Namibia has no system for rewarding national sports heroes
> Kaipaherue Kandjii
Windhoek – The Namibian Government especially the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service does not have a system in place to reward athletes who represent the nation at international sporting events.
There has been a barrage of criticism directed at government after it emerged that the majority of Namibian para-athletes are wallowing in poverty despite excelling at major events such as International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships and All Africa Games.
A classic example is that of Ruben Gowaseb who won gold for Namibia at the 14th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, USA held from July 25 to August 2, 2015.
A public debate erupted about the treatment of the country’s disabled athletes after it emerged that Gowaseb was deprived the customary hero’s welcome usually accorded to athletes who have done the country proud upon arrival at Hosea Kutako International Airport.
Instead the marathon runner was transported by bus from the airport and had to literary walk home after he and fellow athletes were dropped off at the Special Olympics Centre at the Katutura Youth Complex.
Many people took to social media to vent their anger towards sport administrators, citing how disability sport was playing second fiddle to able bodied sports citing the handsome rewarding of the national soccer team, the Brave Warriors, when they won the COSAFA Cup earlier this year in South Africa.
After winning the 2015 Council of Southern Africa Football Association (COSAFA) in May, President Hage Geingob announced a cash reward of N$1.2 million for the 24 national football team players for doing the nation proud.
However, there is an isolated case of para-athlete and Olympic gold medallist Johanna Benson who was showered with numerous rewards including a house, a street named after her and a diplomatic passport for her exploits at 2012 Paralympics Games.
The Director of Sport in the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service, Shivute Katamba has confessed to The Southern Times that there is no system in place, on how to remunerate Namibian athletes, while dismissing assertions that disability sport is lowly rated.
“We rate our athletes with dis-abilities very high. They give our country an identity. And currently we submitted a proposal to the deputy minister, and the permanent secretary, and we are also reviewing our act and policies, because currently there is no system as to how to reward them, according to their achievements, be it gold, silver or group achievements,” Katamba said.
“These are our brothers and sisters and should be treated as equals,” said the government official.
“These are our own people. If people don’t know people like Ananias (Shikongo) can operate a switchboard and can use a computer, in fact we have had a switchboard operator here, who was blind, and he worked here for more than 20 years”.
He conceded that poverty amongst athletes was a national concern, and should not just be upon the ministry to remedy.
“We as a nation should hold hands from the corporate sector and government and come to their aid,” he said.
In 2013, Shikongo won a silver medal at the World Championships in Lyon, France in the T11 100m category.
He is among a group of para-athletes who are preparing to represent Namibia at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar from October 21-31.
“We are world champions but we live in poverty,” were the words gold medallist Ananias Shikongo about the predicament faced by the local para-athletes, adding that they are depended on monthly State grants.
“All they tell us is that, we are happy, you have done us proud. We even take taxis, and even pay taxi for our fellow friends. The government doesn’t even avail transport for us. When we arrive at the airport we didn’t even receive any welcome, and we have to hustle for transport. We are world-champions, but we live in poverty,” he said.