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TB Fihlela ‘Hugo Nkabinde’ (1958 – 1988) (Posthumous)

The Order of Mendi for Bravery in

TB Fihlela ‘Hugo Nkabinde’ (1958 – 1988) (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His contribution to the ideals of freedom through putting his medical profession to the service of exiled freedom fighters
Profile of TB Fihlela ‘Hugo Nkabinde’

In 1987, Dr Hugo Nkabinde arrived at Pango Camp, an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) camp in Angola, for a specialised military training course in Military and Combat Work and Military Engineering. On his arrival, Nkabinde was already a qualified medical practitioner. The aim was for him to infiltrate back into the country where he could continue with his underground work. He immediately joined the medical team in the camp while undergoing training.

Before Nkabinde went to Angola for military training, he was involved in MK underground activities.

Upon completion of his training, he became the Medical Officer in the administration structure of the Northern Front in Quilbaxe, in the north of Angola, around March 1988. The Northern Front was a campaign MK military operation conducted in Angola. This came as a result of the fact that MK had a number of military camps in Quibaxe, including training camps. There was only one main supply route from Luanda where the MK Headquarters were situated and Quibaxe in the north of Angola. This route was crucial for supplies to the camps in the north as well as for the general population. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) rebels who were fighting against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) Government in Angola subjected this route to ambushes. The situation worsened when Unita realised it was losing the war in the south at Cuito Cuanavale.

Nkabinde reinforced his medical team by training other members as the Front stretched along three towns: Phire, which was about 60 km from Quibaxe where a battalion was deployed; Quibaxe; and Parade, which was about 11 km from Quibaxe and also had battalion strength. This was a difficult assignment given the circumstances under which the guerilla army operated, being without guaranteed resources.

Over and above his task in the Northern Front, Nkabinde rendered service to all MK camps in the north. He also accompanied convoys to Luanda, which was about 200 km from Quibaxe. As a result of ambushes, members were sometimes forced to walk on foot to Luanda to meet the convoy half way. That was also meant to clear the route of any Unita ambushes. This was quite a task for Nkabinde, given the fact that he was not as highly trained as other members who had been in MK camps for a long time and others who had combat experience from inside the country.

In April 1988, Unita rebels ambushed an MK convoy from Luanda at Keso, injuring a number of members. Nkabinde was among the first to arrive. Had it not been for the professional medical experience of Nkabinde and his medical team, some members might have died.

There were many such incidents, especially ambushes where Nkabinde distinguished himself. He always insisted on going out with reconnaissance teams even though these could comprise small teams of guerilla fighters.

As a result of his presence in the Northern Front, the health situation of members improved noticeably. This also applied to the camps around Quibaxe. Many lives that could have been lost, in especially the ambushes, were saved. He did not only improve the health situation in the camps and the Northern Front but also that of the local population.

Quibaxe’s hospital was ill-equipped. Nkabinde helped at the hospital during his spare time or when asked by the local authorities. His assistance always made a difference.

He conducted First Aid classes for members in the Northern Front and other camps. He improvised and used initiatives in conducting his classes. Some of the medical orderlies he trained assisted at the local hospital in Quibaxe.

Nkabinde was a dedicated member who led by example. His loyalty was unquestionable. Many of his peers opted for the relative safety of Lusaka, while others would pay occasional visits to MK camps.

Nkabinde was in the forefront in Angola’s trenches. He inspired many members with his attitude and behaviour. Sometimes, members’ morale would be low for different reasons but Nkabinde was always able to lift their spirits.

Dr Hugo Nkabinde forfeited the comforts his profession could have provided, instead pursuing the dream of a free South Africa. He led by example, in the process inspiring many MK cadres to carry on the struggle for justice and democracy.

Sadly, Nkabinde died in one of the ambushes in Angola in July 1988.