“Hey guys, people are beating us here and shooting at us. We want to come home, but they are refusing to give us our passports.”
This desperate cry for help was posted online by a Namibian student currently studying at the Loudima Institute for Technical and Vocational Training in the Republic of Congo.
Several students said they had no choice but to run for their lives yesterday when the Congolese police shot at them at the institute in an apparent attempt to stop them from demonstrating and preventing the police from arresting a Namibian official, who is accused of instigating the students to petition the institute’s management.
New Era conducted telephone interviews with several students and Namibian officials based at the institute to ascertain their views about the shooting incident and the conditions to which they are subjected at the institute. They all opted to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised.
There are slightly over 100 Namibian students at the institute currently and according to them, their demonstration was organised to oppose the harsh conditions that they live under at the institute, which is situated in a dense forest area in southern Congo.
One of the Namibian officials, who spoke to this publication, likened the situation at the institute to a new form of colonialism. “At least the [armed] struggle was better, because back then people were fighting for a genuine cause. There is no reason for our children to fight like this,” said the official.
According to the students, the shooting incident occurred after they attempted to hand over their petition to the institute’s deputy director, Daniel Ngodji. He however refused to accept it.
After leaving the hall where they had attempted to hand over the petition they approached the director, who then apparently chased them out of his office.
“When we refused to leave his [the director’s] office he called the police and they wanted to arrest the control administration officer, accusing him of being behind the demonstration,” said one of the students.
“He [Ngodji] did not want to speak to us and did not even want the Namibian teachers to be present, but he allowed the Congolese teachers to be there, despite this being a Namibian issue,” said another student.
Students also claim the Namibian government has failed to pay them the promised N$1 000 monthly allowance. The situation is so dire, New Era understands, that Namibians employed at the centre are obliged to share even their cosmetics with the students.
Some of the students say they rely solely on pocketmoney from their parents, because they are not getting any allowances. According to the students, the last time they received their allowance was in April last year.
“Last year April they gave us N$300 and that was the last time. Whenever we ask for the allowance we are ignored. The situation is really difficult here. Those students, who have families that cannot afford to send them money, are really suffering because we are not getting our monthly allowance,” said one of the affected students.
Taking turns on the telephone to pour out their hearts, one of the students said: “We do not want a solution from government. All we want is to go home, because we cannot take this anymore. We cannot suffer as if we do not have homes in our country.”
“Some students begged their parents to buy them plane tickets to return home, because the institute said there is no money to send them back, but they could also not leave because the management does not want to return their passports and they do not want to provide the students with transport to the airport,” said the student.
They also claim that they are afraid to leave the institute’s premises, because they fear arrest if found without passports by the police. Since there is no boundary wall, students also claim that strangers wander around the institute’s premises at night, raising security fears.
The students say they are due to write examinations next month, but do not know how they will study as they do not have textbooks, nor is there any curriculum guiding the teachers.
As a result some Namibian students are planning not to go back after they return to Namibia for their two-week break in July. “Some of us have agreed not to come back after the break. Our government has really failed us and all those who sent their kids to come study here,” said another irate student.
One of the officials said they have to buy cosmetics for some of the Namibian students, “because we cannot stand the sight of them suffering so.” The cosmetics the students receive include two bars of soap, toilet paper and 500 grams of washing powder. “We are supposed to get cosmetics every month, but some months we do not get anything,” said another.
Higher education minister Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi was not aware of yesterday’s shooting incident, but promised to follow up on the matter. “It is obvious, when students get to another country there are always adjustment challenges. At that level some kinds of complaints and concerns reached my office,” she said. She was also not aware that the institute’s management had confiscated the students’ passports.
Ngodji’s mobile phone was off when contacted for comment yesterday. New Era could also not get hold of Namibia’s Ambassador to Congo, Vilho Nghifindaka, as both his Namibian and Congolese mobile numbers were offline. An official at the Namibian embassy in Congo said Nghifindaka is currently in Namibia.