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John ya Otto Nankudhu (1933–2011, nom de guerre: Koshiwanda,[1] the surname is sometimes also spelled Nankugu[2]) was a Namibian guerrilla, army officer and politician. He was the commander of the forces of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) at Omugulugwombashe when the armed struggle for independence began there on 26 August 1966 and was later jailed for 17 years at Robben Island.

Early life and exile

Nankudhu was born on 24 June 1933 at Ontananga in northern Namibia.[3] He joined the Ovamboland People's Congress, the predecessor of SWAPO, in 1958, shortly after its foundation. He quickly ascended to become its chairman for Oranjemund. In 1960 he went into exile. He received military training in Egypt until 1963 and thereafter joined a military academy in the USSR where he completed training in 1964.[4]

Nankudhu returned to Africa in 1964 and, already in the rank of a commander of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), started a military training camp in Kongwa, Tanzania.[4] In 1966 he moved into Namibia as one of the first six freedom fighters to mobilise and train people for armed resistance.[1] Under his leadership a reconnaissance camp near Ongandjera was established in January, and a training camp at Omugulugwombashe in June.[5]

Battle at Omugulugwombashe

In 1966 the UN General Assembly revoked South Africa's mandate to govern South-West African territory and placed it under direct UN administration. South Africa refused to recognize this resolution.[6] The group under Nankudhu had just started to build defensive structures[5] and planned to train about 90 soldiers at Omugulugwombashe.[4]

On 26 August 1966, eight helicopters of the South African Defence Force attacked the PLAN guerrilla fighters, only 17 of which were in the camp at the time of attack.[7] It was the first armed battle in the Namibian War of Independence.[8] In commemoration of the day, 26 August is a public holiday in Namibia. It is recognized by the UN as Namibia Day[9] but Namibians refer to it as Heroes' Day.

John ya Otto Nankudhu was only arrested in December. The South Africans detained him in Pretoria, tortured him, and placed him in solitary confinement. He occupied the cell Walter Sisulu was held in before.[5] In 1968 he was sentenced to death under the Terrorism Act. Following international pressure the sentence was converted to life in prison at Robben Island. He was released in December 1985.[3]

After Namibian independence

After independence Nankudhu served as regional councillor for Windhoek's Wanaheda constituency (now Samora Machel constituency) from 1999 until 2010. He also was the chairman of the Central Region of the Swapo Party.[4] and a member of the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs. On 26 August 2007 he received the honorary military rank of a Colonel.[3]

John ya Otto Nankudhu was married to Jacobina. They had five children. Nankudhu died on 21 June 2011, reportedly a poor man.[10][11] Shortly after Nandudhu's death Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, conferred the status of a National Hero upon him and directed that a state burial be held.[12] Nankudhu was buried at Namibia's Heroes' Acre near Windhoek on 2 July 2011.[13] He is also commemorated at Omugulugwombashe where a statue of six soldiers engaged in planning a military action, depicts Nankudhu and his subordinates.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Shiremo, Shampapi (24 June 2011). "Col. John Otto ‘Koshiwanda’ Nankudhu: The Omugulugwombashe Commander and Robben Island Veteran". Archived from the original on 21 February 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Shivute, Oswald (23 May 2014). "Pohamba unveils statues at Omugulugwombashe". 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Sasman, Catherine (22 June 2011). "Decorated hero dies". 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "John Ya Otto Nankudhu passes on". NAMPA. 22 June 2011. Archived from the original on 12 January 2013. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Dierks, Klaus. "Chronology of Namibian History, 1966". Retrieved 24 June 2011. 
  6. "Namibian War of Independence 1966–1988". Armed Conflict Events Database. Retrieved 30 November 2009. 
  7. Sasman, Catherine (27 Aug 2010). "Julius Shaambeni Shilongo Mnyika: the guerilla [sic] fighter (1938 to 2003)". Archived from the original on 8 Sep 2012. 
  8. Petronella Sibeene (17 April 2009). "Swapo Party Turns 49". Archived from the original on 19 February 2013. 
  9. United Nations Conferences and Observances
  10. Sasman, Catherine (23 June 2011). "Nankudhu did not die in his new house". 
  11. Nghidengwa, Marianne (23 June 2011). "Nankudhu dies in poverty". TrustCo. 
  12. "Nankudhu declared national hero, to get State funeral". 28 June 2011. Archived from the original on 21 February 2013. 
  13. "Nankudhu to be buried at Heroes' Acre". 29 June 2011. Archived from the original on 21 February 2013. 

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