THE CHILDREN OF OSHAKATI: GROWING UP IN A WAR ZONE
Article by Barry Fowler
Oshakati is a small town in far northern Namibia, and is the capital of Owamboland. There is a large South African military presence in the town, and many families of military personnel live there.
Oshakati has a school which caters for white pupils between the ages of five and fourteen. Parents of the pupils work for the military, the Owambo Administration, or in private enterprise in the town.
In recent years, Oshakati has been subjected to stand off bombardments by SWAPO, during which mortars and rockets were aimed in the general area of the military installations. These bombardments were annual events until 1986 when there were two. There has been one bombardment in 1987. To date, no members of the white population of Oshakati have been killed in these bombardments, but there has been considerable damage to property, including civilian homes. The people of Oshakati live under the constant threat of another bombardment.
The children who live in Oshakati seem to be in a unique position; in no other Western community is there so constant a threat of attack. Nowhere else do most of the houses have bomb-shelters, nor does a warning siren sound routinely every afternoon. Armoured vehicles are constantly seen driving through Oshakati, and machine-gun fire and mortars are heard at night.
Oshakati is a small town, comprising about 450 houses in the white compound. It lacks the facilities of bigger towns; there are few shops, no cinemas, roller rinks and so on.
A psychologist working in Oshakati became interested in the experience of the children living there, and decided to investigate. Intriguing questions were whether the children would be preoccupied with the possibility of attacks, or the military presence, or whether they would they be more concerned about the lack of facilities.
An essay and drawing competition was organised, open to pupils aged between twelve and fourteen at the Oshakati School. Pupils were asked to describe 'My life in Oshakati' in an essay or drawing. Cash prizes were offered. Most of the essays were written in Afrikaans and have been translated into English.
The competition was held five months after the most recent stand off attack, so bombardments would not have been fresh in the minds of the children.
Some of the pupils who participated in the competition live in Ondangwa, a smaller town some thirty kilometres south east of Oshakati. Ondangwa is not subjected to attacks to the extent that Oshakati is.
CHILDREN'S IMPRESSIONS OF OSHAKATI
Most of the children reported an initial negative reaction to seeing Oshakati:
"A neighbour told us that you only cry twice in Owamboland; the day that you arrive, and the day that you leave."(Girl of 14 years)
"At first I could not understand why there were no street lights. Then the children at the school told me that street lights would make the town an easier target for the terrorists at night, and it would be easier for them to attack us."(Boy of 15 years)
Many of the children complained of the heat, and more complained of the sand and dust. Several suffered from dust allergies. Those who ride bicycles have difficulty riding along the thick sand on the roads, and passing cars and trucks send up clouds of dust. A few suggest that the roads should be tarred. When it rains, the sand turns into a sea of mud. One boy thinks it is fun to have so much mud to ride through.
LIFE-STYLE IN OSHAKATI
Many children complained of boredom living in Oshakati, but most of them admit that there are things to do. There are two public swimming pools, and most of the children indicated that swimming was the activity that they enjoyed most.
A few children regretted that the pools were closed in Winter, and some girls mentioned that they do not like being stared at by soldiers when they are wearing their swimming costumes.
Several children mentioned the shortage of shops in the white compound. There are two supermarkets, one of which is exclusively for the use of military personnel and their dependants. Military families are permitted to go on a shopping expedition to Tsumeb once a month, where a wider range of shops with more merchandise is available.
There is a local television station, which broadcasts SWABC programmes from video tapes. The children who mentioned television spoke favourably of it. Several children complained of frequent power failures, sometimes due to guerrilla activity.
There are video-hire shops in both Oshakati and Ondangwa.
THE SOCIAL LIFE OF THE CHILDREN IN OSHAKATI
There are only a limited number of children in the town, and fewer in the older age groups, as children are sent away to complete their high school education at boarding school.
Some of the older boys complained of the lack of girls of their age, and girls complained of the lack of eligible boys.
A social highlight for the older children occurs every four weeks when the children at boarding school come home for an open weekend, and parties are organised on these weekends.
