A CONVERGENCE of factors – such as the coronavirus pandemic and the wishes of the family – has made the “official funeral” of the late Colonel (retired) Lazarus Hashetu Hamutele a low profile event that went practically unnoticed by many people.
Some of those who wanted to attend could not do so due to travel restrictions.
Hamutele passed away on the 20th of July and was laid to rest in the Pionierspark cemetery in Windhoek on 1 August, a mere three days before the day he would have turned 76.
President Hage Geingob described him as a “legendary commander”. His comrades-in-arms during the liberation struggle remembered him “an excellent tactician”, and the soldiers he commanded before and after independence, talked of him as a brave commander, a father figure and a unifier.
Many people say that they expected Hamutele to be buried either at the Heroes Acre in Windhoek or at one of the other two Memorial Shrines – Omugulugombashe and Eenhana.
However, the Government had to yield to the wishes of the family by allowing late Hamutele to be buried in the Pionierspark cemetery.
Late Hamutele went into exile via Botswana in 1972 and immediately joined PLAN in Zambia, where he underwent basic training. In 1973 was sent to the Soviet Union for advanced military training.
“He was my best friend, a friendship that dates from our days in the Soviet Union in the 1970s where he underwent a course in radio communication while I did a medical course,” said Erobeam Hamundaba, former head of PLAN’s medical services.
From the Soviet Union, Hamutele went straight to the Eastern Front in Zambia as a guerrilla unit commander.
In 1979 he was transferred to the North-East Front in Angola to take over a detachment which was previously commanded by the now-retired Lieutenant-General Epaphras Denga Ndaitwah.
Hamundaba, who until his retirement was the regional health director for the Ohangwena Region, lamented the fact that the history of the liberation struggle is largely still undocumented.
“We are losing an important part of the history of the liberation struggle which is not yet fully documented. The direct participants, people who witnessed the events, are dying and when they die, part of our history is lost,” he said.
Retired police Commissioner Elise Haulyondjaba, who was a member of PLAN’s Military Council, described Hamutele as a fearless fighter.
“He kept his cool even in the face of danger. He was a very good tactician who listens carefully and who does not jump to conclusions,” he said.
But late Hamutele – who was a founder member of the NDF in 1990 – is not praised by former PLAN fighters only.
Former SWATF soldier Hamunime Nekongo described him as a very good military officer. “He commanded us as former foes, now members of the newly established NDF, but he did not discriminate. He was a unifier par excellence,” he said.
Like Hamundaba and Haulyondjaba, Hamutele was among the 95 pioneer freedom fighters that were given honorary military ranks by president Hifikepunye Pohamba during the Heroes Day commemoration at Eenhana in 2007. He was given the honorary rank of colonel, the same rank he had de facto in the NDF.
The honorary ranks were given to those former PLAN fighters who joined the armed struggle before 1973.