31 January 2003

Namibia: Unam Law Students 'Fail' in Court

EIGHT senior law students at the University of Namibia (Unam) learned a valuable lesson away from their lecture halls yesterday, when the High Court dismissed their urgent application over being denied hostel accommodation for the 2003 academic year.

The eight, led by fifth year law student Melkizedek Uupindi, brought an application against Unam, Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Katjavivi, and Unam's Head of Accommodation and Support Services, Vonkie Olivier.

Their case got stuck in the starting blocks over a legal point which over the years has thwarted many experienced legal practitioners' efforts at getting swift justice: the need to prove urgency when taking an urgent application to court.

Acting Judge Simpson Mtambanengwe upheld objections from Unam's legal representative, Esi Schimming-Chase, that the students' application was not so pressing that it had to be heard as an urgent matter.

Uupindi, a final-year Bachelor of Law student, addressed the court on behalf of all the applicants.

His co-applicants, who are all either final-year or fourth-year law students, are Alethea Oppermann, Brian Chaka, Bernadus Swartbooi, Christopher Mayumbelo, Damoline Muruko, Mbushandje Ntinda and Tabitha Mbome.

In their affidavits, the students state that they had lived in Unam hostels since the start of their studies.

All of them hail from parts of Namibia outside Windhoek.

They informed the court that they have made good academic progress, have no disciplinary record against themselves, that they late last year followed the usual procedure of reserving places in the hostel for the next academic year, and yet at the beginning of this year suddenly found themselves refused readmission to the accommodation where they had stayed for at least the past four years.

A series of letters on the issue were exchanged with the university management this month, with the students protesting that they never received a fair hearing before a decision so adverse to themselves was taken, and asking that it be cancelled.

The university stuck to its position that the decision would not be changed.

The explanation from the university authorities was that it had been decided that first-year students should be given preference when it comes to hostel accommodation, and that as fourth- and fifth-year students the eight law students would have had time to familiarise themselves with Windhoek and should find it much easier than new students to find a place to stay.

The eight students then turned to using their knowledge of the law to try to salvage the situation.

They filed the urgent application with the High Court, basing their case on claims that they had a legitimate expectation that they would be readmitted to the hostels, and that the university never gave them a chance to state their situations before a decision was taken to deny them place in the hostels.

Schimming-Chase countered that they had not shown that their case had to be heard as a matter of urgency, and that they had exhausted all available remedies before they went to court.

She told the court that Unam would this weekend hear appeals lodged by other students who have had their applications to be readmitted to the hostels turned down.

None of the eight had launched such an appeal, she indicated.

Acting Judge Mtambanengwe, while saying the court sympathised with the students' plight, ruled in Unam's favour.

He advised the students that they could still bring an application against the university, but in terms of the normal rules of court, if an appeal did not solve their problems at Unam.

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