Most of the older children, particularly the thirteen year old girls, had grievances about dances. Many dances are organised in the town, but most of these are for adults only, and children are not allowed to attend. The children accept that adult parties are not ideal for them, but they express the need for more such activities to be organised for teenagers.
There appears to be adult opposition to dances organised for teenagers:
"Mr. Iemand told with us of the bad influence that teenage dances can have on a person. He said the following: 'Children do not belong at a dance for adults.' Maybe that's true. He also said that the children must not have teenage dances, because there are always drugs, drink, cigarettes and fighting. If a teenage dance is held here in Oshakati, there is never any fighting, drinking or drugs involved. It makes me very angry that we are not allowed to go to the adults parties."(Girl of 13 years)
Another matter which the thirteen year old girls raised was the criticism levelled at them for wearing short pants:
"Short pants are very nice and cool and that is why we wear them. Some girls have other ideas when they wear short pants, but that's no reason to tar us all with the same brush. I, for one, only wear shorts because they are cool and comfortable. I am not trying to attract the soldiers' attention by wearing short pants."(Girl of 14 years)
Many children learn to ride motorcycles and cars at early ages in Oshakati. Many legally ride off-road:
"We often ride motorbikes at the shonas (Dongas) and you normally fall very hard if you ride into a pothole and lose your balance."(Boy of 12 years)
Other children mention that they don't need licenses to drive, and that they are allowed to drive their parents' cars around the streets of Oshakati after dark:
"One evening Johan visited me in his father's car. He said that we should go for a drive in the car for a little while. After a short ride I asked him if he would let me drive. He stopped immediately, climbed out from behind the wheel and said that I must drive. I was nervous because I had never driven such a big car in my life. It all went well and that night I learned to drive a car."(Boy of 15 years)
"Oshakati is not like a city with speed cops. Sometimes your mother sends you to the shops, and guess with what? The car! You wouldn't expect your mother to do that in a city."(Boy of 16 years)
Some children feel that their parents allow them more freedom in Oshakati than they would be allowed or had been allowed in a town or city in South Africa.
Several of the younger children mentioned that their parents were lenient, and allowed them to stay out visiting until fairly late at night.
Other children complained of too many restrictions. One 12 year old boy felt'caged in, just like a dog.'
"When I get home, I am not even allowed to go to the shop on my own, because my mother says that there might be terrorists everywhere. They could kidnap me and sell me. This is silly because the army has to see that there are no terrorists. The more I tell my mother this, the more she tells me that I may not go out. I reckon they should not let blacks and strangers in at the gate."(Boy of 12 years)
Some children said that they saw more of their parents in Oshakati than they had when they lived in South Africa, because their parents were not out at parties every night. This must depend on the nature of the parent's work, and some children experience the opposite:
"My father works in the bush. He goes out on Monday and comes back on Friday. He doesn't even have a weapon or a mine resistant vehicle. We don't know if he will be shot dead or if he will hit a land mine."(Boy of 13 years)
All the children acknowledged that Oshakati is a small community. Some were positive about this saying that everyone knows everyone else, while others complained that this led to gossip:
"Everyone knows everyone else, and so you know what everyone is saying or doing. I think this is very wrong."(Girl of 14 years)
Most of the younger children in this study were positive about living in Oshakati, and very few actually reported that they did not wish to stay there.
SCHOOL IN OSHAKATI
Most of the pupils who wrote about school mentioned that it is small. Several were positive about this, saying that the small classes mean that the pupils receive more individual attention than they would in a bigger school.
"The school offers many extra-mural activities. We have karate, netball, tennis, volleyball, swimming, 'Voortrekkers' (The Afrikaans equivalent of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides), rugby and athletics. To me Oshakati is very nice."(Girl of 13 years)
"Happily and innocently the children play 'terrorists' at school day after day. The emergency plan at the school is well organised. During the practice, three sorts of siren are sounded. The teachers order you to evacuate the classroom and then you walk in two rows (boys and girls) swiftly to the nearest bomb shelter on the play ground." (Girl of 13 years)
Sports tours are organised by the school, both to other schools in the border area and in other parts of Namibia. Pupils look forward to these sports tours.
