The Nordic Africa Institute

Mwangala Indongo


The interview was held by Bertil Högberg on 15 June 2005.

Mwangala Indongo worked as a nurse at a hospital in Zambia when she met Dr Indongo, who she married 1973. She became involved in the liberation movement through her husband. Ms Indongo established a small kindergarten in a refugee camp in Angola and taught the mothers needlework. She also worked as a nurse in the hospital in the refugee camp, taking care of underweight children.
Bertil Högberg: We are sitting here in the back room of a shop that is run by Mrs Indongo and how long have you been running this shop?

Mwangala Indongo: From 2002, it’s now going about 3 years.

Bertil Högberg: And what are you selling here?

Mwangala Indongo: I’m selling African curios, mostly made in Namibia and some outside Namibia, from African countries, and materials. I am making traditional dresses and other African dresses.

Bertil Högberg: And before you started this business what did you do then?

Mwangala Indongo: I was working in the Ministry of Health as a registered nurse. I applied for a position of health education and promotion so I was heading that small divisional department.

Bertil Högberg: How did you become involved with the Namibian liberation struggle?

Mwangala Indongo: I became involved due to marriage. In 1972 my husband came to the hospital, the Wanika Hospital, in Mongu, Zambia where I was working and we met there. In 1973 we got married and in ’74 we had our firstborn.

Bertil Högberg: And that was close to the Namibian border around Caprivi?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, it’s just the river between so it’s just the banks of Zambezi River. We also speak the same language as people in Caprivi, Silozi.

Bertil Högberg: From that hospital where did you go then?

Mwangala Indongo: Around the end of 1974, SWAPO had information that there were a lot of people leaving the country coming through to Zambia and others into Angola. My husband was told that he had to go to the next hospital, that was the arrangement with the government of Zambia. So we went to a small hospital in Kalabo just up the river, he was heading that small hospital and at the same time making sure that all the refugees that were coming from Namibia through that area, Kalabo, they were taken care of and shown where to go next.

Bertil Högberg: So that was on the Angolan border?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, Zambia/Angola border. So people were coming through the Angolan route to the place where we were in Zambia and it was where we received a lot of people who were sent to different areas that SWAPO had arranged.
So we stayed there until the end of '75 when we went to Lusaka and I remained there. I was breastfeeding twins and in '76 my husband was called to Angola. He stayed there and in ’77 I joined him with the children. We were in Jamba, just maybe 10 to 12 km from Kassinga. We stayed in Jamba the whole year and in 1978 there was the massacre of Kassinga. I was 7 months pregnant and it was quite near where they were bombing. All the areas were quite affected, so we left that day on 4 May. We stayed 4 days in the nearby bush then they organised a train with the Angolan government to transport us to Lubango where there was a place where our soldiers were being trained. They allocated us another place there where we stayed in '78.
In 1979 most of the refugees, women and children and disabled, were taken to Kwanza River, Kwanza north. Early '80 they allocated another place called Kabuta in Kwanza Sul , where we stayed quite a long time and a lot of camps were established around there.

Bertil Högberg: We met there in December ’79 when I came to draw up the plans for this whole medical aid project.

Mwangala Indongo: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: And you worked as a nurse in those places?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, when we were in Jamba I kind of established a small kindergarten. In the kindergarten we were looking after children and also teaching women to knit and to do something with their hands. You know how depressing camp life is; it’s very boring just to keep life going. When we shifted to Kwanza I also continued with the kindergarten but I also started helping in the hospital until we established the under 5 clinic for weighing children and finally the group of Swedish and some Finnish personnel came from the Africa Groups of Finland and Sweden, to strengthen our health system in the camps. Then we established a malnutrition centre where we would bring all the children that were underweight to control and to strengthen their feeding methods so that they could be well fed.

Bertil Högberg: What was your first impression of these Swedes and Finns that came?

Mwangala Indongo: My first impression was that they were very nice people to live with and they were very patient and very nice. Even if you are trained in a free country when you come into places like refugee camps there’s a lot of confusion but you kept asking them, they answered you in a very human way, made you still feel a human being. Looking at the history of African colonialism and that, we dealt with a lot of harsh people, even our own people, so if you get such people it’s really motivating. It was easy to form a team.

