Education and Liberation: The Namibian Experience
SWAPO led Namibia’s liberation struggle waged to free the people of Namibia from the yoke of the oppressive and racist apartheid regime.
Because SWAPO was led by visionaries, besides waging the war, the party also prepared exiled Namibians for roles in a free Namibia.
The party achieved this through education after the leadership realised that education was the key to success and that an independent Namibia would need an educated workforce.
While many cadres were sent to countries like the United States, Cuba, the United Kingdom, the then Soviet Union and across Africa for higher education and training in various fields, SWAPO had to devise a way of educating the children of the combatants.
This responsibility to lay an educational foundation for the future generations was thrown onto the lap of the Minister of Defence, Nahas Angula, who was to become Namibia's first Minister of Education at independence.
Many young people who went into exile found themselves at a refugee camp at Maukwawuka in Zambia, where the Namibian Health and Education Centre was established.
Angula, who is currently the Minister of Defence, narrates: “That is where I started far back in 1974 after Angola had got independence from Portugal. In 1975, we had a large group of women and children coming from Namibia and we had to expand our educational activities.
“We only had one school in Zambia but now there was a need to open-up another one in Angola,” says the former Prime Minister, Angula.
He says after the Cassinga Massacre in 1978, two schools were established in Cuba where many of the survivors of that atrocity were sent. These schools were not solely for Namibian children but also for students from several other African countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leon, Gambia and Kenya.
In addition, these countries provided young Namibians with secondary education under the monitoring and supervision of the party leadership.
Angula, a United States-trained teacher, says it was not easy to start up an education system after independence because “some people wanted change overnight and others were fearful of change”.
“But because I had worked for the United Nations, as an international civil servant, I worked with people from different backgrounds and different ideologies.
“They had conflicting ideologies of capitalism and communism, hence I had expertise in working with people who had different ideologies.
“It is against this background that after independence in 1990, I was also given the privilege to start the new education system.
“When we returned to Namibia in 1989, the ethnic education system was still intact and we found 11 education administrations in the country organised on race and ethnic grounds.
“There was education for the Ovambo, for the Hereros, Caprivians, Kavangos, Namas, whites and something in between called National Education, which fostered the management of schools established in the townships,” Angula says.
He further says the mere fact that they were going to unify the education system into a global system was in itself a huge challenge. One of the notable milestones encountered during the reformation process was that teachers were not ready or trained to teach multi-cultural classrooms.
In one such case, some black learners ‑ who were admitted at previously white only schools ‑ were put at the back of the class by their white teachers. This was discrimination just by seating arrangement.
“Language was also another major hurdle in the integration of schools and at that time learners were taught in Afrikaans. It was Namibia’s lingua franca. We then introduced a language policy, which included all the indigenous languages so that Namibian people were not deprived of the use of their indigenous languages or their cultures. We invited experts from Europe to articulate the new policy,” adds Angula.
Concerning religion, which has long been the centre of controversy as far as education is concerned until today Angula says: “The Constitution says that Namibia is a secular state and if we introduce specific denominations like Christianity, we run the risk of over-riding the rights of others who are not Christians.
“We decided on a subject called moral education which tries to integrate Christianity and other religions as a basis of forming societal and cultural values.”
He says the actual reformation of the education system began in 1991. The process started with secondary schools and trickled down to the primary education.
“In 1995, there was a Cabinet reshuffle and the Ministry of Education was split up into two sections. This happened before the reformation had matured. We were still in the process of reforming the system. The secondary education was given to Hon. John Mutorwa and I was assigned to handle higher education as it also needed to be restructured,” he explains.
After 1995, the education system was made more dynamic in terms of content, teacher training and funding.
As a result, a programme called the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (EDSEL) was formed. The Ministry of Education worked together with the World Bank to bring about cohesion in the education system.
“We had a Cape Town Matric Examination set by the Matriculation Board those years. It was a sort of examination that learners would just memorise what they had learnt without really trying to understand it.
“Hence, we came up with a principle of learning with understanding that learners should not memorise material but try to understand the subject concept because that is the basis of later knowledge. If you understand what you are learning you will be able to regurgitate it at a later stage,” he also said.
Namibia has benefited from co-operation with the University of Cambridge through the provision of new basic examination system. Since Cambridge University was a universally respected institution, it partnered Namibia to offer rudimentary examination groundwork after the Matriculation Board. Not only has the partnership benefited Grade 10 and 12 learners who wrote these examinations but Namibia as country has also advanced in terms of education and today that partnership has grown.
Giving a word of inspiration Angula says: “I can only quote from Frantz Fanon one of the African Caribbean revolutionaries, famous for his book “The Wretched of the Earth”, who says something very important to the young people.
He says ‘every generation out of its obscurity must find its mission either to fulfil that mission or to betray it’. Therefore, I hope the young people of Namibia are defining their mission and are prepared to fulfil that mission and not betray it.”
Angula further advises the youth to take advantage of vocational training centres to empower themselves because young people must take the initiative and to develop themselves.
“A country can only develop through its human (resource) power and it is now the responsibility of young people to find their mission, take up the challenge and bring about development for more job-creation and for people to feel that they have a share in their own country's resources,” he concluded.
• The original version of this article first appeared in Vision 2030 Magazine