Reaching for the stars, and beyond

Edward Ndopu's message to those struggling against narrowly defined expectations and limitations, especially children with disabilities, is to “dare to dream of a life that extends beyond limitations”.

23 August 2019 | Local News

Namibian-born Edward Ndopu's ambitious mission to space as the first wheelchair-bound human is in line with his bold and optimistic drive to disrupt and reshape the way we define society's role players and to encourage an expanded vision of humanity.

“I think we need to recognise that as humanity we are probably going to be saved by the most vulnerable segments of society,” he told Namibian Sun this week.

The downtrodden, stigmatised, and marginalised “are going to change the trajectory of society” he says.

“It's going to be people who have lived with the experience of exclusion, who have been disenfranchised, who have been discriminated against - those are the people best equipped to provide leadership and to provide a vision for the planet and society.”

Ndopu, who was born the year Namibia gained its long-fought-for independence, warns: “We are not doing disenfranchised segments of society a favour by granting them a seat at the table. In fact, it is in our interest as society to do that.”

His message to those struggling against narrowly defined expectations and limitations, especially children with disabilities, is to “dare to dream of a life that extends beyond limitations. You are bigger and more expansive than the space you currently occupy”.

Battle won

Born in Windhoek, he was diagnosed with a degenerative condition at an early age - spinal muscular atrophy - and doctors handed down a death sentence by saying he would not live beyond the age of five.

Now, he plans to celebrate his 30th birthday - alongside Namibia's 30th independence celebrations next year - as the first Namibian and person with a severe degenerative condition among the stars - stretching the boundaries of what is thought possible to its furthest reaches.

And once there, he will deliver a televised message to the world - millions upon millions of viewers - which he describes as his “love letter to the enduring power of the human spirit”.

This message will be shaped not only by the hurdles he has overcome as a person with a disability, but by his work over more than a decade as a disability justice activist and acclaimed humanitarian.

In essence, his message is a unifying call for an expanded definition of humanity that includes all groups of people “along the lines of gender, sexuality, disability, geographical diversity and more”.

It is aimed at incorporating the “voices and personal narratives of all people who don't feel completely validated by the world”.

The idea to travel to space is not just about the adventure and the feat of breaking through another barrier, it is aimed at grabbing the attention of humanity to make a powerful, meaningful statement to push for change in the “way we think about, talk about and look at people with different abilities”.

His mission to the stars has been endorsed by the UN, which has pledged its support to Ndopu, one of 17 global UN advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals recently appointed by UN secretary-general António Guterres.

He is also in talks with a number of aerospace companies and has signed an exclusive deal with MTV, who will document and broadcast his watershed adventure.


“Humanity is in the midst of an existential crisis. Climate change, rampant inequality, nationalism, gender inequality and structural violence are markers of this existential crisis. And the only way to emerge from this crisis is through existential defiance.”

Ndopu said this during a keynote address at the 5th session of the Children's Parliament of Namibia, which formed part of his brief visit to Namibia this week.

He defined existential defiance as a “means to use your life to advance humanity, to be in service of a vision that is bigger than you.”

Apart from his space plans, and selection as a UN advocate, the 29-year-old was the first African with a degenerative disability to graduate from the prestigious Oxford University in its 900-year history, with a Master's in Public Policy.

Ndopu was also named one of the 200 most influential young South Africans a few years ago, and worked with Amnesty International in Johannesburg, where he is based, and this year was invited to visit Rwanda as an ambassador for inclusive education representing a Nobel peace prize winning charity.


A deep-seated sense of urgency underpins all he does, stemming from his initial short life expectancy.

“I'll be 30 next year, so I've outlived myself now by 25 years. I've always lived with a sense of urgency, the idea that there is no time to wait.

“There is no time to play it small, there is no time to sort of go about the motions of everyday life. There is urgency for me to take up leadership and to push for the sort of change that I seek to see in the world.”

He says this sense of urgency driving him is “built into the mandate of the sustainable development goals. It's built into the mandate of addressing the triple burden of inequality, unemployment and poverty. These are critical issues that face both Namibia and the SADC region, Ndopu stressed, and the clock is ticking towards 2030.

While it may seem daunting, his life's trajectory is proof that “it can be done. I'm living a life that was never supposed to really happen”.

He hopes his life could become a compass to others, “a point of reference - as an example of what can be done”.


Ndopu says a “paradigm shift, and attitudinal change” is needed to address the wrongs and challenges the world faces.

This includes the way in which people with disabilities and others relegated to the margins are viewed by society as “second best”.

“People with disabilities are not just their disabilities. We need to recognise that people with disabilities are not a homogenous group. We are incredibly diverse.”

Children in particular should be given permission to be children.

“I think we need to accord children with disabilities the right to be children, the right to express their curiosity, their right to be able to navigate the world in the way that kids navigate the world. With big eyes, trying to explore their surroundings.”

He also has a message for those who create the enabling or disabling conditions against which many struggle against.

“To society, and to our leaders, I would say I think the time has come for us to really validate and recognise the full humanity of every human being.”

Ndopu says too often the burden and emphasis is placed on those at the receiving end of exclusion, and less attention is paid to those who are equipped to improve matters.

“You've got power, and social capital and social privilege. You have a voice. You need to use that voice, as leaders that is what you are charged with doing. So let's make the conditions easier, let's create conditions of possibility.”

