Wrote this piece on 19th January when Katanga turned exactly 50.
Social change comes from collective action at the grassroots level. – unknown
On January 19, 1963, some young noble gentlemen walked into the newest hall of residence on campus KNUST then; to become its first occupants. Little did they know that the seeds of courage, excellence and solidarity they sowed will germinate and grow into a mighty tree that can neither be truncated nor uprooted.
The University Hall popularly known as Katanga was built to commemorate the attainment of University Status of the then Kumasi College of Technology and officially named “University Hall”. It was dedicated by Mr. Kwaku Boateng, the then Minister of Education, on January 19, 1963.
From the humble beginnings in the deserted clearing in that virgin bush of KNUST, Katanga grew to become a formidable force in students’ activism in Ghana. The pioneering members of the hall chose not to make it just a hall of residence like the others but to make it the fulcrum of students activism and a hall of academic excellence. The motto “Rest Not” (which is aptly depicted by a logo which shows a student sitting on a pile of books whilst reading one in his hands ) was therefore apt for the new vision carved for the hall.
Just before the hall was inaugurated, the Republic of Congo in Central Africa had been experiencing the early and unstable years of post-independence. The Katanga province of Congo was a focal point of the Congo story back then. Surprisingly enough, the University Hall identified some striking identical characteristics with the Katanga province. In no time, the first Hall President was nicknamed Moise Tsombe (after the then leader of the Katanga province. The name Katanga was then bestowed on the University Hall and it has remained so till this day. It was not the Secession spirit of the Katanga province that appealed to us but their sense of purpose and their exceptional gallantry in determining their own destiny.
Katanga became a household name because of its fearless endeavour to spearhead the fight for students’ rights. Most actions to defend student’s rights, either on campus or nationwide had also been planned, influenced or led from Katanga. This is one trademark which has made the hall so famous. Katanga has always believed that student activism is about social change and transformation. The hall has therefore placed this as an objective in the preamble of its constitution and remains relentless in this sacrificial duty. In “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Paulo Freire defines “praxis” as the reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it. This means that instead of just talking about something, one should take action and fight for what they believe in and support. It is not always about dialogue. At times a breath of positive dynamism into the dialogue is necessary. That is exactly what the University hall has sought to achieve for the past fifty years.
The numerous petitions, agitations and demonstrations have led to a number of reforms and developments on KNUST campus and beyond. We might have done a lot of good with our student advocacy role, but in the line of work, common with most freedom fighters, we have had and continue to have excesses. These excesses have rather been engraved on stones whilst the numerous advantages of our actions have been written on the bank of the River Wewe (a river that passes through KNUST).
Looking back at the past fifty years, one can only say that despite the excesses that have earned the University Hall some notoriety, Katanga has played a remarkable role in Ghana’s education. Going forward, we should prune and redefine students’ activism. We should adopt new ways of addressing issues that affect the Ghanaian student without causing extra problems for the society.
On the Sacred bridge across the pool in the middle of the hall, with its many myths, we learnt how to dive into and wade through the turbulent waters of life, knowing not what it had for us. Under the feet of the Iconic figure of academic excellence, Sir John, we imbibed the “Rest Not” spirit and learnt how pursue excellence relentlessly.
The bruises of our struggles are so evident. The mistakes are regrettable. However the bigger picture of our contributions towards social change and transformation is what we celebrate. Our yellow has turned golden. Let the divine drummer breathe some life into the drums. Let the bombard resonate across the land. Let it be told that it has been fifty good years of service to our dear country. Let all children of Father John rejoice for it is the year of our jubilee.
The Legend Lives on.
Long live The University Hall (Katanga)
Long live KNUST