A product of the now-defunct popular biannual Inter-Mines’ Multi-Sport Games, retired long-distance athlete Vilho Kudumo Namufinda took a liking to long-distance running after being inspired by the late Abed Jacobs, Joshua ‘Bravo’ Kahitu, veterans Lukas Halweendo, Bob Tangeni, Edward Gariseb, Aaron Shipanga, Gabriel Awaseb, Hendrick Maasdorp and Simeon Martin, as well as the Kayele siblings Frank and Thomas.
The young Namufinda started out as a junior long-distance athlete having arrived in the city of bright lights (Windhoek) from the great Kavango East region. The fairly raw village boy wasted little time and joined Windhoek-based Sunshine Athletics Club in 1987.
Soon afterwards, Namufinda established himself as a household name in the U/15, U/17 and U/19 age groups in the hotly-contested cross country and middle-distance races, excelling in both the 800m and 1500m events, while still a student at the A. Shipena Secondary School in Katutura and Sunshine Athletics Club.
It was not long before he was selected for the Namibia Association of Schools Sports Union to represent his motherland at the first National Junior Athletics meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, shortly after Namibia attained her long-awaited democracy in 1990.
Some of his celebrated teammates were Quinton Esterhuizen, Ralph Blaaw, Madeleine Joubert, Orla Venter, Zepee Mberiuana, Benestus Kazonganga, Imms Kharigub, Tollie van Wyk and the late Ulrich Ockhuizen.
Following his impressive performance at junior level, Namufinda was elevated to the National Cross-Country team that toured Mbabane, Eswatini (then Swaziland). He was among a crop of top athletes who represented A. Shipena High School, alongside the likes of Joseph Tjitunga, Elizabeth Monghudi, Bob Nunuhe, Moses Maasdorp, Usiel ‘Manager’ Muundjua, Quick Kaperu, Lysias Hangula, Beata Naigambo, Matuiipi Katjiuongua, Annette Katjihingua, Rauna Paulus, Emil Roman, and Josef Max Katzao.
The formidable school’s athletics team became the toast of athletics admirers, as they dominated the track and field, street miles, cross country, and middle and long-distance races across the country under the stewardship of shrewd school principal Dan Cloete.
After completing high school, Namufinda enrolled at the then Polytech of Namibia (now NUST) in pursuit of a Diploma in Personnel Management and later in Marketing. He found himself rubbing shoulders with noted athletes such as the easy-going evergreen Engelhardt ‘Mini’ Uiseb, Agnes Samaria, Letu Hamhola, Erwin Handura, Thomas Mbeeli, Gerrit van Rooyen, Johanna Manuel, Johanna Neumbo, under astute sports administrator and former midfield general Benjamin ‘Doc’ Naobeb, aided by the late Werner Jeffery and Dr Donovan Zealand.
At the Tertiary Institute Sports Association of Namibia (TISAN) level, he was coached by Corneels and Heidi Jafta, and would go on to represent his native land at various SADC competitions in Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and finally at the highest of all, the World University Games in Buffalo, the United States of America in 1993.
In 1996, Namufinda was offered a lucrative scholarship by the German Athletics Association in conjunction with Athletics Namibia to pursue an Athletics Coaching Diploma at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, sanctioned by the IAAF.
Veteran long-serving athletics official, famously going by the name of ‘Oom Hannes’ von Holtz, a great man of substance, played an instrumental role in masterminding this initiative that also saw Frank Kayele, Mildred Olivier, Quinton-Steele Botes, Godfriedt Tsowaseb, Liebhardt Mogotsi, Abraham So-Oabeb and Lucky Gawanab thrown into the mix of things.
Upon his return, Namufinda took over the coaching reigns at both Polytech and Unam. Furthermore, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Unam Athletics Club. He was assigned as head coach for the first-ever World Youth Games in Moscow, Russia in 1998.
Under his watch, the following athletes performed exceptionally for the Namibian students’ team: Secilia Ikango (silver in the 3000m), Gabriel Katuuo (finished 5th in the 400m finals), and Victoria Sem claimed second place in the 800m heats.
In September of the same year (1998), Namufinda was appointed assistant coach to the now-departed Botes for Team Namibia at the Commonwealth Multi-sport Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which saw Frank Fredericks win silver in the 200m.
At the games, the following athletes returned the compliment in the most appropriate fashion: Elizabeth Mongudhi won a bronze medal in the women’s marathon and a Namibian 4x400m record courtesy of Erwin Naimhwaka, Veranus Kamati, Christi van Wyk and Mao Tjiroze. Reinhold Iita, Sherwin Vries, Benedictus Botha, Josef Tjitunga, Gustav Hendricks, Stefan Louw and Tobias Akwenye formed part of the travelling entourage.
