By: Stephanie Quinn (University of the Free State)
Originally Published 24 March 2016 [LINK TO ORIGINAL]
Namibians have long viewed education as a crucial component of economic development. But education is also a vehicle for personal transformation, a point where generations of Namibians’ visions of their lives meet the demands of regional and national economies.
When Enos Nampala matriculated from Oshigambo High School in 1979, he was offered a job at a bank in Otjiwarongo. The same year, while Nampala was writing the Joint Matriculation Board examinations, Nampala’s father died. Nampala’s uncle urged him to accept the job at the bank or work for the diamond mines in Oranjemund, but in 1980, Nampala decided to work as an uncertified teacher instead. As a teacher, Nampala—the second of eleven children—could both stay close to his younger siblings in Ovamboland and remain motivated to continue his studies. He pursued his dream of studying theology through a correspondence course with UNISA and went on to pursue teaching qualifications in Namibia and Great Britain, in addition to paying his siblings’ school fees. Today he is Chief Education Officer at the Rössing Foundation’s Ondangwa center.
Fredrick Nghiueuelekuah decided to learn carpentry and joinery at Valombola Vocational Training Center in Ongwediva because he looked up to his brother, who studied bricklaying there. Nghiueuelekuah said, “I was happy to see what he was doing, so at that point, I said, ‘This is the way to go.’” Valombola was founded in 1979 and built with financial support from Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM). In 1981, Nghiueuelekua became one of the second class of black apprentices at CDM in Oranjemund. He was one of the few Valombola trainees to be selected for the apprenticeship program, on the basis of his results on an aptitude test. Apprentices were entrusted to CDM artisans for practical training, in addition to theory classes. Nghiueuelekua’s mother passed away in 1982, and in 1984, just after completing his trade test and finishing his apprenticeship, Nghiueuelekuah returned to Ovamboland to be close to his father. He also returned to education. He has worked as a vocational instructor and, currently, the head of the Career Program at Valombola since 1985.
Despite the promises of education, Namibia’s colonial history has made it difficult for educational institutions to prepare youth for personal and economic development. In the former SWA, the South African administration took no interest in the education of Africans north of the Red Line until the 1960s, when primary schools run by missionaries and communities were converted into “Bantu community schools.” After Bantu Education was introduced, curricula limited students’ exposure to subjects deemed too difficult for blacks, such as physical science and mathematics, and the emphasis on theory and rote memorization discouraged graduates from applying scholarly knowledge in everyday life. Some teachers, especially in towns and at mission schools, exposed students to career and educational opportunities beyond the boundaries of their “homelands.” But these opportunities were open only to an elite minority, who then could be employed as teachers, nurses, pastors or public servants, but not in the sectors that powered the territory’s economy.
It was not until the 1970s that a few black and coloured Namibians started to occupy skilled positions in mines such as CDM and Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL). After the United Nations and the International Court of Justice declared South Africa’s presence in Namibia illegal in 1969 and 1971, and Namibian workers protested against the contract labor system through the general strike of 1971-2, cracks started to show in the territory’s exploitative labor and education systems. The multinational corporations that ran Namibia’s big mines worried about the future of their Namibian investments. Their response was to introduce in-house training programs and job ranking systems designed to “deracialize” skilled work. In 1978, the staff of the TCL’s Apprentice School “went multiracial,” administering “culture-free” aptitude tests to the cream of the territory’s non-white matriculants in schools across the country. 33 of those screened began apprentice training at TCL in 1979, and multiracial apprenticeship continued up to independence. But these opportunities catered to few black and coloured Namibians—not to the many who emerged from the SWA’s broken education system without the skills to find remunerative and satisfying work. [Paradoxically, prior to independence, teaching was a favored path for both Namibia’s most educated blacks and coloureds, and those who couldn’t or didn’t want to study beyond form 1.] Still, education has long held attraction as a gateway to opportunity and the key to development.
Kassian Shiyambi, a former councilor on the Kavango Legislative Council in the 1970s and chief of the Gciriku people in Kavango East, persuaded parents and community leaders to send children to school. Edward Mukoya, my friend and research partner in the winter of 2013, translated Shiyambi’s concluding comments about himself as follows: “When he was councilor, he [did] work he is doing now as a chief. He was going school to school, headmaster to headmaster. He was having meetings. Because in the past, people were not aware of school. They did not like school. If you come and say, ‘School, school,’ they will say, ‘Nuh uh, we are going to look after cattle.’ …That was his very duty. He was going house to house, telling the elders, ‘Take your kids to school.’”
Today, young Namibians go to school, but is education doing its job? In the wake of #FeesMustFall in South Africa and the fees protests at NUST and UNAM in Windhoek, questions arise of what purpose education and training should serve, and whose responsibility education and training are. These questions are vital to understanding Namibia’s persisting economic inequality, and they have not yet been adequately addressed in Namibia.