The school only caters for pupils until around the age of fourteen, after which pupils have to go to boarding school. Many go to boarding school the year in which they turn thirteen. Those who remain are aware of losing friends each year, and they only see them once a month on 'open weekends'. Several pupils were not looking forward to leaving their families and friends to go to boarding school, and they wished that the local school could accommodate them to matric.
The fourteen year old boys were most vocal about their loss of friends:
"There are too few boys to play together and we are no longer young enough to play with the little ones. Our interests are very different from those of the little ones. We can't even make up a proper rugby team."(Boy of 16 years)
"My gang of boys who played together since first school are all separated as the result of their parents being transferred. But there are still three of us here. I am the only one who is still at school here. The others are all in the hostel."(Boy of 14 years)
RIDING TO SCHOOL IN AN ARMOURED PERSONNEL CARRIER
The children who live in Ondangwa commute through to Oshakati each school day. They have to get up at 5.30 a.m., to catch the convoy at 6.30 a.m. The children ride in mine resistant personnel carriers, with escorts of armoured vehicles:
"When we came to live in Ondangwa, we rode to and from school in 'Buffels'(`Buffels' are 'Buffalo' armoured personnel carriers. Retief (1990, p. 43) reports a story in which a mother, naive about South African military vehicle names, asked if it was sensible to send children to school on buffaloes to blend with nature. She suggested the use of donkeys which would have a much milder temperament. [Author's translation]). The 'Buffels' were later replaced with 'Kwêvoël 100' (Armoured) school busses." (Girl of 12 years)
"We, the pupils from Ondangwa, go to school by bus. It is quite nice, except in the afternoons when you die of the heat, and the children scream and shout so much that you can't hear what anyone else says. And many children just walk around the bus even though they know they must not do this."(Girl of 13 years)
"The bus rides are fantastic, because we sing, laugh and tell jokes during the journey. The busses which transport us from Ondangwa to school in Oshakati and back again, are land mine resistant. The only problem in the girls' bus is that the little children unfortunately don't always listen to the bus prefects or the older people."(Girl of 13 years)
"We ride to school in big busses which are bullet-proof and it is very nice to ride in them."(Girl of 12 years)
"The 'Buffels' that we used to ride to school in used to be a real problem in the rainy season. They had roofs over the top, but were open at the sides, with the result that by the time we got to school or home, we were soaking wet. Luckily we got busses in 1984."(Girl of 14 years).
"In the mornings we almost froze, it was so cold, because the 'Buffel' was completely open. ... At the side of the 'Buffel' they cut out a section to make a little door, with a ladder there to make it easier for us girls to climb out. ... As we rode to school in the morning, I was scared that we would hit a land mine, but the soldiers who travelled with us told us that we had no need to be worried; If we were securely strapped in, nothing would happen to us."(Girl of 15)
OTHER GENERAL COMMENTS MADE ABOUT LIFE IN OSHAKATI
"I make great use of the fact that we live in such a dangerous place. All of us children who go back to South Africa now and then always tell the children there that we walk around with AK47s(The AK47 is the weapon most commonly used by SWAPO, then the enemy.) in the streets, because we have to shoot terrorists. All those children think a lot of us because we live like this. We know what its like, but they don't." (Girl of 13 years)
"The army clothes and other things are strange in South Africa because the people don't know them, and especially if you tell them that we walk around in those clothes every day. My grandmother collects badges. When we took her one, she thought it was from overseas."(Boy of 13 years)
"Our family and friends are too scared to come and visit us."(Girl of 14 years)
"Oshakati has no traffic lights, ... donkeys, cattle, goats and Owambo mongrels stand in the road and play traffic warden."(Girl of 12 years)
"When my friend comes to play with me, we climb onto the bomb shelter and throw makalanies (makalani palm pods) down from the makkalanie tree which stands next to the bomb shelter. What could be more fun? Then we chop them open with a hammer or a brick. There is a smaller pip inside the pod. We draw pictures on them or scrape them clean on bricks. Then we drill a little hole through and put a cord or leather thong through, and make a mobile."(Girl of 12 years)
