Namibia turns to world for answers on missing soldiers
Relatives of 'disappeared' fighters hope the International Criminal Court will investigate.
For years, Christine Goagoses has replayed the events in her head, trying to reach some understanding, or at least peace.Skip to next paragraph
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Then: nothing. Mr. Hendricks never came home from Angola. But according to SWAPO, now the ruling party of Namibia, he never died and was never imprisoned.
He is one of Namibia's "disappeared" – soldiers and members of minority ethnic groups who have gone missing during and after the country's struggle for independence. Relatives have sought answers in local courts, rallies, and now the world's latest international justice institute: the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This latest move has caused tremors in Namibia's political circles and raised new hope for Goagoses and other relatives of disappeared soldiers. It has also illuminated the impact of the international court and of other justice efforts, such as truth commissions, which are increasingly popular in post-conflict countries.
These days, many Africans such as Goagoses expect their leaders to address the wrongdoings of the past; if not, they look to the international community. "Forgiveness is the answer of everything in this world," says Goagoses. "But how can there be any reconciliation without acknowledgement? ... Maybe the court can help."
The issue of Namibia's disappeared has long simmered under the country's relative stability. Once a protectorate run by South Africa, Namibia in the 1980s was in a full-fledged struggle for independence. SWAPO guerrillas battled South African defense forces in Namibia and in neighboring Angola.
As with their comrades in South Africa's African National Congress, SWAPO fighters were vulnerable to spies. In black townships and in bush camps of southern Angola, someone suspected of working for the enemy could be killed without trial. It was, some fighters insisted, a wartime necessity; others say it served as a cover for personal vendettas.
This, Goagoses says, is what happened to her son. She says an ex-combatant visited her after Namibia's independence in 1990 and told her that Hendricks had threatened to expose a few SWAPO leaders' mistreatment of lower-ranking soldiers. Soon after, he was removed from their barracks and never returned.