People's Liberation Army of Namibia

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People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN)
Active 1962–1990
Country Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania
Allegiance South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO)
Type Paramilitary
Nickname(s) PLAN
Ceremonial chief Sam Nujoma
Sam Nujoma, Tobias Hainyeko, Dimo Hamaambo, Peter Nanyemba, Solomon Huwala, Peter Mweshihange, John Nankudhu

The People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) was the active military wing of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), Namibia's largest nationalist movement during the Namibian War of Independence founded in 1962 by Sam Nujoma as the South West Africa Liberation Army (SWALA).[1] It sought independence for the territory (then South West Africa, now Namibia) from South African rule. It was founded with a mainly Marxist agenda anticipating the development of a socialist state. This would be achieved through the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard consisting of professional revolutionaries, who would lead the working class in the class struggle. PLAN was integrated into the Namibian Defence Force upon independence in 1990.


Before the formation of PLAN as the armed wing of SWAPO, the people of Namibia lived under repressive laws put in place by the South African government, which led to resistance from the people. SWAPO led most of the resistance campaigns. As a result, the campaigns gained momentum. SWAPO used peaceful methods of demonstration that yielded no benefits and the South African government was able to ignore or suppress them. The South African government responded by restricting the party's leadership and forced many of them into exile. Large numbers of SWAPO cadres were punished, some dismissed from schools and jobs, while others faced expulsion from urban areas and restricted to live only in the country-side.

The Old Location Massacre that took place in December, 1959, carried out by South Africa military force, was the major turning point. After the massacre, the SWAPO's leadership came to realize that their approach to the oppressor had little impact. In 1960 majority of SWAPO senior leaders went into exile and started to lobby for military support. This led to the establishment of an armed wing, known as the South West Africa Liberation Army (SWALA), and an armed insurgency immediately began. SWALA was renamed PLAN in 1966.

The first Commander of PLAN was Tobias Hainyeko, who was killed in 1967 in Kwando River in the Caprivi strip by the South African Defence Force. He was replaced by Dimo Hamaambo, who held the position until independence was gained in 1990. Solomon Huwala was the Deputy Commander of PLAN and served as Chief of Security concurrently. Huwala was later accused of the arrest and abduction of many members of PLAN and SWAPO.



PLAN was first attacked by the South African Defence Force at Ongulumbashe in northern Namibia on 26 August 1966. Operation Blouwildebees was launched by the South African Police catching the PLAN combatants by surprise. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, PLAN launched incursions from bases in Zambia then later Angola.

The first combatants were trained under the banner of PLAN's forerunner, the South West African Liberation Army (SWALA). In July 1962 seven male combatants consisting of; Tobias Hainyeko, John Nankudhu, Vilho Haitembu, Titus Muailepeni Shitilifa, Patrick Israel Iyambo, Petrus Hambija and Lazarus Sakaria were sent to Egypt for training. These combatants were trained in conventional warfare and guerilla warfare tactics. Included in the training was marine training, parachuting, hand-to-hand combat and military topography. They additionally trained as company commanders so they could train and lead new recruits upon their return to South West Africa.[2][full citation needed]

In January 1963 Tobias Hainyeko was joined by five other combatants and some of them went to the Nanking Military Academy for training until April 1964. On 27 May 1963 at Kongwa in Tanzania SWALA opened its first military camp with Tobias Hainyeko as the first SWALA Commander, Petrus Hambija as Military Secretary and Titus Muailepeni Shitilifa as Deputy Military Secretary.[3] About two weeks later in June 1963 another group led by Dimo Hamaambo arrived from Algeria. Over time, more recruits joined the military camp coming from all over Southern Africa including from FRELIMO of Mozambique, MPLA of Angola, ZANU and ZAPU of Zimbabwe and ANC and PAC of South Africa.[3]


The first group known as G1 was armed with two PPSH Sub-Machines and two TT-pistols from the Algerian government. The group was led by John Otto Nankudhu (Koshiuanda) and consisting Simeon Shixungileni (Kambo), Patrick Israel Iyambo (Lunganda), Messah Victory Namuandi (Shiuajanga) and Nelson Kavela (Sadrag) amongst others. G1 left on 4 March 1965 for its first mission together with Tobias Hainyeko and Peter Nanyemba from Kongwa to South West Africa. Tobias Hainyeko and Peter Nanyemba stayed behind in Zambia. G1 crossed into Katima Mulilo and made their way westwards into the Kavango district until it reached Ovamboland. While the group was in the Mbukushu area it split into two subgroups: a reconnaissance group consisting of Messah Victory Namuandi, Patrick Israel Iyambo and Nelson Kavela which left first, while the rest of the group left the next day for Ovamboland to Eliaser Tuhadeleni's homestead that was their assembling point.[4]


SWAPO Military Council

The SWAPO Military Council was the highest decision-making body of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). The council was constituted in 1977 and met once a year to review the political and military situation and the progress of the war. It drew up strategies for the operations conducted by PLAN during the liberation struggle. The Military Council was one of SWAPO's most solid branches during the liberation struggle. Its members were either regional commanders or political commissars while others were chosen by merit of their vast experience in the struggle. They were instrumental in creating the Operational Command Headquarters which was situated in Lumbango.[5] The council was established under the leadership of Peter Nanyemba who served as the first SWAPO Secretary of Defence. Nanyemba was delegated by the President to chair the council for the first five years until he, as the Commander-in-Chief, and as per requirement of both SWAPO Constitution and PLAN manual took over.