"Another disadvantage of Owamboland is the Owambo people who race around like criminals and they test a person's driving ability to the limit. "(Boy of 12 years) (Although this comment would appear to be very subjective and biased, the notion that the Owambos were dangerous drivers is also suggested in an epidemiological report on the UNTAG forces; `Continuous surveillance was therefore carried out during the 12-month stay of UN personnel in Namibia in 1989-90. In this population of 7114 persons, mostly young men, the mortality rate was 255 per 100,000; death was mainly due to traffic accidents. ... The extremely high mortality due to traffic accidents indicates a need for prevention.' Source: Steffen, R., Desaules, M., Nagel, J., Vuillet, F., Schubarth, P., Jeanmaire, .C.H., Huber, A.; `Epidemiological experience in the mission of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia.' in Bulletin of the World Health Organisaton. 1992; 70(1): 129-33)
"Whenever we go to stay with our family and friends in South Africa, we fly with the 'Flossie'. The first time I flew in the 'Flossie', I was very scared. When the aircraft's engines were switched on, a terrible noise and rumbling starts, and I was convinced that the aircraft was broken. When it began to move, my nerves were no longer at their best. When a man with a torch came along and peered along the side of the aircraft, I was really concerned. Luckily my father explained to me that it was just a procedure."(Girl of 14 years)
CHILDREN'S VIEWS OF THE MILITARY PRESENCE AND THE DANGER
Everywhere in Oshakati there are signs of the military presence, and indications of precautions taken against attacks. Most of the houses have bomb-shelters. Some of the children thought that they were inadequate:
"Oshakati is a dangerous place when the moon is full, because then everyone waits for the mortars. Luckily there are bomb shelters here. But I don't think the bomb shelters are very good, because the thing has a concrete roof and brick walls, and if the walls cave in, the roof will fall in and then you'll be dead. Tell that to the people in South Africa, and they laugh at you, because they don't know about such things."(Boy of 13)
"Say everybody runs to the bomb shelter and a bomb falls on the shelter, then the shelter is useless. They should make something stronger that we know will hold, and when we are in the bomb shelter, we should not be able to hear anything. Say there is an old lady in the shelter and a bomb falls and her heart stops and she dies of fright, then I don't want to have a dead body next to me."(Boy of 12 years)
Many of the younger children expressed faith that God would protect them from harm;
"We at Oshakati can clearly see God's protective hand. Maybe everyone doesn't value or see it as much, because people accept it as 'luck' that the bombs don't hit. But if you sit and think carefully, you will realise that God is there protecting us."(Girl of 15 years)
One child suggested that God might allow the attacks to take place because people do not place enough importance on their Christian beliefs:
"I think God does this because we people live so far from his ways."(Girl of 14 years)
Only a few children mentioned that they felt safe and protected because of the presence of the South African forces. Most of the mention of the SADF included the opportunities the children had to ride in military vehicles and aeroplanes, and this seemed to be enjoyed more by the younger children.
"The nice thing about Oshakati is the army. The weapons and the army vehicles are impressive. I already know the names of all the weapons and the vehicles, and their meanings. I will have no problems when I am in the army. At school we learn to march so that it will be easy to drill in the army."(Boy of 12 years)
"It is much more dangerous here than in South Africa, because here they can put a bomb just behind you and you wouldn't even know it. But luckily the army is here."(Boy of 13 years)
"I am always seeing the army vehicles, but that is right. I enjoy it."(Girl of 13 years)
"I like to lie awake late at night and I hear a group of 'Ratels' (armoured assault vehicles) or 'Noddy cars' (Armoured cars), or to listen to a 'Bosbok' aeroplane (Light spotter aircraft)."(Girl of 12 years)
Going shooting at army functions was also a popular activity, as was collecting ammunition. (Hopefully empty cartridges!)
