6 February 2013

Namibia: Apere Knew Time Is Precious

"OKAY, okay, okay..." This was the hurried manner in which Apere ended a phone call so he could rush to the next task on his mountain of duties. He navigated the minefield of party, governmental and social duties with the stealth and grace of a puma, the nickname of his brother but also his own nom de guerre in exile.

Abraham Iyambo left for exile in 1977 to Angola (and later Cuba) where he proved himself to be quite the jack of all trades. As a pioneer in Kassinga, Angola, he was named Puma by 'Kambwa kaShilongo' (Niilo Taapopi) for specific reasons: as a child leader in Chibia, Angola; as a student leader in charge of academic affairs in Cuba; as the head of a Swapo bakery; and, subsequently, as a teacher in Kwanza Sul, Angola, where he was also a leader of the Swapo Youth League.

His clear leadership ability and intelligence was not lost on the Swapo luminaries, who developed his leadership potential from a young age and continued to bestow positions of trust upon him despite his youthful age.

Iyambo possessed an iron will which was well disguised behind a self-deprecating demeanor, charm and an engaging smile. He had no qualms phoning or texting at obscene hours asking about the progress of his reports.

Perhaps it was his stint at the University of Surrey, perhaps it was his teaching days in Angola, but he abhorred spelling errors and sloppy language. When he was in a good mood, he would start a telephone conversation with a fake British accent declaring "AbraHAM Iyaambow on the line". I digress. The man was a perfectionist and anything less usually provoked a barely disguised scowl.

Lateness was a pet irritation and would often interrupt a meeting to either glare or be overly gracious in his welcome of a latecomer. If the latter had discernment, they would pick up from the tone and quickly settle into the meeting post haste. Apere was generally an exceptional listener and took in the views of others but, like many a brilliant mind I have known, also had an advanced skill of pretending to listen when he had actually already made up his mind.

He was a mentor to many in my generation. Often when we were confronted with the intricacies of how to constructively engage with our elders, he would patiently listen, contextualise, guide, calm down and, if necessary, gently chastise. More importantly, he was a unifying figure for many, particularly the class of 1970. With many of us pulling in vastly opposing directions and jostling for opportunity in both positive and negative ways, he was the glue that bound us together and, through his conduct, reminded us that the only way to succeed was through dedication, selflessness and excellence-guided professionalism.

He led by example and enjoyed the company of those who he found to be effective. I would often share a giggle at his slave-driving ways with his former personal assistant Foibe Fillipus when she called at late hours asking whether her boss had received his documents. Ditto Charlotte McLeod and who did not fall in love with his ever-smiling driver, Tate Kalolo, who shared that trait with his ever-present nephew, Mathew.

Apere had a large network of friends and trusted colleagues who hailed from all walks of life. So many people have been deeply affected by the life and death of this enigmatic leader. Testament to this is the reaction of disbelief and horror of all those whose paths he crossed. So many tears have been shed at the tragedy, laughs shared at the memories and regret expressed at the lost potential. He lived his moment, he maximised his time on this earth and left an enduring legacy that his two daughters, family, friends, colleagues, the Swapo Party and the country at large must be proud of.

This is goodbye to a mentor and a friend who was always in a hurry. What a difference he made in the short, no pun intended, 52 years that the Lord lent him to this earth! This is what I learnt from his death: We must understand our purpose and destiny in this life and act with urgency to implement it but also take time to smell the roses.

The problem with all of us is, despite our mortality, we think we have time. What he was is how he died. "Okay, okay, okay." Rest in peace Apere.

* Monica Kalondo, apart from being friends, has worked worked closely with Iyambo on projects such as the Swapo Think Tank.

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