Bertil Högberg: What was most surprising when you met these people?

Mwangala Indongo: What surprised me was that if these people were coming from such nice places how could they come to this place where water and food was a problem. Sometimes when it was raining there was very little food coming into the camp, so I said “Are they Christian? Are they a fanatic church or what is it?” but then you started to realise there are actually other human beings who recognise the rights of others and who can endure hardships together with them.

Bertil Högberg: What would you say was the biggest contribution that they made during these times?

Mwangala Indongo: I think the biggest contribution, apart from rendering their services, was that they were at the same time training our health staff in different ways. I know very well that they taught under-5 clinic mothers how to take care of their children, how to feed them and continuously assessed the health of the children and women. They were very encouraging and very motivating. It’s a very human contribution to train somebody to help her or himself; it’s a gift that you can’t take away.

Bertil Högberg: Were there other medical teams from other countries also assisting?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, there were some doctors who were helping from the former GDR. . But most of these were not like the Swedish and Finnish ones because they were mostly women but from GDR there were men and maybe with their wives. We didn’t have a female medical worker who came in, so this was the difference.

Bertil Högberg: Was there any other difference in their approach?

Mwangala Indongo: Oh, yes, we are not feminists but men always have their own way of looking at things. When you had a woman to a woman they were also confiding in each other, relying on each other, crying on the other one’s shoulder. But for men yes, they were good doctors but they were not very attached. They were not given names like our colleagues from Sweden and Finland who integrated themselves so easily that sometimes you forgot until you looked at your colour and said “Oh, there is a big difference” but was like the same people so this was different. Men they look at things as men.

Bertil Högberg: This medical project was not only people that came, it was also equipment and medicines and clothes and other things what did you think of that type of support? Was that needed?

Mwangala Indongo: It was very much needed and it came at the right time when it was needed. There were buildings also, some were building our sleeping rooms and the hospital, if I remember right. And we can even talk of food and other necessities, they were there and usually you could see the label that they were from these countries.
I was also privileged once, I can’t remember exactly when, I went to Sweden and I was shown how dedicated people were. How they collected these things in the streets and refined and packed them. I came back very happy and feeling that there are always human beings who can make a difference to other humans.

Bertil Högberg: Did you go to Bread and Fishes or was it Emmaus that you went to?

Mwangala Indongo: I can’t remember the towns but I ended up even at the University of Umeå so it was that line throughout. So it was very nice. I talked to a few students in the university and that was very encouraging and you felt that the cause you were in was supported by other good people, who loved peace.

Bertil Högberg: What did that trip mean to you?

Mwangala Indongo: It also gave me strength to say I had to stick around with my husband, my children and my people until such time that we would manage to free the country it gave me strength to continue because it was not easy.

Bertil Högberg: Can you mention a few highlights, special occasions that happened when you worked together with the Swedish team? Any special memories you have?

Mwangala Indongo: A lot of memories from the hospital, in the clinics and sometimes we had little weddings. Even in the camp people continue to marry, some birthdays we enjoyed, we had the local wine from the palm tree and we enjoyed it together. Even if somebody died they would be there comforting the person. So there are a lot of memories, it’s just that the human mind cannot note everything especially as there’s a lot to think about.

Bertil Högberg: Were there any controversies or conflicts between these outsiders? Even if they integrated well was everything running smoothly?

Mwangala Indongo: I wouldn’t say much on the administration part, I can’t remember any controversy. If there was, it was at the level of the administrators of the camp. But as far as between me, them and other colleagues, I can’t really remember that there was any conflict. But maybe they know what happened but for me I can’t recall any. If there was then my little mind has skipped it.

Bertil Högberg: So there were no real problems in these relationships then?

Mwangala Indongo: I doubt it. Maybe the travelling, sometimes they would want to travel to Luanda but they had to wait for a convoy, but I don’t think that raised any controversies they just understood that when they travelled they needed to be protected.

Bertil Högberg: Could you discuss anything that was problematic?

