Diary of a ‘Struggle Kid’ Engineer


The world doesn’t expect much from struggle kids. The private sector boss is looking to her standing by the traffic light, bowl in hand, a baby on her back, cracked heels. The government is looking at him to, if not sell kapana, then at least join the army or lay bricks on construction sites and if you are vocal enough, to lobby on behalf of their party during election periods.

In Namibia, no one is looking at you, being a struggle kid and seeing the next CEO, a lawyer or doctor, especially if you are a girl for that matter. As a girl, they already know you will fall pregnant by the time you are 20 and will drop out of school and as a boy, you will become part of the reason the security industry and gated communities are blossoming.

But not for Martha Upindi-Ndemumana. Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Martha has defied the odds against her since being separated from her parents who were deployed across the Atlantic, to fight the settler regime.

Abandoned in the ‘80s in the hands of caretakers in the Swapo camp in Nyango, Zambia, Martha was to be moved to Namibia where her name was announced on radio, periodically upon her arrival in northern Namibia in 1989 until word reached her grand parents that their 9-year-old grandchild had returned and needed to be united with her family.

She was only nine, and she had to wait until 1991 to reunite with her parents when the liberation struggle brought with independence.

“I grew up in Ongwediva and studied there, but first things first, I am a struggle kid. I identify myself with the group that has been making headlines lately. The only difference is perhaps the different paths we chose,” she says.

She was to relocate to Windhoek after matric when the University of Namibia accepted her for a ‘Bachelor of Science’ programme. That same time, the then Polytechnic of Namibia letter arrived with a Civil Engineering acceptance, she opted for the latter. At completion, she joined Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa for a degree in Urban Engineering and what then followed from 2006 was a decade of dedicated service to NamPower.

She worked for 11 years at NamPower as Project Manager where she would plan, conduct feasibility researches, design, formulate and evaluate tenders as well as coordinate all project phases once the tender is awarded to ensure every facet of the project stays within the set parameters.

“Of course, I worked on many projects with NamPower numerous and countless, but it was the Caprivi Link Interconnector Project that stands out on my resume. I was the only female site-based and project overseer based at Gerus substation, in Otjiwarongo where I was based for two and a half years. It was eye opening.

The lessons from there saw me being tipped to be the Principal Construction Planner for Power System Construction, a section within the transmission business unit of Nampower. Working on Gerus sub-station  further enhanced my practical experience on civil engineering. “

NamPower is in the process to implement the Caprivi Link Interconnector. The first stage of the project comprises of a 970km ±350kV HVDC bipolar line with converter stations and associated ac substations extensions at Zambezi and Gerus Substations.

The second stage, which comprises of a 285km 400kV AC transmission line and associated substations extensions at Auas and Gerus Substations, will be implemented if and when the need arises. In April 2017, Martha left NamPower for the City of Windhoek where she is Engineer: Contact Management. Dealing with contract management is less exhausting as was project management, she notes.

Here she represents the City on the quality and standards of all infrastructural and services development contracts between developer and the City. It includes roads, stormwater and services on private development projects, projects by private developers, government, or even PPP projects. Of course, the good part is that there is now less traveling.

She continues, “But the roles are a bit reversed now. We do not work directly with contractors unlike at NamPower. Here, I spend more time dealing with private developers, who often have their own contractors, for instance. The differencein roles  between contract management and project management is not diverse. Only that contract management focuses more on obligations and conditions of the contract while project management involves contract management and four other facets of engineering as a part.”

For this mother of two, it is not so much about her background as a struggle kid that concerns her. It’s the perception towards women in the industry.

“If I am being more understanding, I am often considered to be too persuasive. Women are perceived to slow down performance in the industry, we are regarded as people who cannot make decisions that influence productivity. And that irks me.”

“For me to be considered different in the field when I have been here this long without any thoughts of quitting,

2,396 total views, 1 views today