of corpses by security forces, the photographic evidence on this page is indisputable proof that this practice does take place. Inspector Wally Bredenhann, Police Liaison Officer, denied knowledge of such an incident having taken place, when approached with a report of the Ondboe ‘parade of corpses’. The officer, after being given details concerning the incident, said that: ‘The report about dead terrorists on Casspirs is not true.’ Residents reported that the Casspir had no marks of identification apart from the words ‘Wolf Turbo 4’. Deputy Attorney-General Mr Estienne Pretorius was unable to say offhand whether or not an incident of this nature constituted a criminal offence.

‘No such documents have ever been submitted to this office, and we therefore have never had the opportunity to consider such a case.’ He said he was ‘hesitant’ about commenting without researching the matter beforehand. He said his office would have to receive a formal complaint before deciding whether it was an offence. A SWATF (South West African Territorial Force) spokesman refused to take note of the details concerning the incident, saying that the SA Defence Force (SADF) was a ‘Christian organisation’. ‘We have repeatedly confirmed that we do not indulge in such inhuman actions. If anyone did such a thing he would be prosecuted.’

Referring to the parade of dead bodies, he said the SADF did not need to brag about such incidents. The Namibian approached both police and army concerning details of the incident, since the Casspir had no marks identifying it as a vehicle belonging to either branch of the security forces. Approached for comment in the matter, Bishop James Kauluma, head of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia, said that he had frequently received reports of similar incidents in the past, citing the areas of Oshakati, Ondangu and Ongwediwa where they had apparently taken place. Security forces invited members of the public to ‘see their Swapo’s’. The security forces, he added, had ‘gone past the point of self-respect and dignity’. ‘One cannot do such inhuman things unless you are damaged psychologically or emotionally. The photographs also vindicate this newspaper, which was last year chastised by security forces for carrying reports of similar incidents.