"If you have army friends, you can often go with them to the shooting range and then I shoot a lot with an R 5 (Light assault rifle) or a 9 mm pistol."(Boy of 12 years)
Most of the thirteen year old girls had things to say about their flirtations with soldiers;
"I have complete confidence in our men in uniform with all our lives in their hands, and I have the greatest respect for them, because without them we would be lost. And then there are those who thing you are a 'loose woman' if you stand and talk to them, or are friends, and it is only right to be friendly to them, because that person whom you might be rude to if he greets you, might one day save your life, even if that sounds unlikely."(Girl of 16 years)
"We may not even greet a soldier, without it being said that we are seducing the soldiers. A person may also not wear shorts because then it is said that you are trying to entice the soldiers."(Girl of 13 years)
"People just look for something to gossip about, and us innocent schoolgirls suffer as the result. My friend and I were casually on our way to the swimming pool. Two soldiers (who were new to Oshakati) asked us to please explain to them where the main gate was. We did this with the greatest pleasure, with no bad thoughts. People who drove past thought otherwise."(Girl of 14 years)
"I enjoy going to swim because then I can watch all the army guys. We always dared each other to see which of us could meet the handsomest, the most attractive and the one with the nicest personality. Naturally, I always got the one with this nice characteristic."(Girl of 13 years)
One thirteen year old girl was more reserved about having friendships with soldiers:
"There are so many soldiers here, but we girls are careful and we don't walk around the streets at night until all hours. Well, at least not alone; we usually have schoolboys with us."(Girl of 13 years.)
Many of the children mentioned the 'Fire-plan's. ('Fire-plan' = The defences firing out into the country side at prearranged times as a deterrent to guerrilla attacks.) Several admitted that these scared them. Many younger children are scared, but the children of twelve years and older were positive about them:
"When there is the 'fire-plan' at night I enjoy it a lot. If I am busy with homework I leave it then and there and run outside where I can hear the gunshots more clearly, and can see the flares. I would enjoy to hold that [machine] gun and to pull the trigger myself, or to shoot the flare up into the sky."(Boy of 16 years)
"A thing I like about Ondangwa is when they shoot a 'fire-plan'. Then you stand and watch it. Gee, but its beautiful! The first time when we had just arrived here, we thought it was an attack."(Boy of 12 years)
"From time to time we have guests from other towns to sleep at our house and when the towers begin to shoot, they turn white with fright and come to ask what is happening. Then they are very relieved when they hear that it is just the towers firing like that."(Boy of 12 years)
"My family and I went to look at the fire-plan one evening, and I still can not believe that all those different weapons would be used in an attack. The worst was the noise of the weapons."(Girl of 12 years)
CHILDREN'S EXPERIENCES OF ATTACKS
Almost all of the children mentioned that Oshakati is periodically bombarded. Many expressed their thoughts and feelings about being on the receiving end of mortar or rocket fire, and some vividly described their experiences of such attacks:
"The lights went out at nine o'clock. We (my parents and I) expected trouble. At midnight the siren sounded. The border town was quiet, but you hear the wailing [siren] and the anxiety overwhelms you. Your heart jumps up and down and wants to leave your body. You run to the bomb shelter because you are afraid that you will die. You pray, but it is too late. Why now, suddenly, when every evening you have the opportunity to praise the Lord? The only thing that you can do now is to pull the pillow over your head and hope you will be spared."(Girl of 13 years)
"They day they attacked us, he had held a barbecue. It was the 5th of May 1987. At first we had stayed in a caravan, but then my mother said that we must move to a house. My father brought seven of his soldiers to help us move. That night at half past two the first mortar bomb struck. After the second, I woke with a fright. Just before the alarm went, my mother had my brother and me in the bomb shelter. We hardly had the door open when the dog dashed through the house to [little brother] Jan's bedroom. Jan wanted to go back to fetch his dog, but my mother said he was being silly because at any time a bomb could hit the house, and we didn't want to lose him. When we were in the bomb shelter, it started to get bad, and our candle had almost burned out but it just lasted. Outside it was almost as light as day. Many mortars were fired during the half hour."(Girl of 12 years)
"When the army shoots at night, I think it is an attack. It is silly if you get such a fright at night. Maybe I would rather live in Ondangwa because they never get attacked."(Girl of 12 years)
"I stay in Ondangwa. Although we are not attacked, I am still very scared. When I lie in my bed at night and I hear something creak or rustle outside, I get so scared. Sometimes I am frightened by the smallest thing. I get so scared at night if the roof creaks, that I creep under my blanket and go to sleep there."(Girl of 13 years)
"I had never been in an attack before, but when we first came here, I was in one. Luckily we had a bomb shelter, but it was not up against the caravan. But we know what to do when another bomb falls. We have a bag with a torch, and a blanket and all the essentials. In the beginning I was very scared to come and live on the border, but now I accept it."(Girl of 12 years)
"Now I am used to the attacks, but its funny; I don't get scared. In each attack our house was only just missed. If the mortars had been pointing in a slightly different direction, our house would have been hit badly. Things would have been difficult without a house. I'll say that each time it was God's mercy that our house was not hit. If a person wants to stay here you must believe in God, otherwise I reckon you will have a tough time."(Girl of 13 years)
"I like it when it rains but then we normally get attacked. That's the time I'm scared to 'hell'. I feel as if I'm going to die tonight. When they start throwing mortars I get a funny feeling. Its like you start panicking. For weeks after that I'm scared and I have nightmares. I normally can't sleep but when I do fall asleep I'm always troubled.
