From the frontlines to PhD . . . but for Dr Niikondo, memories still remain fresh
How some people manage to surmount difficulties and still work hard to eventually pry open a hard nut, which enables them to live a life beyond their wildest dream, is humbling.
Early in his childhood, Andrew Niikondo, now Dr Niikondo and vice-rector of Academic Affairs and Research, showed a passion for education. He kept his dream alive as he went through peaks and troughs, which demanded that he laid his own life in pursuit of the independence of the country.
Born at Onantsi Village near Ondangwa in a family of nine siblings to peasant parents, he never had it easy. Niikondo never had the luxury modern children have. For starters, school always competed with cattle-herding, as cattle ownership was regarded an invaluable source of wealth ahead of school.
“It was one day at school and the other in the bushes herding cattle,” he recalls.
Driven by passion (a mandatory of anyone wanting to be successful) and commitment, he would take his books to the cattle post, but this was only ideal during winter before the rains could grace the lands.
His studies, however, came to an abrupt end at the age of 17 while in Standard 7 when the liberation struggle call came.
“It was a dangerous move as the South African soldiers were following us. To get to Angola, I am sure we walked 100km on foot,” recollects Dr Niikondo.
While in exile, he underwent his military training at the Tobias Hainyeko Training Centre in Lubango, Angola in 1979 as an Artillerist. This training made him a member of the First Mechanised Infantry Brigade of Swapo under his commander - Kambwa Kashilongo (the struggle name) - the current City of Windhoek CEO, Niilo Taapopi who is also the chairperson of the Polytechnic of Namibia Council.
Between 1983 and 1989, it was the time for the staccato of the machine guns, as Niikondo found himself tearing the enemy lines between Cuanza-sul, Cuanza-Norte and Bie provinces of Angola.
The main battle, which is still vivid in his eyes, is the Calulo battle in the Province of Kuanza-Sul - Angola. He vividly remembers the morning of 5 September 1983, when they were attacked by powerful UNITA forces reinforced by other forces and manned by people of colour – meaning “Mulatos”.
“The attack started when UNITA captured two of our sentries on a small bridge between us in Calulo town. UNITA killed three of our comrades, captured one alive. I recall his name was Black and was a Radio Communication Operator. The other one whom I remember as Bingo, managed to escape (he died later in another Battle at Adulo in Bie Province - Angola).
‘’The enemy attacked us at around 5o’clock in the morning, shelling with a 60mm mortar. The problem was that we did not have our Infantry Forces because two Battalions under Commander Shilunga shoMungandjera and Mbongolo lyaMahata were on a mission in the area of Quisongo around 40km from us.
“Our battalion was simply Artillery. We had to put our guns into firing position to respond fire. We were equipped with 76mm anti-tank guns, ZU-1 anti-air guns, ZGU-23mm anti-air guns, ZPU-4 anti-air guns and there were no 82mm mortar, which could have been effective to destroy enemy manpower in valleys and behind rocks and hillocks. We successfully responded, but the enemy was very strong that he had the advantage of the 81mm mortar, firing from big crests. It was difficult for us to destroy them with the 76mm anti-Tank Canons,” he recounts.
Commander Ngoya-Yakayala (the late), who was the Brigade commander, organised a platoon from the Namibian Settlement Defense in Kwanza-Sul to bring the 82mm mortar reinforcements to hit the enemy who hid behind the hills.
“Unfortunately, the whole platoon was destroyed when the truck in which they were travelling fell into an ambush and was hit by a side-bomb and all 10 comrades were sacrificed, with only one survivor. The 82mm mortar was captured by the enemy who would use it against them,” he says.
According to Niikondo, this battle lasted for three consecutive days. They fought during the day and evenings. The battle was commanded by the late John Haufiku,Asser Nanyeni and Samuel Nayeni (Commissar). Fortunately, they succeeded in this battle, because the enemy made a wrong decision to advance towards them. In so doing, they allowed them to come closer within the range of ZGU-23, which was very effective in destroying infantry troops in a range of 500m to 1km.
“We opened fire and all guns were open and it was interesting to see the enemy dying in front of our eyes,” smiles Niikondo adding: “They retreated and Calulo was free forever, our reconnaissance commander, the late Manyami gaLugambo, drove through the town to inform the dwellers that the enemy was gone.”