I wrote my name

“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my mother,” he says, who raised him and his siblings as a single mother in Windhoek.

“I am where I am today because she sacrificed her own life and gave up everything to ensure that I had access to basic education.”

He was seven when he told her he wanted to go to school.

He says she “hit the ground running”, saying she would do everything possible to get him into a school, despite the fact that there were “very few schools that wanted to take the risk of having a physically disabled child in the classroom at the time”.

Eventually, Van Rhyn Primary School in Windhoek decided to “take the risk and bet on me” despite the fact that it was “unheard of that a severely disabled kid could be in a school with others with no disabilities”.

On his first day, he was put in a class of children deemed as special needs. But, after he wrote his name – the only child who could do it in his class – he was transferred to regular class.

“They said as far as we are concerned there is no reason you should be segregated from the other kids. You are just as capable as the able-bodied kids here.”

And as the saying goes, the “rest is history”.


Similar News


AR plots city takeover

10 hours ago | Local News

The provision of more than 75 000 houses, the recruitment of 3 000 security personnel, and the reopening of Ramatex to provide all municipal uniforms...

Govt office without power since July

10 hours ago | Local News

The agriculture ministry's state-of-the-art Kavango East regional headquarters in Rundu has been without electricity for over two months.This is after Nored disconnected the electricity supply...

NHE suspends Titus

10 hours ago | Local News

The National Housing Enterprise (NHE) this week suspended its senior manager for business development and operations, Willem Titus. The company announced the suspension in a...

Kavekotora brags about 'knockout victory'

10 hours ago | Local News

While some party members are threatening court action to nullify his election as party president in June this year, Mike Kavekotora yesterday bragged that his...

Sanitary pads bring joy

10 hours ago | Local News

Over 260 schoolgirls from Ncamagoro Combined School could not contain their joy on Tuesday, when they each received a parcel containing free sanitary products and...

Ekondjitho lyuukongo waaheli paveta

10 hours ago | Local News

ELLANIE SMIT Opolisi yaNamibia oya tumu iilyo yi li 280 opo yi ka yambidhidhe mekondjitho lyuukongo waaheli paveta.Omukomeho gwopolisi, Sebastian Ndeitunga okwa popi kutya...

NCCI a hogolola aaleli monooli

10 hours ago | Local News

ILENI NANDJATO Ehangano lyoNamibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) olya ningi omitumba dhalyo dhokomvula miitayi yawo Ondangwa, Oshakati nOngwediva moka aaleli aape ya hogololwa.Omahogololo...

Kashindi gets nod as Omusati CRO

1 day - 18 September 2019 | Local News

The Omusati regional council has appointed Gervasius Kashindi as its new chief regional officer (CRO).Kashindi, who is the current director of general services, replaces Protasius...

Hearing-impaired 'left out'

3 days ago - 16 September 2019 | Local News

An association representing the hearing-impaired says it is high time that their needs are looked at and addressed, as they feel neglected.Chairperson of the Namibian...

Omategelelo noHIV tayi teya po aanona moNamibia

6 days ago - 13 September 2019 | Local News

Shoka osha kolekwa kuVeronica Theron, omugandjimayele gopautekinika mOmbelewa yOmunyekadhi gwOshilongo, ngoka a popi woo kutya moshitopolwa shaKunene omakwatathano gopahole pokati komapupi ga yooloka ogeli...

Latest News

Oshakati hospital rundown, understaffed

10 hours ago | Health

The 750-bed Oshakati Intermediary Hospital, which serves close to a million patients a year, is operating without a paediatrician, neonatologist, neurosurgeon, dietician, clinical psychologist and...

Roar young lions, roar!

10 hours ago | Columns

Youth without a consistent voice are inevitably excluded from the pockets of power that exist throughout societies.Youth who become praise-singers and imbongis, even when they...

Teko trio walk free

10 hours ago | Justice

Teckla Lameck, Jerobeam Mokaxwa and Chinese national Yang Fang, known as the Teko trio, have been found not guilty of all charges relating to a...

'He decided to flee'

10 hours ago | Crime

Defence minister Penda Ya Ndakolo says Benisius Kalola (32), the second unarmed civilian killed during Operation Kalahari Desert this year, was shot when he fled...

280 cops deployed against poachers

10 hours ago | Crime

The Namibian police have deployed 280 members to assist in the fight against poaching.Inspector-general Sebastian Ndeitunga says these members, selected from across the country, are...

Uanivi gets Warriors chance

10 hours ago | Sports

African Stars veteran defender Pat-Navin Uanivi has finally been selected for the national team after years of being omitted. Uanivi forms part of Brave Warriors...

Horn suspended for alleged doping

10 hours ago | Sports

South African women's 100m record holder Carina Horn has been suspended from competition over doping allegations.The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced on Monday: “The AIU...

'Hitman' faces tough brawl

10 hours ago | Sports

Former two-time world champion Paulus 'Hitman' Moses is set for tough night, as he not only faces Russia's Adlan Aburashidov, but also the home-ground advantage...

Loubser ready to get his...

10 hours ago | Sports

Four years ago, Cliven Loubser was inspired after watching his native Namibia score a try against New Zealand and earn their first Rugby World Cup...

Load More