One of Namibia’s oldest schools in Northern Namibia is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. The school is situated on the main road, Oshigambo West in Oniipa and boasts of a number of leading personalities as part of its alumni.

These range from politicians, business leaders and other professionals and will be part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations, expected at the end of September, 2010.

Some of the leading politicians who passed through the school include Prime Minister Nahas Angula and Ministers Pendukeni Ivula-Ithana, Nangolo Mbumba, Erkki Nghimtina, politicians Ben Ulenga and Jesaya Nyamu among others.

A long list of personalities from the corporate world who form part of the alumni include Sacky Nghikembua (Old Mutual), Leake Hangala (formerly Nampower), Penda Kiyala (Road Fund Administration), Festus Hangula (Social Security Commission), Kombadayedu Kapwanga (LLD Diamonds) and others.

Medical doctors, engineers, business people and even religious leaders and other professional who have passed the school complete the list. The Oshigambo High School’s history is testimony to years of achievements at one of the country’s greatest institution of learning in as far as education of black people in Namibia is concerned. The school was opened in 1960 as a result of efforts being made by Finnish missionaries who had come to Northern Namibia and formed part of the first group of teachers.

The first Finnish missionaries, who arrived in 1870, taught themselves to understand and speak the language of the people, gave it a written form and started teaching the people to read. The ABC book which was printed in Finland came off the press in January 1876. When a few copies came to Ovamboland GM Skoglund, one of the missionaries took a copy to King Kambonde. The first school building was erected at Omulonga four years later.

As soon as any clever young man learned his ABC he could be used to teach others. Many years passed, however, before a training school for teachers was opened. Missionaries trained some young men at their mission stations. Sometimes short courses were also held for teachers.

At last in 1913 a training school was established at Oniipa. There were those who already in the 1880`s had suggested the erection of such an establishment. A training school for women was opened at Okahao in 1947, and thus also women in greater and greater numbers had a chance of entering the profession.

In the years that followed, it was a laborious task to create a network of schools over the length and breadth of the ever widening area, where the Ovambos lived, with the money that was never enough and the increasing need of better qualified teachers.

When the Finnish missionaries gathered at the annual budget meeting in 1949 they appointed a committee to make a plan for a secondary school. At a meeting in January 1950, members of the committee, Liina Lindstorm, Rauha Voipio and Elias Penti presented a plan which was accepted.

Lahja Lehtonen, who later became an icon at Oshigambo, joined other missionaries in 1955, substituting Helmi Haapanen as headmistress at the Girls` School where she taught History and English only to the adults. The school authorities were against English. Thus English was taught as an extra subject at Oshigambo, during the last lesson of the day as if it were outside the ordinary time-table.

The official starting date for the functioning of the school is given as the year 1960 but it had already been functioning. In this year the Evangelical Church Council, responsible for running the affairs of the school, selected the new pupils that were chosen as the first students of what is now known as Oshigambo High School.

A few years after that more pupils came from Ongwediva and Okahao and these were selected by the teachers and later the school was running its own academic and social affairs. The school would face a number of challenges in terms of staffing and enrolment and it was only after 1965 that some achievements started to show.

In 1965 two former pupils, Barnabas Haimbodi and Leonard Hamunyela joined the staff after sitting for their matriculation examinations and another new English teacher Terttu Heikkinen also joined in. The number of pupils grew to 95 and there were five classes. All the five classes were taught English, Afrikaans, Mathematics and Ndonga. The Junior Certificate classes (Forms I-III) had social studies (history and geography), nature study and agriculture. The High School classes (Forms IV-V) had biology and physical science and either history or geography (which was dropped later). Religious education, physical training and music were also taught. Afrikaans was the language of instruction and also an examination subject instead of Ndonga, the mother tongue. Later, both these things changed. German was introduced in 1966 but only one class wrote the subject at Junior Certificate level.

The first pupils of any school have a special position because of being pioneers. The Principal’s Annual Report for 1965 contains the following information:

“Elia Niinkoti passed the exam in March and received the School Leaving Certificate. He works as a teacher at Ongwediva Training School. Attained the School leaving Certificate level at the end of 1965 and was admitted to the University of Fort Harare, South Africa, Leonard Hamunyela passed mathematics will write physiology in 1966. Barnabas Haimbodi: teacher at Oshigambo Secondary School has applied to Landbou Kollege in South Africa. Ruben Kashea is attending a course for laboratory assistants…Rakel Mulenga is the Principal of Oshigambo Primary School.”

The government of South West Africa began to recognize the school’s role in the education of black people that some school inspectors were sent firstly in 1965, then in 1968 and in 1970. The following conclusions and recommendations were made after the third visit:

“The standard of work and teaching is greatly satisfying. It is evident that such good results are achieved because of the dedication of the teachers who make a conscious effort and do their work enthusiastically… congratulations to the Principal and Staff for the work of a high standard carried out at the school and the good state of buildings.”

Years that followed resulted in general growth, not only of Oshigambo high School, but more new schools were established all over the Ovamboland. This resulted in a shortage of teaching staff as some of the teachers left for the new institutions near towns. However, some, such as Marjatta Elonheimo who taught at the school from 1962 until 1982, stayed on.

In the 1970s and 1980s the worst strikes in the history of schools in Ovambo took place. Oshigambo High School got its fair share of them. The war had also taken its toll, and like all schools in the region, Oshigambo was affected.

The pupils approached the principal with the request to be allowed to establish a branch of the students’ union. They had to present the constitution so the principal could introduce it to the Church Board. It took months before the constitution was produced.

At the dawn of freedom, the year 1988 was difficult for pupils and teachers. There were schools situated very near to the military camps and the soldiers shooting did not pay attention to the safety of the pupils in the hostels. Though the Army was asked to remove their camps from the vicinity of the schools, they did not agree. There were school boycotts and pupils at Oshigambo joined them to show solidarity. Every pupil lost 30 school days of the school-year, but there were some who were absent on 50 days and failed at the end of the year.

South-Africa and SWAPO agreed to a cease fire which was to start on April 1, 1989. The whole peace process was hanging in the balance. The period of fear and uncertainty lasted for some weeks. There were boycotts at schools, Oshigambo and elsewhere again. The pupils wanted to show solidarity with the freedom fighters and honor the fallen ones.

In May when many preparations for the reception of returnees had been made, many people were still afraid of what “koevoet” men might do. Was it safe to return? This boycott started on the May 22 and ended on June 2, 1989.

The first free elections in Namibia were held were held in 1989. The UN sent supervisors from different member countries saw to it that the elections were free and fair. Oshigambo High School was one of the election centers. Over 2000 votes were cast at Oshigambo High School. Independence came in 1990 with the victory of the ruling Swapo Party.

Oshigambo High Schools also witnessed the return of some of its former pupils who came from America, Cuba, England, Germany, and Russia and from many other African countries. The school celebrated its 30th Anniversary in September 1991 where former and current students gathered to witness the occasion.

It can only be befitting now that the school’s former pupils, who have shaped a majority of Namibia’s political, business, academic and professional landscape gathered at the same school again in September this year to mark Oshigambo High School at 50!

Prime Focus staff and management would want to wish Oshigambo High School Happy 50th Anniversary for its unsung contributions to Namibia’s development. PF

Excerpts from Lahja Lehtonen’s book on Oshigambo High School.