During the year 2019, the longest serving rector and first vice-chancellor of the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust) Dr Tjama Tjivikua stepped down after long service to the university community and the nation. It is a trite fact that Dr Tjivikua succeeded in establishing what turned out to be a flagship university in our country. He comes from, as Alfredo Hengari once opined, the golden generation of our republic, entrusted with heavy responsibilities at a tender age during the nascent stages of our republic. It is equally a trite fact that despite having worked hard for this Institution, Dr Tjivikua left his hard work exposed to the harsh weather conditions, which might have a bearing on his legacy. Whatever the conclusion in the leadership and management style of Dr Tjivikua, his was characterised by adherence to adopted procedures, a level of meticulousness and political savvy. Like all humans with the said character, he never groomed a successor.
His departure left a leadership vacuum with the potential to collapse this university on our watch. His pre- and post departure era created two schools of thought. On the one hand, you have the school of thought putting the blame squarely at the doorstep of the government for what they term ‘untimely’ and unceremonious to refer to his departure; on the other hand, those who felt the lack of his collegiality was unbecoming and saw this departure as nothing but passage of time. Because of the apriori, a third school of thought emerged, mooting the idea of having Mr Morne Du Toit to oversee the transition. Mr Du Toit appeared to be a safe bet for those who felt Dr Tjivikua was pushed out, whilst a certain segment of those who, despite having been victims, were scorning at the idea of having Dr Andrew Niikondo and also warmed up to the idea. The second school of thought felt and still feels that Dr Niikondo or any of the reputable long-serving Namibians could have been a safe bet, as the various legislations make provision for the appointment of any staff member in an acting capacity. After all, it was a transitional arrangement.
Unfortunately, this second group was under the perceived notion and understanding, unlike those who arranged dinners and breakfast. The way the university issue was handled is akin to how we have conducted ourselves nationally hitherto, which has the potential of diverting our attention and focus.
The aforegoing points to misinformation by various players and the public, as well as the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of academic freedom vis-a-vis the protection of the shareholder’s interest, which is constitutional and necessary to ensure the course is stayed. Well, everything is now water under the Omaruru Bridge en route to Henties Bay and there will be no prejudice if the various groups of interest find a workable common ground for the sake of the university and the country.
Towards the last quarter of 2019, cabinet through the line minister eventually appointed the much-awaited council of Nust in terms of Section 7 of the Nust Act. It is imperative to note that the council/board only comes to life because of the act of appointment by government. Thus, any board, though its fiduciary duty is to the company, it is a representative of the shareholder – government. As per the introduction of the hybrid system, the university will continue to fall under the line ministry on the basis of it being a non-commercial entity.
The most important task that awaits the new council is the appointment of the vice-chancellor as per Section 13, which states that this individual is appointed in the manner prescribed by the Nust Statutes on such conditions of employment and privileges as determined by the council. Thus, the process of appointing the VC is the exclusive domain of the council, in line with the Act and the various policies. Council can be assisted in this regard by a local recruitment agency, if behad is to the financial situation.
Council as the governing body of Nust is also tasked with the appointment of deputy vice-chancellors (DVCs) with the assistance of the VC in this case. Section 22 of the Act empowers Council to appoint the registrar. The DVCs and the registrar form part of the executive committee of the university (Exco), consisting of five individuals.
Given the outcome of the last attempt at appointing the VC, the council has the daunting task of regaining the trust of the staff, students and the nation at large. Thus, the process does not only need to start de novo, but it must also be transparent. President Hage Geingob, in his New Year’s message, enjoined the nation to regain trust through transparent actions. This trust can only be regained if the process of appointing a substantive head commences in earnest without unnecessary delay, alive to the possible emergence of expectations and is as transparent as the Unam process. It should be clear from the beginning as to whether through head-hunting or advertisement any Namibian citizen – who not only understands the country’s national interest but also reconcile him/herself with that understanding – deserves the right to ascend to any position of authority and influence. Our individual interests ought not to eclipse that of the nation as contained in the various documents of national importance, as the former has proven to be short-lived and at times detrimental to the nation in the end.
Whilst the capable and fresh council of Nust is busy filling the VC position, they need to ensure the prospective VC is greeted by a university and executive committee of a national character to enable him/her to hit the ground – running – without delay. We should re-ignite our objective ability to ring fence pockets of potential negative conflict – and proactively and collectively do more, and not adopt the Scott John Morrison.
Whatever the current situation, beautiful mosaics are made of broken or torn material -Ryan Lilly. We should act without fear and favour as is required when acting in the national interest, instead of lamenting about yesterday or apportioning blame.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely his as a citizen of a country he loves, his desire to leave a country of equal opportunity to his children.