Tuesday 11 May 2021
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Joseph Kalimbwe speaks out


Joseph Kalimbwe led a headline-grabbing campaign fighting for increased studying facilities and accommodation for students at the University of Namibia(UNAM), but the tables have turned.

The former Student Representative Council president is under review for alleged participation in breaking and the destruction of UNAM property, disorderly actions and disruptive conduct.

After the campaign in May to force the university to avail more study space for UNAM, we spoke to Kalimbwe under very different circumstances – he has been axed as SRC president and he has been dragged to court by the institution that conferred onto him his maiden tertiary qualification-a Bachelors of Political Science.

Speaking during a 41-minute interview with this publication this week, he was beaming with pride and hope for the future of student governance at all tertiary institutions in the country.

“Before we start I must warn you that I will not be able to talk about issues that are currently in court, so please bear that in mind during the interview, those were the instructions from my lawyers,” he said jokingly during the genesis of the interview.

Kalimbwe is known among his peers for speaking confidently and with great conviction. He still maintains the same demeanour despite the legal and academic troubles he is facing.

His confidence doesn’t seem to have taken a knock despite spending two nights in jail for his activism ways, though. “It[jail time] has made me stronger and I must say my future is now brighter than it was before. I am saying this because I have received overwhelming support, the only wrong I have done is to challenge the comfort of the status quo, but that is why we are student leaders.”

The public controversy began last month when some students tried to break into an unused cafeteria with the intention of turning it into a study area, saying they did not have enough space to study. UNAM retaliated mercilessly by expelling Kalimbwe and three others – Raymond Tjiueza, Jefery Shapange and Vanessa Hifitikeko – on allegations that they were disorderly, riotous and destroyed property.

The expulsions caused an uproar, but UNAM maintained that the actions of the students were “unacceptable and harmful”.

UNAM made it clear that “destruction of property is downright illegal”.

“The said students had been accorded an opportunity to provide reasons, as to why they should not be barred from UNAM campuses and or be suspended from the Students’ Representative Council. This is pending the finalisation of the investigation into the allegations and any disciplinary actions that may be taken against them – and that due processes should be allowed to run its course,” said UNAM’s Public Relations Officer Simon Namesho.

Kalimbwe, on the other hand, believes his imprisonment is punishment for fighting for the well-being of the students who elected him.

“As student leaders we must refrain from the culture of wanting to become SRCs for popularity and attending fancy meetings with management while forgetting the plights of students. I am not singling-out UNAM SRCs, but all student leaders at our tertiary institutions,” he said with strong conviction.

It seems that praising controversial leaders at universities is in fashion. At the Namibia University of Science and Technology anti-registration fee demonstration in 2016, during which the students managed to get their way, NUST SRC president Oscar Mwandingi was hailed as the “voice of the voiceless”.

Though he finds no fault in his actions, he is adamant that the fight for justice and equality is not a “Joseph Kalimbwe thing” but rather a greater push to ensure that students are accorded a conducive study climate.

Having been jailed for the first time-ever in his life after last month’s incident, he said he was surprised to find out that some of the police officers and inmates were rallying behind him.

“Some of the police officers supported me but indicated that there was nothing they could do for me because they were merely doing their job. The inmates I found in the holding cells were also friendly, I was surprised to know they knew about the incident and that some urged me not to stop,” he said graciously.

Speaking fondly of his family and the trauma caused by the public commotion involving him, Kalimbwe did not in any way sound like someone ready to abandon “the fight for student justice to please the family.”

“Of course my family were scared and traumatized when I was arrested, one of my aunts cried so much, I told them crying will not help anything, but this is a fight that must continue,” said Kalimbwe who says he continues to receive numerous threats.

“Since last year I have been getting calls from people I do not know threatening to hurt me if I do not stop,” he said.

In addition, the expelled student leader was adamant that seeds have been implanted among the university’s students and that his genuine course to address student plights will continue irrespective of whether he is or is not at the university.

According to Kalimbwe, student leaders who challenge the status quo by speaking truth to power about issues affecting student wellbeing were falling prey to university management that sees “the construction of an administration block as more important than the construction of more hostels to accommodate the students”.

However, the 24-year-old leader is not deterred: “Students are being told that we (Unam) cannot do this (build new hostels) because there is no money. But then, there are other constructions going on and you expect those students to remain silenced, it cannot be.”

Kalimbwe said the students have been oppressed for “too long” and that a great majority were now starting to realise the ills that they have been subjected to.

In recent times, Unam has gone onto to construct a state of the art gate at the university’s main campus at an estimated cost of N$27 million.

In the same light, an administration block is currently under construction at the same campus to cost the university a staggering N$350 million, this is despite the numerous calls by students to divert the funds to more pressing student needs at the campus.

In addition, Kalimbwe said he is worried over the manner in which the management of tertiary institutions has been mingling in the operations of the Student Representative Councils (SRC), which defeats the purpose for which student bodies exist.

“I have noticed one bad thing about student leadership and if we don’t address it, then the whole purpose of student leadership is defeated,” he said.

To avoid student leadership from becoming puppet bodies that sing to the tune of those in management positions, Kalimbwe said the student bodies ought to operate “autonomously”.

Kalimbwe, who himself had to go against all odds en-route to be elected as the SRC president, said he experienced encounters whereby top officials from the university interfered with SRC operations.

Kalimbwe added: “There are people who want to remote-control the way the whole student leadership works, so it defeats the whole purpose of having students vote for leaders.”

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