One night I dreamed that mortars started falling all around us. The siren sounded but before it stopped it was interrupted by mortars which were raining around us. All of a sudden our house was hit and my Mom and Dad died. I was left alone in the world to stand on my own feet. Then I awoke. I was panicking and crying. I didn't know what to do. I didn't even know where I was. After a while I started to remember everything. That dream affected me."(Girl of 13)
"We were here during an attack, and it wasn't very nice. I was very frightened during the attack. When you hear the siren, you run straight to the bomb shelter. You don't think of getting dressed. You also don't think of taking your blanket with you. No, all you do is run to the bomb shelter. Then you look to see that everyone is safely in the bomb shelter. I did not hear when the alarm went off. When my mother woke me, I didn't know what was going on. I grabbed my blanket and ran to the bomb shelter. After that my father brought my brother to the bomb shelter. My mother and father looked out of the window at what was happening. We were all very scared. After a while, the siren rang so that the people could come out. It was not long before the siren went off again. Everyone then went back to the bomb shelters. Fortunately we had stayed in the bomb shelter, because my father wanted to make sure it was safe. When everything was over, we has a cup of 'Milo' which my father made. Then we all went back to sleep again. When we had to get up next morning, we could not - we were too tired. We just wanted to stay in bed longer. When we eventually got up, dressed and had breakfast, we went to school. At school, everyone just wanted to tell what had happened to them."(Girl of 12 years)
"SWAPO will never attack us at Ondangwa because they are scared of the helicopters. While we are here, SWAPO might attack us one day, but we are ready."(Girl of 13 years)
"One thing that frightens me is the bombardments. If a bomb falls then I am up. Then I wake my parents, then we dash to the bomb shelter, and I wonder when a bomb will fall on the roof. Then an alarm rings and we can go back to the house."(Boy of 14 years)
"The tower lights are very dangerous because then the terrorists can aim at Oshakati."(Boy of 13 years)
"I wish they would never attack us again."(Boy of 12 years)
"At night I am quite scared that we will be attacked, but we mustn't be scared, because we are well protected by the army. SWAPO has still not managed to do much damage during their attacks."(Boy of 12 years)
"We had been here for just two months when we were attacked. We did not know what to do. We sat on the bed and listened, but one thing that we knew was that it was not our army, because they don't have a practise plan at that time of the night. The attack lasted about ten minutes. After the attack, my father went out to go and see if anyone had been hurt. He also went to see that our house was not on fire. When we saw that our house was not on fire, we were relieved. ... after the attack, my mother, sister and father first drank sugar water ... to get rid of the worst of the shock. After the attack I was so scared that I would not even walk around the house alone at night."(Girl of 14 years)
"Believe me, its not nice to be attacked. You are eaten up by fear, and then you remember how God preserved you during the previous attack. Then you pray to him again. He is really a refuge in times of need ... When you have finished praying, you just sit and wait until the attack is over.
