Cassinga Day in Namibia is in honour of those who died in the Cassinga massacre in 1978. The public holiday is celebrated on 4 May each year.
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On 4 May 1978, approximately 400 paratroopers with the South African Air Force were dropped near the town of Cassinga where it was believed a Namibian refugee camp existed. Bombs were dropped on the South West Africa People’s Organisation refugee camp as well as the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia’s military base. The paratroopers and other ground forces attacked after the bombings, killing more than 600 people, mostly women and children.
The United Nations condemned the attack, saying it was both “criminal in legal terms and savage in moral terms.” The government claimed it was a retaliatory raid against small strikes made by the South West African People’s Organisation. The battle weakened the reputation of the South African government and paved the way for Namibia, which was then known as South West Africa, to gain independence on 21 March 1990.
The Cassinga Massacre was the first major assault on a refugee camp and military base. A few weeks after the massacre, over 600 Namibian children arrived in Cuba, most of them survivors of the attack at Cassinga. Cuba accepted the Namibian refugees, providing them with housing and education they would have been unable to receive in their homeland. Cuba provided significant assistance to Namibia as the country fought for independence.
Traditions and Commemorations
Political ceremonies are held each year in honour of those who died during the Cassinga Massacre. Formal ceremonies are held at war memorials including the National Heroes Acre just outside Namibia’s capital. The national park was built in 2002 to remember those who died in the battles that led to independence. The ceremonies are attended by dignitaries and high-ranking political officials, including Namibia’s president.
In addition, there are military parades and other celebrations designed to honor those who died at Cassinga. On the tenth anniversary, people carried black banners with the words “Cassinga 1978-88 – We Remember” while others congregated in mass rallies in an effort to push for independence which did not take place for two more years.
Much of the credit for Namibia’s independence has been given to the support of Cuba who leaders said “had blocked a blow with the left hand and the right hand was preparing to strike.”