New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: New State House for New Nation

Windhoek — The impressive - and equally controversial - construction of the administrative block of the new State House in the hills of Auasblick has now come to completion.

A week before the inaugural event, Korean workers still walked through the dark halls and corridors of the massively white-walled citadel with their tool belts clanging on their sides, dusting off here, and screwing on a bolt there. Outside the borders of the State House, Namibian workers patched up large holes in the tarred roads leading up to the entrances of State House.

But other than that, the frenzied activities of the last five-and-a-half years have fallen silent. Only the ping-ping of cords lashing out against the flagpoles standing erect like soldiers along the long and wide tiled entrance, ring in the air. "We are only doing the last touch-up finishes," said project manager of the construction, Mosoud Fani.

That was last week.

Tomorrow, everything will be in place. The African Union flags will fly high on the 54 flagpoles. The visitors and dignitaries will be directed along the way to the podium where the main events for this year's independence celebrations will be held. Atop the black marbled podium, President Hifikepunye Pohamba is expected to deliver his keynote address. By all counts, the new State House will provide a grand backdrop to one of the country's most important dates on its political calendar.

According to the Swapo Party Congress, the construction of the new State House is the single largest capital project ever undertaken by the Office of the President.

"[The] new State House prides itself on being a Namibian capital project that truly represents the diverse cultural and artistic features on the country," the Swapo Party Congress said.

The Controversies

First there was a fallout among Namibian architects, a fallout that ended in a defamation claim in court. The architectural project then went to a North Korean firm.

Then there was the fallout - and protracted speculation over the cost of the project. Speculation on this oscillated from N$180 million to N$242 million, to N$440 million, to N$500 million.

Then there was political polemic over the need for such a lucrative project for a country aspiring to a least developed nation status.

Said former Member of Parliament and MAG politician Kosie Pretorius, on the eve of the inauguration: "In principle, I was against the project, but share in the joy of the nation having this national monument. However, as a financial advisor once said, in difficult times, one does not buy what you want but what you need. This project was not a priority."

And then, the project really angered some Auasblick residents when they heard that their properties might be expropriated because they fell within a security zone around the new State House.

Today, the Namibian public are still divided on the project.

Said one who prefers anonymity: "If 60 percent of our people are unemployed or underemployed, where did we get the money to raise money for this State House? We can have the most beautiful buildings and other structures, but with unemployment, our peace and stability is in the balance."

"I think it is a very good thing," countered Eloise Swartz. "The old State House is not something to give to a president, especially when one compares that with other State Houses in other parts of the world."

"It is very elaborate; it probably reflects the diamonds of the country. It is a good thing if it means progress in the country," said a woman who wants to be called Judy.

"It is a good idea although it is an expensive project. It is a monument that can be treasured for a long time by many of our leaders," said Hidipo Haimbodi.

The State House complex

After much speculation about the costs involved, the administrative block has cost the taxpayer around N$400 million.

In September 2002, the 30 000 square meter foundation was laid, and it took 66 months to complete the entire construction.

The total area of the complex is 25 hectares, encircled with two kilometers of steel iron fencing.

The administrative block consists of the Presidential Office, the Cabinet Chambers, 200 offices for the entire staff of the Office of the President, two guardhouses, one guest quarters for visiting Heads of State and two quarters for staff accommodation.

According to the first stage of the design of 1999/2000, it should have included four guest quarters and four staffing accommodation.

This was not to be, said Dani, due to financial constraints.

The presidential residence on the complex is still under construction.

Building on this part of the project commenced on November 19 last year, and is anticipated to be completed by the end of this year. The residential part of the project is fully sponsored through a grant from the Chinese Government, which amounts to N$33 million. On this project, construction workers from China were solicited.

The 3500 square meter big presidential residence is planned to have two-and-a-half floors.

The main contractor to the administrative block was a Korean company.

This has brought in about 300 Korean specialists who worked on various aspects of the building project. According to Fani, over 40 Namibian suppliers and subcontractors have also been involved in the construction process. On top of this, he said, another 100 Namibians worked on the project.

The new State House complex has three entrances: one for the President, one for dignitaries, and one for the staff. There are dark-glassed security outposts at each corner of the fencing, large guardrooms at each gate, and a helipad outside on one side.

At the entrance of the new State House are 20 large flashlights with a copious amount of security cameras peering out from the high walls. On the right and left outer wings of the entrance are two sets of elevators leading to the underground moon-shaped parking area that can accommodate 200 cars. There is an additional 200 parking lots on the outside of the building.

The building has eight lifts to the one floor down and three floors up. It also holds three power generators, which, according to Fani, can generate the entire Windhoek State Hospital.

A large painting of the first Namibian Cabinet hangs in the lobby. Younger faces of the likes of Sam Nujoma, Hifikepunye Pohamba, Hage Geingob, Theo-Ben Gurirab, Ben and Libertina Amathila, Hidipo Hamutenya, Gert Hanekom, among others, smile down from the portrait. Against the door of the second-layered entry is a large wooden engraving depicting women from all groups in the country. This entrance spills out into a large hall with green granite pillars with an oval-haped roof that allows in natural light.

Two sets of touch-sensitive elevators lead up to consecutive floors. On the opposite wall at this level hangs a large painting of the Epupa Falls, hand painted by a Korean in 2005. This hall also has an impressive musical fountain that dances and spurts to the sound of Namibian music. To the side of this area is the inside banquet hall, with seating space for 200 guests. It has a small stage on one side, a project room on the other side, massive golden-looking chandeliers hanging from its high roof, and a massive and modern kitchen on the one side.

Each floor of the different levels of the building is laid out with different colours of granite on the floors and walls: black, green and maroon. The Cabinet Chambers, by all accounts, is probably the most impressive. The roof of the Cabinet Chambers forms the massive dome that can be seen from the outside. One side of the wall is the Namibian flag in mosaic.

This represents the emergence of Namibia as the last independent state on the African continent, with the Namibian sun on the massive display of the Namibian flag. The design of this room, said Fani, is in keeping with the overall theme of the State House, which is the Welwitschia plant. Outside, also in keeping with the theme and reflecting the fauna and flora or the country, are massive sculptures of an elephant, gemsbok, zebra, oryx, lions, tigers.

And then, of course, the larger than life eagle perched on top of a towering concrete column at the entrance. Numerous paintings and sculptures of Namibian artists adorn the walls of various sections of the building.

Much of the floors and walls were fitted with granite, said Fani, to avoid maintenance. This was also a consideration on the outside, with glass and granite curtain walls. Much of the furniture in the building comes from Japan and Malaysia.

Building materials, said Fani, have been shipped in from China - stone perhaps sourced elsewhere but cut and shaped in China - India, Malaysia. Material from Namibia was sourced "as far as possible and as available as possible".

"This is an important national asset," said Fani.

"There may have been a lot of criticism because a lot of money has been spent, but it was money well spent. This is the first Namibian State House."

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