Most prominent former athletes like Iita (middle and long distance), Beata Naigambo (marathon), Naimhwaka (400m and incumbent Athletics Namibia president) will never forget Namufinda’s old man’s 1987 old Nissan 1-ton pickup that always transported them from Katutura to the Windhoek stadium (Independence Stadium) and Unam sports stadium for their daily training sessions.
In July 1999, Namufinda was appointed team manager-cum-coach for the African Junior Athletics Championships team in Tunis, Tunisia, masterminding the late Daria Smit to a gold medal in the javelin event, which also saw Sherwin Vries, Naigambo and Olivia Lucas claiming podium spots.
In November 1999, Namufinda was invited to Nairobi, Kenya by the IAAF Regional Development Centre, where together with fellow compatriot Franklin Green, he obtained his Level 2 IAAF coaching certificate.
In 2000, Namufinda served as vice-president for Athletics Namibia, deputising the late Buddy Wentworth. Zealand was the federation’s secretary general at the time.
Sadly, while manning a franchise business in northern Namibia in November 2006, Namufinda was rocked by a horrific motor vehicle accident that left him with a severe spinal injury, ultimately ruling him out of any sports and business operations for several years.
However, in 2008, he came back strongly and joined SCORE Namibia as a marketing and communications coordinator, working alongside Jerry Hausiku, Timo Tjongarero and Jacqui Shipanga.
In 2011, Namufinda took up the position of national director of Special Olympics Namibia (SON), an organisation that serves millions of athletes with intellectual disabilities, working with hundreds of thousands of volunteers and coaches each year.
Determined to make a comeback to athletics, Namufinda proceeded with his dream and was duly-elected chairperson of Khomas Athletics Region after a five-year hiatus.
He found himself in the good company of astute sports administrators, shepherded by Isack Hamata (secretary general). After the hotly contested AN elections of 2011 and 2012, Namufinda was installed as chairperson for team selection, and responsible for statistics for the federation that was headed by Namibia Olympic medallist, the legendary Frank Fredericks.
Namufinda’s last athletics assignment was as team manager for the 2013 senior national team at the Confederation of African Athletics Southern Regional Championships in Gaborone, Botswana.
Namibia’s 13 athletes amassed an astonishing five gold, five silvers and two bronze medals and recorded a new national record in the 5 000m by Helalia Johannes. Namibia finished overall runners-up behind hosts Botswana.
Some of the team members were Roger Haitengi, Mynhardt Kauanivi, Daniel Nghipandulua, Levinia Haitope, Klaudia Moses, F.C Pieterse, Adiel van Wyk, Basilius Karupu, Wenceslaus and Lelanie Klaasman, Hitjiverue Kaanjuka, Israel Tjiramba, Even Tjiviju and Merlyn Diamond.
Off the athletics track, the courageous Namufinda completed his Diploma in Management Development Programme with the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
A passionate traveller, he joined the tourism industry, where he qualified as a tour guide for German-speaking tourists visiting Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, fostering his skills with the reputable Pack Safari.
Namufinda is the proud sole owner of Mebezo Safaris and is currently pursuing a lodge development project in the Damaraland area of the Torra Conservancy in the great Kunene region.
On his imminent future plans, Namufinda, a keen golf player since the early 2000s, is considering relocating to Rundu to be closer to his livestock and crop farming business, and is also contemplating setting up a Bush Lodge in his home village.
On a personal note, Namufinda is determined to initiate and foster tourism initiatives in and around the town of Rundu. He wants to see Rundu catering for both tourists and tour operators to stay in the town.
As it stands, tourists are not spending enough time in Rundu apart from fuelling up at gas stations en route to either Grootfontein or Divundu.
The town currently offers nothing tangible to tourists, so to speak.
“For a region so rich in culture, traditions and the mighty Kavango River, Rundu should be the chosen hub for tourism,” he stated.
Namufinda wants to engage the local sports bodies and other potential stakeholders for a comprehensive sports development programme in the two Kavango regions.
“Why don’t we have lawn bowling, cricket, golf, gymnastics or archery facilities? The region has a lot of hidden talent. The likes of another Christine Mboma await in the wilderness to be discovered. Moreover, my immediate task is to revive cross-country races and of course, the gentlemen’s sport of golf in the town of Rundu,” concluded Namufinda.