Mwangala Indongo: When it came to the work situation, even the friendship situation, we could discuss anything. You could ask anything and it would be discussed. Or when planning a programme we would plan together and see in which area we would go to work that day. It was a good way of dealing with things.

Bertil Högberg: Were they naïve in a way or did they really understand the situation properly?

Mwangala Indongo: I think even for them it was not quite easy to adapt in such situations but I don’t remember naivety. But it’s just surprising when you find people in those conditions, you could see that they were struggling with difficulties but they were still sticking out to be there. So it was surprising and it’s marvelling to see people subduing themselves to such conditions.

Bertil Högberg: Did you develop some personal relationships that are still valid?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, in most of them it was a very personal relationship that has lasted up to now when one of them comes to visit it’s so nice that you re-live the times you were together. I even stayed with some in their houses and we made the family friends, like Kina, we named our lastborn after her. They are such memorable times when they are here.

Bertil Högberg: And some of them have possibilities to travel since they are still involved.

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, Gittan and all those that joined in we find here also. It is such a lovely atmosphere that you want them stay a bit longer, so you can talk more and re-live those days.

Bertil Högberg: So what happened when things changed from ’89 onwards? The camp was closed and you moved back into Namibia?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, there were meetings that were held saying “Put your things together, things are changing, we have to go back home”. But for a lot of people it was surprising, they were not ready, they didn’t know what would happen when at home. I was also taken to go and work with repatriation. We were giving vaccinations and also taking people to the airport, it was not very easy even for me because the time for packing was very short. Most people lost all that they had collected, little things that they had been given while in the camps. Most people were not ready to come so we had also to sensitise them and motivate them that “ United Nations is there, don’t worry, everything will be fine”. But you know human the mind if you stay 3 or 4 years in a place you start having attachment to the place so it was just natural for them to resist coming.

Bertil Högberg: Was there anything that they left behind in a way in the settlements that you could have enjoyed and brought with you to Namibia?

Mwangala Indongo: I would have liked the prefabricated rooms; some of them were very nice. If I had those things that can lift such rooms I could have lifted one. Yes, those were well made. As for other materials I hope we came with some x-rays, some medical equipment. I can’t tell because there were special people who were packing those things. But there were a lot of things, like even the big containers, those you could come and make and put up as a small place for business. But we did not know where we were going, what was going to happen and how we were going to start our lives. Also when you are given everything in the refugee camp you become a little bit dependent.

Bertil Högberg: Was there any training and capacity building done by these medical teams so that the Namibian staff and personnel were more equipped to do their work afterwards?

Mwangala Indongo: Yes, most of them were doctors and well trained nurses and as they were working as team leaders they built capacity. So it was like in the case of the under-5 and nutrition centres they were really training people how to make simple, nourishing food. There were also hygiene lessons for people how to take care of themselves and for nurses also how to vaccinate, how to keep the fridge running, the cold chain system That was also a very strong part with them, especially the well-trained nurses. They made sure that people understand the cold chain system to keep the vaccines alive.

Bertil Högberg: And the special things that you think that you learned, that you remember, “This is something that I really learned from the Swedes”?

Mwangala Indongo: I think one thing I have learned is to exercise patience and humility. As I was working at under-5 it was how to run and keep the under-5 records and follow up children who seemed to be becoming underweight. To encourage the mothers and consistently keep your schedule of weighing, following, advising. Also many ways of preparing food that can be good for children and training women to continue the process on their own. So these things really were very good lessons for me, being a general nurse I was not only trained to run those clinics, I was trained to do a little here, a little there. But when you are with such a team that concentrates on one thing you become more aware of what to do and you build your own capacity.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, is there anything more you think that I forgot to ask about?

Mwangala Indongo: No, I think they it is all asked. It’s just to say in my own capacity I think that it was a very good exposure and it would be wonderful if all humans could have such hearts and contribute to the well being of other human beings as that’s what we are made for. Other people, human beings, mean more than anything so if people go that far, go into such difficulties and help others to see to it that tomorrow is another time, maybe a chance for freedom, it’s very important and I thank them. I thank God also that I met them.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, thank you very much.