Most South Africans are probably only dimly aware that apartheid was applied as rigorously in Namibia as here.
Yvonne Dausab, growing up in a neighbourhood called Soweto in Katutura, was only too aware.
People in Katutura, the black community of Windhoek, were split into group areas according to tribal and language differences. Soweto was plagued by violent gangs and when Yvonne was just five years old, her aunt was murdered in her home.
Yvonne said: “These conditions and surroundings made me realise early on that I wanted to study law. I wanted to be part of the system that put criminals behind bars.”
Her growing sense of justice coincided with involvement in a student uprising while in Grade 8 in 1988. Like other Namibians, she was impatient for the implementation of UN Resolution 435, and well remembers the heady sensation of freedom when independence came in 1990.
In 1992, the extremely bright learner matriculated and was awarded a full scholarship by an NGO, the Legal Assistance Centre, to study law at UWC. By that time many prominent Namibians had already studied at UWC and UCT, but Yvonne said: “There was no other institution I was interested in. I knew UWC would be a good place to be and to grow intellectually, emotionally and politically.”
Still only 16-years-old, she flew to Cape Town, registered for a BA (LLB) and moved into Hector Petersen residence. The residence was actually occupied by older students and the undergraduate had been placed there in error. However, Yvonne wasn’t intimidated at all and had no problem fitting in.
“I am an extrovert, and making friends comes naturally to me. Even in the queues during registration I made friends, some of whom I still have contact with today,” she said. She was also aided by her strong Christian and political background and she participated fully in Christian organisations on campus. When homesickness threatened, there were always the ‘otji-come-together’ social gatherings with fellow Namibian students, including those at UCT and Stellenbosch.
Her political involvement was immediate, starting with serving on the Belhar Residence Committee and joining SASCO. In 1996, while doing her LLB, she was elected to the SRC on a SASCO ticket, where she worked with the likes of Zizi Kodwa (BA), the former ANC spokesperson who is now deputy minister of State Security, and writer and journalist, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane (BProc), who has just completed his PhD in Media Studies at Wits. Yvonne says the years at UWC were “very dynamic times”.
“I was actually the first Namibian student to serve on the SRC. I tried to always balance my political activity with remembering why I was there in the first place, hence my decision to dedicate my final year to focusing on school.”
After graduating in 1997, her stellar career in Namibia began quite humbly, working at the Legal Assistance Centre until 2000. “My experience at the UWC Law Clinic and doing street law projects helped me settle in quite easily,” she said.
Years later, as a lecturer helping to set up the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Namibia, she explained much of the design “was modelled on my experiences at the UWC Law Clinic. In fact, I transposed some of the work culture from what I learned there.”
She eventually left academia in 2015 (acquiring her LLM at the University of Pretoria along the way) to chair the Namibian Law Reform and Development Commission. On 22 March 2020, still only 45-years-old, she was appointed the Minister of Justice of Namibia.