By Timoteus Mashuna
ALTHOUGH she is not well known to many Namibians, Beatrice Sandelowsky is one of the few Namibians who made significant contributions not only to the struggle against gender and racial discrimination but also to the production and transfer of knowledge and skills to fellow citizens. Using her contribution to archaeological studies as a point of departure, Sandelowsky held the conviction that archaeological discoveries and knowledge about Africa should be shared with Africans and less used to the amazement or to serve the interests of the representatives of the post-colonial powers. Her research paper entitled ‘The Status of Archaeology and Anthropology in Southern Africa: Namibia Example’ demonstrates that she is one of the exemplary archaeologists in promoting the sharing of historical knowledge with the local communities.
In that publication, Sandelowsky argues that if archaeology is to be treated as a worldwide operation “it should also be known to indigenous people whose past archaeologists study”. She believed that Africa’s past was not shared with Africans but rather of interest to others, especially those who she argues “represent post-colonial powers”.
A Namibian born in 1943, Sandelowsky grew up on her parents’ farm at Brakwater near Windhoek. Despite the sketchy details regarding her early childhood education, a brief biographical profile compiled by the University Center for Studies in Namibia (TUCSIN), of which she is one of the founding members cites that Sandelowsky attended high school in Swakopmund. After completing high school, she went on to enroll at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. There she obtained a teaching qualification and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) at the University of Rochester in New York and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972.
Qualified as a teacher, she was employed in Walvis Bay. Considering that at that time female teachers earned less than their male counterparts simply for being females and that racial discrimination was the norm within the apartheid education system. Sandelowsky opted not to compromise her principle in accepting the legalized system which she believed was inhumane. She stood her ground and fought for equal rights of all people irrespective of their skin colour or sex. “I have always been agitated by discrimination on the grounds of colour and women inequality in particular. I took up a position as a teacher decades ago at a primary school in Walvis Bay. During those years salary discrimination between male and female teachers was rife. I stood up against this sort of discrimination,” comments Sandelowsky in one of her biographies by Ferederick Philander. The stance she took to challenge the principles of the apartheid regime meant that she was the enemy of those who supported discrimination on the basis of sex, race and ethnicity such that at times she was stigmatized.
Nonetheless, this did not deter her from fighting for what she believed was right. “At one time I was considered to be an agitator for the rights of the previously disadvantaged at the coast. I later found out that I was a marked person by the authorities at the time. However, I did not allow anyone to intimidate me up to this day,” comments Sandelowsky in her biography.
Besides her outstanding achievements in establishing TUCSIN, commitment to the struggle for equality and her remarkable discoveries in the field of archaeology in Namibia and Southern Africa at large, Sandelowsky was also instrumental in establishing the Rössing Foundation Education Center, the Museum Association of Namibia (MAN), and also played a very critical role in projects such as the Rehoboth Museum and the Rehoboth Public Library, amongst others. She also served as a member of the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) from 1998 to 2000 and the National Monuments Council of Namibia until 2006.