11 February 2013

Namibia: Minister Iyambo Laid to Rest

"I'M at his funeral because he paid for my school fees. When I grow up, I want to be a minister of education like him."

These were the telling words of a Grade Two pupil from Katutura who attended the funeral of the late Education Minister Abraham Iyambo at the Gammams Cemetery in Pionierspark on Saturday.

And they were words that eloquently summed up the weekend of mourning for the late minister who, in the space of three years as minister of education, so engaged young hearts that he swiftly became a role model and icon.

He implemented the constitutional right of free primary education this year, and to some young pupils this meant that Iyambo was paying their school fees.

Iyambo, who died on his birthday, February 2, was laid to rest on Saturday, which was coincidentally also Constitution Day.

He died at the age of 52 in a London hotel while attending an education conference.

Pupils from around Windhoek joined the other mourners in mourning the late Dr Iyambo on Friday and Saturday.

Some sat, while others stood in the blazing sun, listening to speeches, seeing sad faces, including that of their president, and experiencing, for the first time, a 17-gun salute. The shy boy who kept speaking while covering his face told The Namibian that he'd made sure he boarded the public bus in order to attend the funeral.

Under Iyambo's watch, Namibians were reminded that their Constitution promises free basic primary education. The dream was finally implemented this year, for the first time since Namibia became independent in 1990.

During Iyambo's tenure, pre-primary schools were reintroduced in state education and classrooms were built or renovated. More textbooks were pumped into schools, as he fought to implement the motto 'one child, one textbook'.

He would record video clips weeks before examinations, encouraging pupils to study hard.

Iyambo's public journey to his resting place started on Friday when thousands of people converged on the Parliament Gardens in Windhoek for a memorial service.

There the youthful minister's 'life journey' was sketched in an eulogy given by Health Minister Richard Kamwi.

Abraham 'Tshivoro Ryalaula Ryo Keendombe' Iyambo, the fourth of his parents' 10 children, was born at Oniimwandi in the Oshana Region in February 1961, the son of Helena Gabriel and Agapitus Iyambo.

Kamwi said Iyambo grew up in his village as the typical child of a peasant family - combining his early education with traditional routines such as herding cattle, fetching water, collecting firewood, cultivating the land and caring for his siblings.

His father was a church leader who served parishes like Oniimwandi, Okatana and Okweentaga, all in the Oshana Region.

Iyambo began school at Oniimwandi at Okata Primary School and later went to the Canisanum Roman Catholic Private School for post-primary education.

There is an African proverb that says "when you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him", something that holds true for the late Iyambo. Because of the influence of his father, Iyambo became an altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church.

Kamwi described him as a sports fanatic, something which earned him the nickname 'Puma'. He forfeited his nickname upon his departure to Cuba after his younger brother, Andima, took it because they resembled each other.

In 1977, at the age of 16, Iyambo joined the liberation struggle.

While others where fighting the battles with guns, Iyambo was arming himself with knowledge, as he went to study in Cuba where he graduated with a degree in food science in 1981.

Six years later he went to the United Kingdom where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in food science in 1990 and a PhD in 1994.

Kamwi said the late minister was an avid reader, particularly of scientific literature, history and current affairs.

Before being appointed as a deputy minister in 1994, Iyambo worked at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and did a variety of consultancy work.

He took on the full ministerial role in 1997.

Kamwi also applauded the late minister's role in the development and management of the fishing sector.

Iyambo was known as 'Dr Fish' during his 15-year stint at fisheries and 'Mr Deliver' at the Ministry of Education.

"He shall be remembered for his dynamism, hard work, always encouraging others to deliver, deliver and deliver," Kamwi said.

Iyambo was also chairperson of the Swapo Party Think Tank.

On Friday, Swapo secretary general Nangolo Mbumba said Iyambo had written to him on January 25 this year about his proposal to step down as chairperson of the Think Tank and remain an ordinary member of the Swapo Party. He proposed that his deputy, Kalumbi Shangula, take over from him.

"Maybe it was a sign of Iyambo trying to bid farewell to us," Mbumba said, adding that they did not respond to that letter as he was planning to meet with him.

Iyambo's cause of death is still unknown, but The Namibian understands that he died of a stroke.

President Pohamba told those at Parliament Gardens on Friday that Namibia's aAmbassador to the United Kingdom, George Liswaniso, called him with the news of the minister passing away.

Pohamba said during that phone call, the ambassador revealed that he was talking to him while Iyambo lay in his hotel bed as they were waiting for the medical team to arrive.

Pohamba, who was Iyambo's minister when he first joined the government as deputy minister of fisheries, paid tribute to the man whom he had entrusted with the task of improving the education system by saying that it would be difficult to replace him.

Founding President Sam Nujoma, who appointed Iyambo in 1994 as one of his youngest ministers, said: "The late Comrade Dr Iyambo leaves behind an indelible mark, visible footprints as well as a legacy of hard work, exceptional dedication and unwavering commitment to duty."

The late minister, who was also known by his friends and foes as 'Apere', like any other person was no saint. His wedding made headlines after some fishing companies made donations to cover the costs in 1999: an event dubbed the 'wedding of the millennium' for its sheer extravagance. But he undoubtedly learnt a lesson from that as he never featured in any major scandal after that.

The late Dr Iyambo is survived by two daughters - 17-year-old Amina and six-year-old Penothina.

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