One evening when the terrorists attacked us again, a mortar bomb landed very near to our house. I've never been so frightened in my life. The next moment the sand rained down on us as we were on our way to the bomb shelter. Our bomb-shelter is about fifty metres away from our back door. After about ten minutes we heard the 'all clear' siren."(Girl of 13 years)
"Its not that I say that the army are not carrying out their duties well enough, but I am always scared when I go to sleep that I will be woken in the night by a loud bang, and that one of my parents is dead or seriously injured. I would go absolutely off my head if something were to happen to one of my parents in this place."(Girl of 16 years)
"It was my nephew's birthday. We were busy making his party hats when all the lights of Oshakati went off. I was nervous. That night we went to bed at two o'clock. I slept like a rock until the siren went off as if there was a fire. We all ran fast to the bomb shelter and prayed. We were never so close to the Lord before. All the bombs that fell shook me apart. All of a sudden there was a loud bang. It was a building five hundred feet away. My heart jumped to my feet. My arms reached my ears automatically as if I were a robot. The siren went off again to say the attack was finished. Then there was a broadcast through the walkie-talkie. Troops were killed and troops had severe and minor injuries. There were tears in my eyes. I felt like bursting out crying. I knew there is a time to live and a time to die. But why must they die at such a young age? Is it so nice in heaven? That morning we went to bed at five o'clock. I had even more tears in my eyes, that looked like the fog on a rose in the early mornings of spring. I can still see my nephew's cake, it was a castle with troops and enemies attacking each other. But the troops defeated the enemies as if they were a balloon and the troops a pin. I still said, "These are the other troops that helped. They died for us and for our country. They defended us, and what have we done in return? Nothing!"(Girl of 15)
"Its very exciting here, especially when there is an attack."(Boy of 14 years)
"I myself have never really been scared of attacks and terrorists. But one Sunday morning, the 21st June 1986, at one o'clock in the morning, there was a rocket attack here, and our house was hit. Lots of damage was done. What happened that morning will always be with me. The tremendous bang, the glass, and the crying of my mother and sister, where we sheltered in the larder. We didn't even have a bomb shelter then."(Boy of 13 years)
"Only after the first attack did I start to realise what is really happening here. From then on, every evening when I go to bed I lie by myself and wonder whether they will attack us or not."(Boy of 15 years)
"Strangely I am not frightened when there is an attack. I just say to myself that one day I am also going to clobber SWAPO. I imagine myself into an attack, that I dream of standing behind the gun in the tower to blast SWAPO myself."(Boy of 16 years)
"I always thought if SWAPO is going to wage such a big war against us, and if the families should be evacuated by aeroplane and helicopter, that I would creep away, otherwise I would have to go with them, back to the city or wherever they take the people. If that happens, and I am taken with them, I will feel like a coward while the war wages. My one wish is one day to kill SWAPO with my bare hands. And I will fight for my country to keep SWAPO out of here, even if I have to die myself."(Boy of 16 years)
"In the time that we've lived here, I have been through nine attacks myself. At first we didn't take them seriously. When you woke up the next morning you would hear the people saying that the town had been attacked. Or you hear the bombs fall late at night, and you pull the blanket over your head and go back to sleep. But that was just until last year, because during the attack last year a rocket fell on the house opposite us. When we saw what that house looked like, I don't think one could forget it. I think it was because of this that we started to be more serious. You hear that someone else's house has been damaged. A couple of windows were broken in our house, and we had some cracks in the walls."(Boy of 14 years)
Concerning the non-military aspects of living in Oshakati, it appears that the younger children are concerned with what entertainment is available. The older children were concerned with issues such as parties, gossip, and losing friends whose parents were transferred, or who went away to boarding school.
Pupils of the age range examined in this study are all aware of the military situation and the possibility of attacks. The younger children were more likely to express fear than the older children, and girls were more likely to express fear than boys. Boys were more likely to identify with the Security Forces and to express aggression against SWAPO than girls. Recent attacks appear to be taken more seriously than attacks which occurred years ago, and there is a fear that people may be killed in the next one.
From this informal study, it would appear that the children of Oshakati have some experiences that one would expect in a small town, far away from the nearest city. The military presence, and the constant threat of attack, must make childhood in Oshakati unique.
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Schwabe, M. "Children in the Crossfire." The Namibian. Friday, September 4, 1987. p 12, 13
Published: 1 July 2000.
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