Dr Niikondo was a crew commander of the 76mm anti-tank Canon and other guns were all commanded out by the late comrade, Kesho Oscar, Jesaya Keendjele, Awene Kambwa (SGU-23). Jesaya Akwaake was the commander (ZU-1) while Penda yaNdakolo (now governor of the Oshikoto Region; the region hosting this year’s Heroes’ Day festivities) was the commissar.
“My crew comprised of Thomas Itana (Kenyatta) (Gunner), Immanuel Hamana (Mbwangela), Sakaria Johaness (Shiponga), Paavo Petrus (Shikulo), Salomo Shikongo (Tashiya), Sakeus Paulus (Katengela) - all of them are still alive and are in the NDF,” explains Dr Niikondo.
The structure remained like that until the signing of the cease fire agreement for the implementation of United Nations Resolution 435.
With such a rich military background and with bright prospects of a lucrative position in the army, conventional wisdom would dictate he rather stayed there, build and strengthen his capacity and rise through the ranks. In fact, Niikondo landed the position of a Major in the army after independence.
But still, his appetite for books nagged him. At the age of 30, he picked up the pieces and resumed school. In 1992, he obtained his Standard 10 certificate through distance education. What followed is a chain reaction of academic progress.
In 1995, he graduated with a national diploma in Public Administration from the University of Namibia (Unam). From there, his achievements became nonstop, as, in 1999, he graduated with a B-Tech degree from the Technikon of South Africa before a Masters degree in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of the Western Cape in 2002, where he specialised in Gender and Development.
Due to his diligence and attention to detail, he emerged as the best student, making the University of Western Cape offer him the opportunity to defend his thesis at the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 2001.
He is the first man in Namibia to study Gender at the Masters level. This recognition ignited a passion for research; a field he has embraced with both hands. Today, he is a respected researcher in Namibia who has published several books; the latest being ‘Migrants to Cities and Towns in Namibia: The dynamics of investing in urban versus rural areas’.
And he was not done, yet; in 2004, he enrolled for a doctorate course at the University of Namibia and obtained a PhD in Politics and Public Administration in 2008. Consequently, he became one of the few Ex-PLAN combatants to obtain a PhD and to stretch his academic profile this far.
While pursuing his studies, Niikondo had also been holding down a full-time job in the Ministry of Defence. After graduating with Masters, he was asked to do part-time lecturing at Unam’s Otjiwarongo Campus in the evenings. In 2004, he made a decision to leave the Ministry of Defence despite being promoted to the position of Major for a full-time job at the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) where he rose up to the level of the head of department (HoD) of Public Management, then to deputy dean of the School of Business and Management at PoN, until his new appointment.
His role as the vice rector of Academic and Student Affairs entails overseeing and managing the lecturers, deans and professors of the PoN in Windhoek and all campuses around the country. This is to make sure that teaching and learning take place to make sure quality products are produced.
“Our mandate is to produce people of quality, not scraps,” he emphasises then quips: “We want to produce graduates who are hunted for and not job-hunters.” Part of his job description is to make sure that researches are conducted through capacity development of the academic staff.
“If you don’t do research as an academic, you are doomed,” he says.
In addition, he’s responsible for the institution’s community engagement. He is tasked with international links for the purposes of students and staff exchange programmes.
The development or new programmes and qualifications also fall on his shoulders; he has to make sure that relevant steps are taken through the structures before final approval.
Despite his back-breaking work schedule, Dr Niikondo is a dedicated family man who strives to lead by example. Every Sunday, he makes sure that he fulfils his slot of cleaning the house as well as all the cars in preparation for the week ahead.
He is still a very active member of the Swapo party of Namibia as well; he is the head of the Hochland Branch. In addition, he is a member of the Swapo party’s think-tank; a body made of intellectuals who are the key advisers of the ruling party on policy matters.
Dr Niikondo draws his inspiration from Namibia’s Founding Father, Dr Sam Nuuyoma as well as the First President of the independent South Africa, Nelson Mandela for their stamina, which enabled them to stand firmly and finally brought apartheid to its knees; not to forget the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for his academic achievements while in prison. PF