Namibia buries the corpse of apartheid

August 23, 1996

Windhoek. There is a camaraderie at the University of Namibia that is a rare commodity on campuses. It may have something to do with size - fewer than 4,000 students are enrolled here - or to do with the youth of the institution, which turns four this month.

A unique confluence binds the birth of independent Namibia with that of the university. Both are repositories of democratic values. "We have none of the problems which afflict universities in the Republic of South Africa," says Mungunda Mbetjiha, campus strategic planner.

Racial harmony is evident by the relaxed attitudes of students strolling along the pathway, or, further away, indulging in a raucous volleyball game. And with regards to funding, "no problems there, either," he adds.

The government subsidises 74 per cent of the university budget, while 24 per cent comes from students and the rest from clients, donations and income generation.

The university replaced the old Windhoek Academy. Joram Rukambe, executive personal assistant to the vice chancellor and public relations co-ordinator, said: "The pre-independence academy was an umbrella for a technikon for vocational training and a university. It issued certificates, degrees and diplomas."

Immediately after independence, President Nujoma - who is also the university's chancellor - announced the decision to establish Namibia's own university. A separate polytechnic was set up and the university was established on August 31, 1992. The two institutions have separate campuses and responsibilities. There is also a centre for extended studies, catering for distance education.

To assist those students and learners in the far corners of this massive and beautiful country, satellite campuses have been established in Oshakati, Katima Mulilo and Rundu.

"They act as conduits between the students and ourselves, and are venues for special continuing education lectures of topical relevance, like law reform, crime, Aids, and so on," says Mr Rukambe.

The University of Namibia has a mandate to play a pivotal role in society's transformation from colonial rule and war of liberation to genuine reconciliation.

Programmes have been introduced to give priority to former victims of apartheid and discriminatory education. They are given the chance to upgrade their language, science and maths skills and knowledge through access and bridging programmes.

Under the former education system maths and science were neglected. Mr Rukambe said: "There's almost a phobia now about those two subjects, so we have a low intake. Most students are more comfortable with the humanities, and this is a disparity we're trying to overcome."

Faculties include education, law, medical and health sciences, science, economics and management science.

The agriculture and natural resources faculty, which will include departments of agricultural economics, animal, crop and food science, technology and natural resources and conservation is almost completed. Then there are centres for languages, visual and performing arts, computers and research. A library is set to be finished in 1999.

Lecturers and students come from all over Africa and there are a number of Fulbright fellows from the United States. "We're working towards increasing the number of students," said Mr Rukambe, "and we will continue to promote access and relevance to scholars."

Upgrading the university library is one of the highest priorities of the new university, and the immediate goal is one comprising 250,000 volumes and 1,500 periodical titles, a significant increase from its present 100,000 volumes. A new library building is planned to be completed by 1999.

"One of our missions is to serve as a repository for the preservation, development and articulation of Namibian values and culture, through the promotion of Namibian history, culture and language. And to promote national and international understanding. And I believe we're succeeding."

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