By Mpho Tebele and Tileni Mongudhi
The exiled leader of the separatist movement in the former Caprivi now Zambezi region of Namibia, Mishake Muyongo’s hand appears to be behind the current standoff between the Botswana government and a group of Namibians housed at the Dukwi Refugee Camp in the north of Botswana.
Muyongo’s influence became apparent when the Namibian political refugees residing at Dukwi petitioned the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat in Gaborone over a decision to repatriate them to Namibia next month.
This comes after the refugees explicitly stated, in their petition to SADC, that they will only return home if the Namibian government unbans the United Democratic Party (UDP), which is led by Muyongo. UDP had formed a military wing, the Caprivi Liberation Army, which carried out deadly secessionist attacks at Katima Mulilo on 2 August 1999.
The group is accusing the Namibian government of putting it a condition that those who are repatriated should denounce their UDP membership.
This week, a group of 12 elderly men and women said they were representing more than 900 Namibians who fled to Botswana in 1999 following an attempt to secede the Caprivi Strip from the rest of Namibia.
The governments of Namibia and Botswana, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, agreed to have the refugees return to Namibia by July 11, after the UN found that the conditions in Namibia pose no threat to the long-time Dukwi residents. The UN made the conclusion in 2015 and agreed to revoke the refugee status of the Dukwi residents.
But a spokesperson for the refugees, Felix Kakula, stated that they decided to petition SADC after their efforts to engage both Botswana and Namibia governments to discuss their status fell on deaf ears.
He said the refugees, who fled Namibia in 1999 after they attempted to secede the Caprivi Strip from Namibia, fear that they might face treason charges if they return to their home country.
Namibia’s Home Affairs and Immigration Minister, Frans Kapofi, told The Southern Times that his government was hard at work to resolve the issue and facilitate the safe return of the Namibians to their motherland.
He said the majority of the affected people are victims caught in the political crossfire being manipulated by Muyongo.
Kapofi said many of the affected refugees were children when they left the country and they had nothing to do with the political games being played. “Those who don’t want to come back can stay,” he said, adding that the Namibian government does not recognise the status being demanded by a vocal minority within the group.
The Namibian government managed to repatriate about 3,000 since 2000 and only about 900 remain because they flatly refuse to return to Namibia and insist on calling themselves Caprivians.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Arvind Gupta, has also assured the refugees that they would be granted immunity if they return home.
Kakula insisted that they fled a political crisis in Namibia that remained unresolved.
“The refugees want peaceful talks before 11 July 2018. The petition is in protest to our impending repatriation with the deadline being 11th July 2018,” he said.
Presenting the petition to SADC deputy executive secretary, Emilie Mushobekwa, Kakula said they want SADC to assist by arranging a meeting with their government. The Southern Times has seen the said petition, which bore the UDP flag and official letterhead.
The Botswana Christian Council of Churches (BCC) has also waded into the matter as it urged the Botswana Government to review an ultimatum given to Namibian refugees to return to their country by the 11th of next month or face forceful repatriation.
Botswana Police have since rounded up the protesters and loaded them into an immigration truck and transported them back to the refugee camp.
“The police said we left the camp without permission, but we are saying we would never have been granted permission to come and demonstrate,” Kakula was quoted as saying.
“We told the police that we are in a situation where we need to cry out and we cannot do that without leaving the camp. We knew they would follow us.”
The demonstrators had vowed to sleep in until principals at the regional organisation addressed their grievances.
Muyongo is in exile in Denmark, where he has been granted asylum. He left Namibia in October 1998, nearly a year before his Caprivi Liberation Army’s deadly attacks at Katima Mulilo on 2 August 1999.
Muyongo is a one-time former vice president of Namibia’s ruling party Swapo. He later left Swapo and became president of the DTA (now PDM), but was ousted from the DTA after he expressed support for the Caprivi secession idea.