School cleaner bows out after 27 years of service

For 27 years, Okahandja-born Elsie Kamberipa’s swept and mopped the hallways of Moses van der Byl Primary School in Soweto.

As pupils rushed to their classes and teachers prepared their lessons, Kamberipa ensured that every corner of the school was spotless. Now, as she hangs up her uniform and retires, the school bids farewell to the woman who is more than just a cleaner but a maternal figure and beloved colleague, after nearly three decades.

Last Friday was Kamberipa’s last working day, after she recently celebrated her 60th birthday.

“I also pictured myself in the kraal joining my husband at the farm with our livestock.” The mother of four says she felt good and content on her last working day and she believes she served her time well. “I am grateful for the gifts and well wishes I received. Cleaning is such a great activity, I urge people to always keep their places clean,” she says. “If you keep your place clean and do your work well, you won’t encounter any challenges with other staff members. I just didn’t like it when someone stepped on the floors while I was busy cleaning the floor,” she adds. She believes co-operation and communication with colleagues are very important.

“Just do your job and know why you are at the place, simple as that,” she says. Kamberipa has seven grandchildren she would love to take care of here in the city, however, she will be moving to Okaawa farm in the Otjinene constituency to look after her livestock, she says.

Elsie Kamberipa

After getting married in 1997, Kamberipa moved to Windhoek and was transferred from her first job as a cleaner at a school hostel for over 10 years at Okahandja.

As her colleagues and pupils would address her, ‘aunty Elsie’ was appreciated for her dedication at the school. School principal Siegfried Tjihambuma who has been at the school since 2021 told The Namibian that Kamberipa took the lead among those in her department and made efforts to work some long weekends to ensure that the school was clean when everyone returns.

“She was not just a loyal cleaner but a leader too, a good person to work with who executed her tasks to the best of her ability without being told or reminded of her duty.”

Tjihambuma says he will remember her for speaking Afrikaans whenever she was not pleased. At those times she would speak her mind and the following day things would be back to normal, he adds.

July Araes, a Grade 1 teacher who has been working at the school since 1990, described Kamberipa as a humble, neat, hard-working and polite friend and colleague.

“She did her job with diligence and enthusiasm, she was always presentable and looked great. She was eager to help, never complained, nor was she late for work.

“I have so much to say about her great work that I could write a book about her, our friendship will not end here, it will go beyond these premises.

She stood out for her character and beauty, we had so much in common. I will miss our conversations during break time,” Araes says. Wilka Kandjengo, a Grade 6 teacher and social studies head of department who has been working at the school for over nine years, says she knows Kamberipa as a hard-working and dedicated colleague, who takes her work seriously. “All cleaners are usually assigned to clean specific classrooms, however, she didn’t hesitate to assist and clean other classrooms when asked for help or when another cleaner was absent,” she says. Grade 7 teacher Jona Twahitavela, who has been employed at the school for the past four years, says Kamberipa is easy-going and a great communicator.

She has been like a mother to us at the school, not only at her department. I could go to her for advice or assistance. She was active on the ground, he says.

A cleaner at the school, Sacky Shiimi, also attested to Kamberipa’s generosity, kindness and co-operation. He says he wishes her well after her retirement and will miss working with her. Kamberipa’s eldest daughter, Ivonne Uazukuani (43), says her mother is her role model and has been a great example to her and the siblings all their lives. “My mother is one of the most hard-working people and workaholics I know. I grew up with her and she always set a great example and advised us to do better and to love what we do,” she says.

Uazukuani says her mother would hardly ever miss work, despite having a condition that makes it hard for her to work around dust.

Windhoek-based social work specialist Lovisa Nghipandulwa says employees that remain loyal to one organisation for long periods of time are due to a positive and conducive working environment that recognises their work and skills.

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