Monday 12 April 2021
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Jakob Marengo mourns hero ‘MAMA’

The education fraternity got a cold shock on Sunday morning to the passing of an activist and educator ‘Mama’ Ottilie Abrahams.
For the Jakob Marengo Secondary School, it was a cold and sombre day as nothing seemed normal on this particular Monday. The person whom they called ‘Mama’, the founder and leader of the school in the heart of Katutura, was no more.
The renowned educator and prolific activist died during the early hours of Sunday in the Paramount Hospital following an operation that kept her bedridden in hospital for two weeks. At the time of her death, the resilient activist was 80 and remained the active principal and founder of the Jakob Marengo Secondary School since 1985.
For the pupils enveloped by a cloud of sadness, they wandered the school grounds rather aimlessly.  The Patriot spoke to a few students who could not hold back tears as they mourned the visionary iron lady of Jakob Marengo.
“She was our mother, our adviser, our everything. Many students do not even know her name as we have come to know her as Mama. She was a hardworking woman who was at this school from Monday to Sunday and equally told us to work hard. She invited us to run this school with her and the teachers. This was a situation unlike other schools for learners to be really in charge of the administration of the school affairs,” shared Linda Mario a grade 12 pupil at the school.
“What made her happy was seeing the learners being in class studying. As girls, she told us to remain focused on our studies and not be derailed by the boys. I will miss her so,” Linda further narrated.
Another pupil who shared the same sentiments added that the idol figure had a heart for all learners regardless of age, race and social circumstance.
“For as long as I have been at this school, I have not seen or heard ’Mama’ expel a learner. She believed that education is for every child. She wanted to give everyone a chance regardless of their age. At some point we had a 35 year old taxi driver in grade 10,” said Oscar Boword.
“At this school, we are all equal. She taught us self-discipline and how we should take life seriously. We will miss her smile. This school will never be the same again,” he added. Ottilie Abrahams could comfortably lay claim to the title “mother of education”. Visionary, never-say-die, fearless and compassionate would be other labels to throw at her. But of course these labels will stick evidenced by a lifelong commitment to work where others are yet to identify a need in the first place.
The third born in a family of nine children, Ottilie left Namibia disguised as a high school student who was ‘expelled from school for getting pregnant.’ Of course this was just a cover story to get her to safety as the security police was looking for the trouble maker.
The proud mother of three namely Kenneth, Rudi and Yvette, one cannot speak of education struggle stalwarts without mentioning the likes of Ottilie. The firebrand civil society activist has been engaged in liberation politics since the 1950s. Talk about being committed to the course, veteran Nahas Angula introduces her as the woman whose job he stole. Ottilie was the first SWAPO Secretary of Education in Dar es Salaam.
She held an archive of ideologies of how the education of the Namibian child should be tailored, but her key interests remained in the field of participatory democracy and the need to evoke critical thinking in children.
Born and bred in the Old Location in Windhoek South West Africa, she later attended school in South Africa during a time when she joined student leadership groups and unions that evoked activism in the educator. She learnt at an early age that education is a terrain of struggle in an oppressive system, and this fueled her interest in politics. With an underground guerilla group in South Africa, Ottilie has been troublesome to the system. From fighting for the poor or trying to be the voice for women rights, that was Ottilie.
Having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Emil Appolus and Andreas Shipanga with whom she was vocal in establishing SWAPO roots in Rehoboth, she formed SWAPO Democrats while in exile in Sweden with other Namibians.
“We worked in the same office with Sam Nujoma, Nahas Angula and others. But we had many disagreements. We were consequently suspended on grounds that we apparently disrespected the leadership, even when we ourselves were the leadership. We were part of SWAPO because we wanted to see democracy in the party, especially participatory democracy, and that is where we differed.” These were the words from Ottilie during an interview with The Patriot in August 2017.
For 34 years since the founding of her school, Aunty Tillie had been drawn to the idea of the importance of early childhood development and how to get children on the schools ground to run the school and participate in its operation.
Acting Principal of the school Willem De Klerk had to communicate the sad news on Monday to the school learners, a speech he said was had to articulate amid a heavy heart. After retiring in 2004 but still feeling fit to serve the education fraternity, De Klerk approached Ottilie for a vacancy at the school, a moment which signaled the genesis of their relationship.
“She called me from her sick bed and she asked me; “De Klerk, I don’t know how long the doctor will book me off. But please take my place. I told her that I don’t want to. She begged me and since I did not want to disappoint her, I agreed. Last week when we went to visit her in hospital, I told her that the school is going on and we will continue with her legacy,” shared De Klerk.
“She was a wonderful lady. You could walk in here [her office] with all your problems and she would solve it for you. Here, we are a family. She could manage the school with people with different opinions and we blend very well.”
“Our schools in Windhoek are overcrowded, but not one parent who came to see her with a problem was sent back told that the school is full. She just always made a plan. There were learners here who were’nt up to 5/6 years last in a school. She accommodated them. Learners with two or three children who came back to study, she gave them an opportunity. She was a wonderful woman. She was just a person who loved people,” shared De Klerk.
First Education Minister Angula paid tribute to the ‘woman whose job he took’ saying Namibia is poorer without Ottilie. Angula says he first met Ottilie in 1966 in Lusaka but got to work with her after becoming minister at a time when Ottilie was seeking funding for her school.
“We were comrades in “Education for all”. She was very passionate and forceful in ensuring that every child gets an opportunity to get education. Her perseverance in her vision is commendable,” he said.
“We have many young people on the streets but Jakob Marengo was always there for them. She always took in those who were rejected by the formal system.
“May her soul rests in peace. She has done her part, so it is up to you and me to carry on,” said Angula.

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