Operational Command Headquarters

The Operational Command Headquarters was a highest level military command within PLAN consisting of the commander of PLAN and its deputy, PLAN chief political commissar, chief of staff, and all other departments within PLAN.[5] SWAPO had developed structures to manage and control its armed wing, structurally, the Central Committee and the National Executive controlled the army.

The party president was also the Commander-in-Chief of PLAN and chairman of the SWAPO Military Council. Under the president, a duputy chief commander was also the commander of the army and also responsible for all PLAN operations and activities. Below the commander was the Secretary of Defence, who was in charge of logistical operations. He reported to and advised the National Executive. Military operations were organised by the commanders of different regions, who were responsible for making recommendations to the Secretary of Defence.

Command structure

Prior to independence the command structure of PLAN consisted of:

Military regions

For administration purposes the battle field front was divided into different "fronts" each front had its own Regional Commander, Political Commissar and Chief of Staff as part of the front's Command structure.[5]

  • Eastern Front
  • North-Eastern Front
  • Northern Front
  • North-Western Front

The Eastern Front was the only region located in Zambia while the North-Eastern, Northern Front and North-Western were located in Southern Angola.

The Eastern Front Front had these fighters as its Commander;
Absai Hanghome as founding Commander who then was succeeded by Joseph Amunyela wa Shalali and later Ehrenfried "Baby" Jeombe.[7]

The North-Eastern Front Front had these fighters as its Commander;
Matias "Mbulunganga" Ndakolonkoshi as founding Commander who then was succeeded by George "Chicken" Kaxuxwena, Ruben "Danger Ashipala" & Ehrenfried "Baby" Jeombe.[7]

The Northern Front had these fighters as its Commander;
Fillipus Amutenya "Zulu" Nandenga as founding Commander who then was succeeded by Shilongo Elia, Nguluma Sheehama,Ehrenfried "Baby" Jeombe, Festus "Uudjuu wa Nangula" Hamukoto & Tomas "Mapaya" Shuuya.[7]

The Northern-Western Front had these fighters as its Commander;
Wilbardt "Nakada" Tashiya as founding Commander who then was succeeded by Uuno "Kanana" Shaanika & Erastus "Zicky" Negonga.[7]


The first incursions were made from Zambia into the Caprivi strip by combatants in the early 1960s. PLAN incursions from Angola into Namibia restarted in Ernest after the Portuguese withdrawal from Angola. Infiltration particularly started after the first rains during the rainy season when conditions were favourable for the combatants.Vegetation was tall and this provided for cover. The Oshanas were filled with drinking water that combatants needed during the long treks from their Angolan bases into Namibia. The rain also washed away foot tracks which made follow up operations by South African forces difficult. Once in Namibia combatants either planted Landmines, sabotaging administration infrastructure i.e. electricity pylons, ambushed SADF convoys, or attacked SADF bases from a stand off Distance mainly with mortars.[8]


PLAN had numerous facilities/bases first across Southern Zambia and then across Southern Angola. Its premier training facilities were located around Lubango, Angola and it was known as the Tobias Hainyeko Training Centre (THTC) and Jumbo Training Centre (JTC). Due to the nature of guerrilla warfare PLAN did not have permanent bases closer to the Namibia Angola border as compared to a conventional army. Bases were set up as the security situation changed every time.


Some units of PLAN included:[9]

  • 1st Motorized Infantry Brigade
  • Moscow Battalion
  • Alpha Battalion
  • Bravo Battalion
  • 8th Battalion
  • Salute Unit
  • Volcano unit

Volcano unit was a special commando unit that was trained to penetrate the Farming areas south of Oshivelo.[9]

Arms and equipment

Personal arms

Vehicles and towed artillery

Origin Type Acquired In service Notes
T-34  Soviet Union Medium Tank
BTR-60  Soviet Union Armoured Personnel Carrier
BTR-152  Soviet Union Armoured Personnel Carrier
BRDM-2  Soviet Union Scout Car
BM-21 Grad  Soviet Union Multiple Rocket Launcher
ZIS-3  Soviet Union Antitank Gun
ZIS-2  Soviet Union Antitank Gun
ZPU-4  Soviet Union Anti-aircraft Gun
ZU-23-2  Soviet Union Anti-aircraft Gun

Notable former combatants

See also


  1. ^ Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia, or PLAN (army of SWAPO) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Nujoma S 2001, p. 158
  3. ^ a b Nujoma S. 2001, p. 159
  4. ^ Nujoma S 2001, p. 160
  5. ^ a b c "The Villager-Whatever happened to the Military Council?". Retrieved 2017-07-12. 
  6. ^ Ekandjo, Peter (2014). The Volunteers Army, p. 38., Windhoek. ISBN 978-99945-78-18-4.
  7. ^ a b c d Ekandjo, Peter (2014). The Volunteers Army, p. 47., Windhoek. ISBN 978-99945-78-18-4.
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ a b "SWAPO - How Moscow Battalion came into being". Retrieved 2017-07-12. 
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