Sympathy and compassion

29 July 2012

We perhaps need to revise our thinking with regard to the so-called ‘Children of the Liberation Struggle’.

Maybe in the past we have appeared unsympathetic and harsh toward this rowdy and often unruly group of people.

However, new knowledge often brings better understanding and a new perspective on an issue.


The more one learns, the more evident it becomes that the struggle kids may have a genuine case for special consideration.

The situation of these young people is not one that really lends itself to easy answers or quick fixes.

Prime Minister Nahas Angula’s suggestion that we need to divide the group into two separate categories perhaps provides a starting point for a debate on the issue.

If we understand correctly, the distinction he tried to draw is between those born in exile and those born inside the country, although their parents may have perished as members of the liberation movement outside the country.

We need to understand that many of those who grew up in refugee camps outside the country suffered genuine deprivation and hardship, and sometimes worse.

Those born in exile are however by no means a homogenous group that we can lump into one category.

Some of those born in exile – depending on who your parents – seem to have led a quite privileged life and suffered no deprivation at all.

Others, however, were left to grow up in camps more or less as orphans even when their parents were alive.

This happened either because their parents were fighting at the front or because the liberation movement assigned them to duties elsewhere.

From what one gathers, growing up in these camps in many cases proved a highly traumatic experience for the children

The wartime circumstances meant their parents left them in the care of strangers, mainly women with maybe a sprinkling of male soldiers left to guard them.

The absence of the love, affection, nurturing and care a child receives from its parents is not something one would wish on any child.

Their mothers and fathers left them while they were very young and in some cases, their parents died before the children had reached the age of three.

Retired Lieutenant-General Martin Shalli has pointed out these children had to live in constant fear of possible attack because the enemy did not distinguish between adults and children.

Some actually grew up in the bush, because they sometimes had to leave the camps and hide out in the forest for months on end when the camp commanders thought the enemy might attack.

The threat did not only come from the troops of the South African apartheid regime but also the vicious and sadistic Unita forces who attacked Swapo trucks and indiscriminately killed women and children.

Some of those who looked after the children in the camps were good, capable and loving caregivers and deserve credit for the work they did.

Humans being what they are, others were less caring and sometimes treated the children harshly and in some cases even brutally. The food they received was often atrocious and sometimes almost inedible.

Although the mothers and fathers of some are still alive, the emotional bond that one would normally expect between parent and child is non-existent because they did not grow up with their parents.

In other cases, they were born through unwelcome sexual liaisons that led their mothers to reject or abandon them.

We should not generalise when speaking about the children of the liberation struggle.

For many, what they went through proved highly traumatic and they remain psychologically scarred to this day.

Others have managed to overcome their experiences and adjusted to life in the independent Namibia and live normal lives as productive members of society just like anyone else.

There is no doubt that some of those who regularly haunt us with protests and demonstrations to a certain extent lack the socialisation needed to adapt to living a normal life.

Chairperson of the Khomas Regional Council Zulu Shitongeni as much as admitted this when he said that Government previously gave some of them work, which they simply abandoned for reasons that are not really valid.

We have pointed out before that many children have also grown up as orphans or as the victims of poverty, abuse or abandonment inside the country.

The line between children who endured hardship in exile and those who suffered and continue to suffer inside the country – for whatever reasons – is a very fine line to draw.

Nevertheless, perhaps we need to start showing more understanding, sympathy and compassion for the struggle kids.

Some of them may genuinely suffer from some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) that they have not yet recovered from, and might never recover from.

Only this week the international media reported that 80,000 war veterans in the United States are homeless and live rough on the streets – many of them because they suffer from untreated PSTD.

Many of the Namibian struggle kids simply demand employment of some kind, while others demand that Government should recognise them as war veterans.

Shitongeni very sensibly suggested that some of them perhaps need psychological counselling.

That sounds like a good first step because it might help the authorities determine the exact nature of the problems each one of them faces on an individual case-by-case basis.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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