By William Mbangula
Come August 25,one of the best performing schools in Oshana Region, Okatana Combined School, will celebrate in style its 75th anniversary.
According to the chairperson of the organising committee, Paulinus Negola Enkono, it is expected that some of the prominent former learners will be tasked to deliver the keynote address.
Among the prominent former learners invited are the Minister of Safety and Security Peter Tshirumbu Tsheehama, his Deputy Gabes Shihepo, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Dr Abraham Iyambo, Permanent Secretary of Education Vitalis Ankama, Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa, Governor of Oshana Clemens Kashuupulwa and others.
Said Enkono: “We are inviting all former learners and all the people of goodwill to come and join us on that day.”The school is officially known to have been established together with the mission station (hospital, church building, administrative and accommodation facilities) by the German Roman Catholic missionaries in 1932.
Founded by father Johannes Helfrich, who was later joined by father Franz Seiler, brother Frans Laub and brother Ferdinand Rehrl, the place was originally called Bethany.
Church sources revealed that missionaries had tough times establishing mission stations in the north because of the abrupt interference by the then Commissioner of Native Affairs Major C. Hahn.
One such classical incident took place on November 29 1934 when then Catholic Bishop Joseph Gotthardt was summoned to the Tintenpalast to meet the South African Administrator together with the then Ondangwa-based Native Commissioner Hahn. The bishop was to be confronted with allegations of occupying unauthorised areas.
Mainly under fire in this meeting was Fr Helfrich, who was accused of dishonesty by the authorities and nearly was fined.
On the other hand the missionaries were also struggling to get land from the local chiefs because of the mistrust and suspicion emanating from the past experiences of brutal behaviour by the South African, British, German and Portuguese settlers when they conquered the colonial territories of Angola and Namibia. Teaching here started under the leadership of Helfrich under a tree with the first learners. The school developed in stages with the first local teacher Johannes Endjambi having started teaching here in 1933.
Due to the fact that it became too expensive to send students for teacher training at Dobra in Windhoek, Father Seiler with the assistance of Aloysius Eeru started training their own teachers here.
Until 1936, Okatana was a purely church-run school although the government became involved that same year and conducted a follow-up inspection and provided assistance in 1945.
It became government owned in 1960 with the church mainly responsible for maintenance of infrastructure and the government supplying teaching materials and paying salaries of employees.
The current principal of the school Mauritius Boyoyo Niipare told New Era that some of thechallenges facing the school at the moment is the pressing need for classrooms in order to accommodate the learners numbering close to 800, and 29 employees including 26 teachers.
Others are to maintain the standard of academic performance since the school is known for its excellent academic achievements.
Okatana has a brilliant historic academic performance because it was the first in the north to have won the Hans Daniel Namuhuya floating trophy thrice for the best performance in Std 6 examinations (Grade 8) in the early 1970s. This resulted in the trophy for excellence being given to it for good. In 1994 it was the second best Grade 10 school in the region after Oshigambo High School.
About seven years ago the same school was awarded a special trophy by the Governor of Oshana Region, Clemens Kashuupulwa, for the best performance in Grade 10 examinations.
Said Niipare: “We are always among the top ten best performing schools in Grade 10 and we intend to keep the record as such.”
Niipare, who has been teaching here since 1974 and became principal in 1978, said the way forward for the school would include among others the extension of the curriculum to grades 11 and 12, to improve on the existing weaknesses related to academic issues and facilities, strengthen and consolidate the positive side of the school as well as to look for financial support in order to build four more classrooms, to create a conducive play ground, school hall, computer lab and an administration block.
Already the Patron of the School, Fr Frans Houben, the Windhoek-based Vicar General together with the German Haaren Uberschule has started financing the vulnerable children schemes, sport activities and the construction of the fence around the school.
One of the prominent former learners here, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Government Institutions Pension Fund’s (GIPF) Primus Kadhiya Hango said he wants the good name of Okatana to remain associated with iron discipline, excellence and diligence.
He was schooling here from 1963 to 1967 for Std 2(Grade 4) to Std Six (Grade8).
At the time people from various synagogues(outposts) of Okatana mission station of Emono, Oniimwandi, Ohakweenyanga, Amutanga and others were trained here before they were sent for further studies at Dobra High School.
Hango and his classmates were the first learners of the former mayor of Oshakati Engelbert Atshipara who later became the first local principal in 1972.
He succeeded Sister Maria Hathumar who was in charge since 1958. Hango and his colleagues were also the first learners to sit for Std Six here.
Said Hango: “We were 13 in the class, all of us males. I would recall some of my classmates such as the current principal at Okatana Combined School Mauritius Boyoyo Niipare, and others were Herman Clemens Angula, Modestus Shilongo Nambwandja, Leander Emvula Sheehama, late Gotthard Kathena, late Kanime Rudolf Nujoma, Nekundi Namukokola, Onesmus Shilamba, late Artman Shilamba, Kanutus Erago, late Valerianus Kaangala Iipinge and Fridolin Kanaholo.
Said Hango: “Okatana has been a trophy-winning school because of its academic performances and I wish to urge the teachers to work hard. As former learners, we do not want to be associated with a school which is going down.
“As a result I appeal to the teachers and learners at Okatana to work very hard in order to keep the good name and reputation of Okatana very high.
“We are also prepared to assist where possible to lift the standard of the school even in terms of assisting with the development activities of the school. All what we need is people of goodwill and integrity who will run such development funds.”
The mission station is currently run by three Namibian priests Frans van Wyk, Joseph Matheus and Lucas Mosemedi.
According to the head of the mission Fr Mosemedi, who has been working here since April 2005, the church is now reviewing its role with regard to social welfare in order to concentrate mostly on the apostolic faith .
This is so because most of the responsibilities related to social and economic development have been taken over by the government.
During the initial formation of the mission and the following years, Okatana was the health and education centre of choice of many people.
It received its first medical practitioner, a German missionary Dr Fransiska (Farah) in 1960.
Up to now Okatana has functional hostels for female and males although not occupied at the moment.
Presently it is the only health centre in Oshana which has the capacity to admit patients.
At the moment the station is also serving as the district headquarter of the Catholic Aids Action (CAA) serving a combination of Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions. On the vocational development of the church, courses on this issues are held three times a year .
Mosemedi noted that the church has grown from strength to strength given the fact that it is now in the hands of the local people with the first local priest ordained in 1992 and recently appointed the vicar general based at Ongwediva.
Father Werner Afunde the vicar general is now doubling as vicar general and chaplain of the Catholic Church in the Namibian Defence Force(NDF) at Okahandja.
Besides, progress has been made in terms of local people becoming priests, nuns, deacons and lay people.
Mosemedi noted that Okatana’s outposts have grown to 40 with Ongha (Ohangwena Region) and Omuthiya (Oshikoto Region ) having become autonomous recently.