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A Living Legacy of Namibia’s Liberation Struggle

TSUMEB – For 99-year-old Elizabeth Iilonga of Tsumeb, Heroes’ Day holds special significance as her four children and one grandchild selflessly dedicated their lives to Namibia’s liberation struggle.

Iilonga, affectionately known as Kuku Nekulu, in an interview with Nampa commended the government for designating 26 August as a day of commemoration. The date holds deep significance for her as it memorialises the sacrifices her children and grandson made in the pursuit of a free Namibia.

Born in Oniipa on 24 August 1924 to Henok Shamula and Hilma Matias, Iilonga moved to Tsumeb in 1962 in search of a better life. There, she was employed as a domestic worker and later became mother to Simon ‘Zhu’ Iilonga Mbako, Selma Iilonga and Elias Iilonga, and grandmother to Tobias ‘Tjo-Tjo’ Iilonga.

Sadly, Elias lost his life during the liberation struggle, while Simon and Selma passed away after independence.

“I lost my husband in 1984 and I was looking forward to the children coming back and taking care of me, but it was short-lived,” Kuku Nekulu said. She was proud of her children when they were in exile. “They used to write letters while in exile and I was always happy to hear about their whereabouts. With UN Resolution 435 coming into effect, I waited for my children’s return. But war is war, and while some of them came back, one perished in the struggle. I am not the only one who lost children. The sacrifice was for independence!” she said. Iilonga is grateful to the people who fought in the liberation struggle and prays that God blesses them.
Now in her twilight years, Iilonga is lovingly being cared for by her great-granddaughter, Wilhemina Iilonga, who shared insights into her great-grandmother’s health.

“My great-grandmother ceased walking last year after undergoing a leg operation, and her vision has been deteriorating. She predominantly spends her days in front of the television although she is experiencing hearing loss as well,” she said.

Speaking to Nampa in a separate interview, former People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan) fighter Tobias disclosed that their grandmother was motivation for them to go into exile and fight for the country’s liberation. He revealed that his grandmother was an active member of Swapo in Tsumeb during the 1960s, and her dedication inspired them to join the Plan fighters under the leadership of Ruben ‘Danger’ Ashipala.

Tobias, born on 21 January 1969 in Oniipa, is the son of Selma, Kuku Nekulu’s eldest child. He went into exile in 1985 to join Plan as a combatant and actively fought in various battles until 1989. He spoke fondly of his grandmother’s caring nature, saying she played a nurturing role for individuals like Minister of Labour and Employment Creation Utoni Nujoma during the liberation struggle.

“My grandmother is a very kind person; she looked after us and cared for everyone, especially all the Swapo members. She worked as a domestic worker in the homes of white families to support and sustain us,” he said.

Aina Kuutondokwa, Kuku Nekulu’s surviving daughter, is a registered nurse at Eenhana State Hospital. She lived with her mother until her marriage in 2000 and reminisced about Kuku Nekulu’s tireless work ethic, even in her advanced age.

Kuutondokwa recounted instances of her mother being interrogated by apartheid authorities whenever she hosted or sheltered high-profile Swapo members, including Nujoma. She mentioned that her mother sent her children into exile solely for the purpose of achieving independence.

Nujoma, who had a close friendship with the late Simon Mbako, shared his recollections of Kuku Nekulu during the late 90s. He characterised her as a humble woman who possessed a profound command of the Oshindonga language.

“She used to be a formidable woman like all the other women who looked after their children under difficult circumstances, under colonialism but always smiling,” Nujoma said.
Despite challenging circumstances under colonial rule, Nujoma remembered her as a resilient figure who cared for her children with unwavering determination.
Heroes’ Day is commemorated on 26 August to remember and honour the men and women who fought for Namibia’s liberation.

Source : New Era Newspaper