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The flesh of the CassingaÔÇÖs dry bones?

Mon, 6 May 2013 01:47
by Confidence Musariri

It has been told before but only up to the time that she survived the Cassinga massacre during the liberation struggle.
Yet she has survived the stench of death; finding herself lying in a trench with more than 10 bodies and being the only one to come out of that trench.
This is the story of Permanent Secretary of Finance, Ericah Shafudah; a classic one that defies emptiness to oversee the formulation of Vision 2030 at the National Planning Commission Secretariat (NPCS) from the dry bones of Cassinga.
A total of 950 Namibians were killed by the South African Defence Forces at Cassinga in southern Angola on 4 May 1978.
“We should remember that the young Namibians who lost their precious lives at a tender age at Cassinga . . . were robbed of their right to obtain education, and their future.
“In honour of these patriots, our young people must study hard to obtain qualifications and contribute to the development of our country,” said President Pohamba on Saturday, while commemorating the Cassinga Day at UN Plaza in Windhoek.
Rewind 30 years back, Ericah Shafudah walks to St Mary’s Mission in Odibo northern Namibia to finish her primary school.
She has no idea of what awaits her except a tiny dream of being a teacher like any other girl of her age then - a dream constantly under threat from the volatile political situation.
That dream fades when she is forced into the Cassinga refugee camp in March 1978 when the war reached boiling point.
“Angola was tough,” she begins, “Two months after I arrived at Cassinga; we were on our way to a parade when the bombs started raining on us. Instead of rushing to the parade where most people were massacred, I ran into the clinic nearby and that’s how I survived.
“I followed the rush to hide in a nearby maize field but then everything seemed to be under fire, so I left the maize field and dashed into a trench nearby where I just fell in.
“Someone shouted that we must come out and go to the centre that’s when I realised I could not climb out of the trench.”
Her small frame, even today is evidence of her explanations that she struggled to come out of the trench.
“I was too short to reach the top of the trench yet those who managed to get out of the trench were later captured by the Boers and taken to Mariental. The bombing continued until I passed out.
“From 07h00 till 19h00, I was just lying in the trench not knowing what to do until someone started calling for all those alive to come out and go to the other side of the river.
“That’s when I came to my senses and counted about 10 bodies scattered around me in the trench. . . ” she recounts the ordeal that remains heartbreak of Namibian history.
Being one of the Cassinga survivors, Shafudah admits that its time her ordeal is written.
From Cassinga, she then went to Cuba in 1979 to pursue what had nearly become a tainted dream when she pursued her secondary education still with the idea of becoming a teacher.
She was to return home in 1989 for the first time to vote, after a 10-year stay in Cuba.
 “We never missed home while in Cuba. Cubans were like our parents and we soon became a family of sorts with the Namibians that were there. It was in Cuba that I developed a fascination for Maths. I realised that I was so good I would never sit for a Maths examination.”
In 1991 she finished her studies and came home to teach Maths at Paresis Secondary in Otjiwarongo.
“But it was not enough. I felt like dealing with figures was a normal calling and I wanted to do more challenging things.”
In 1993, she started her Masters in Bio Statistics in Belgium with the hope of catching a job at the Central Bureau of Statistics in Windhoek.
Yet when she completed her studies, the calling came from the NPC, where she went on to lead historically the formulation of the mid-long term development plans and the Development Budget as the implementing tool.
“While I was at NPC, I studied Accounting and Finance with the Polytechnic of Namibia and I graduated in 2000, with the hope of working for one of the local banks or the Ministry of Finance,” she continues.
Fast forward 35 years later, Shafudah has just completed her Masters in Leadership and Change Management, also with the Polytechnic of Namibia.
“I believe that there is nothing like being too old to study. Education pays,” she says.
Like any visionary; she has a dream too.
 “I have a dream to be a consultant or an MD of any institution. I have been promoted in every aspect of life because of my desire to keep educating myself and to work hard, the only two things that help in the realization of dreams. I believe I am made unique in not believing in status, but performance.”
From those trenches of Cassinga on that fateful Monday morning, Shafudah partners Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila in the only Ministry in Namibia where both the principals are female, and her ordeal and rise leaves a strong question in history; “How many people in Ericah Shafudah did Namibia lose at Cassinga?”