13 February 2013

Namibia: Popya With Thato Gqadu

A diesel mechanic born in Johannesburg, South Africa, 20 odd years ago, came to Namibia due to his parent's work commitments. His father was transferred to Windhoek back in the 1990s then bringing his family along in 2003 to come and join him.

This mechanic goes by the name of Thato, which means "unchanging love" and his surname Gqadu, meaning "pop out". One can usually not say a lot about a person from their names but this time around it is an exception. Thato will standout in any group of people, and it's very hard not to laugh at him or with him or engage in a conversation with him. "I grew up in Bonani, where I attended at Bonani Primary School. I loved playing soccer and played as a striker and as a winger. I was very good at it and have the medals to prove it. Back then I was very quiet and reserved not the bubbly character I am now."

Thato's dad was transferred to Namibia in 1990 and his mom soon followed. Thato then stayed with a cousin until he finished his primary education. Thato came to Namibia in the middle of June 2003 in his Grade 8 year and found a place at David Bezuidenhout Secondary School. "Staying with my cousin back in South Africa was an experience but my family was in Namibia, and at the time I really wanted to make the switch. Upon arrival I really wanted to enroll at Windhoek High School but things did not materialise and our neighbour was a teacher at David Bezuidenhout."

Thato started at David Bezuidenhout with plans to switch to other schools the following year but found himself rather enjoying himself and fitting in much faster then he would have thought. "The school was not that good in terms of discipline. I a remember students bunking class one day and from where I schooled in South Africa that was not heard off. It was a very relaxed environment at David and Namibia as a country whereby in South Africa life is much faster."

"I kept to myself and during Physical Education watched the other guys play around from a distance. But in my Grade 9th year I decided to join in the fun and found myself being fast-tracked into the schools soccer team. Things looked up for me, making new friends and being part of something."

Thato joined the soccer team and ran the 100 metres. His life changed and the new- found attention overwhelming. In Grade 11 Thato got his first car, a silver Alpha Romeo 156 as a birthday gift from his parents. Having gone through a tough spell in his life, and doing very well in his new environment, his parents decided to spoil him a little.

Thato completed his Grade 12 at David Bezuidehout and left for South Africa where he enrolled in a technical school and completed his N1. He was soon head- hunted by a family friend who is a heavy duty contractor to come and work for him back in Namibia. "A very good friend of my dad found out that I was studying NI, which is an introduction or overview on mechanics in South Africa, and wanted me to come and work for him as soon as I was done. I came back to Namibia in 2009 and started working for this guy."

Thato worked for eight months before being sent to Bell, a local supplier of heavy machinery, on training. Bell was a learning experience for the young Thato and a big eye opener. He soon resigned from his employer but it did not take long for a new offer to come knocking at his door for his services. "I resigned from my first employer for being paid peanuts. I thanked the man for the opportunities he gave me and left, although he did not want me to leave. Bell got wind of the situation and approached me. I went in and we settled on an offer."

The position was in Swakopmund, servicing Bell machines operating in the Erongo Region at different mines. Thato took the position and started in 2010. He was soon living on his own and providing for himself. "It was a new experience staying alone, and the early mornings servicing Bell machines. In Swakopmund I did not have much time for myself as there were a few mechanics, and you would constantly be on a site servicing a grader, loader or tipper truck. It was exhausting and at times I would come home so tired I did not have the energy to get in the shower."

Thato soon faced a situation where he would have to move Windhoek due to family commitments, and after a good arm wrestling with his employer, he found himself back in Windhoek. For him it was a load off as the jobs are being shared amongst a number of mechanics, unlike in Swakopmund where the were a few mechanics. "Coming to Windhoek was a dream. I got to rest and more time for myself but one thing I was not looking forward to, would be servicing underground machines at different mines across Namibia. Working underground one needs to put your fears aside and complete the job at hand. At first it was hard but it gets easier but the fear keeps you alert and alive."A girl once asked me what do you do and I told her I was something like a doctor, because when I arrive on site a machine is broken and production is disturbed but when I am done with it, it is operational and making up for the losses."

Working as a diesel mechanic for Bell is stressful and tiring, but what takes off the edge is an open and humor filled environment.

These guys are constantly joking and making fun of each other making Thato work easier and more doable. "Today youth have a tendency of shifting the blame to someone else and do not want to take responsibility for their actions. I am a father of two and my first child was born during my Grade 12 year. I took it upon myself to better myself and create a better future for them instead of blaming the world for my problems."

"Us the youth we should take responsibility for our own lives, actions and decisions. Only then can we play a positive and productive part in our society," Thato concludes advisingly and inspiringly.

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