Mr. Balitta Joab retired from University service as Senior Foreman-Carpentry, Estates and Works Department in 2004 after 49 years of dedicated service. Mak@90 had a chat with the 82 year old 1955 graduate of Carpentry and Joinery and now brings you Part Three of the three-part interview.
Professional Career at Makerere
On completing my course at Kyambogo, my instructor linked me up with the foreman who was working in Makerere College. I came and joined Makerere College workshop on November 2nd 1954. Sir Bernard de Busen was the Principal then.
I resided at Makerere from November 1954 until 2004 in the staff quarters near Makerere College. My rent was 5 Shillings. As a resident of Makerere, all my children went to Tank Hill Primary School, then Lubiri Secondary School and Kampala High School.
Carpentry in Makerere was very effective then. In 1964, the university decided to create a Furniture Making Section which was tasked with making all the residential and office furniture. It was only after the demand increased that the University started venturing outside campus to contract Indian Companies. As the Section Supervisor, I had to ensure that I gave specifications or made samples for all external contractors before they did work for Makerere.
We had no on-duty staff transport then. We had to walk to our staff quarters on Upper Kololo Terrace from Makerere whenever our services were required. The Makerere Agricultural Research Institute Kabanyolo-MUARIK was the only off-campus location that would warrant the availing of transport.
I personally made all the current woodwork furnishings for the Vice Chancellor’s, Deputy Vice Chancellor Finance and Administration, and University Secretary’s offices in 1965. I also made the current Chancellor ‘s desk. All our furniture then was made out of Mvule, Mahogany and Nkoba woods. The Nkoba wood was got from the Ssese Island forests. Any other hardwood currently in use is a recent development owing to shortage of quality timber.
Makerere used to purchase all her timber from the Indian run Central Timber Stores on 6th Street Industrial Area. Quality timber was readily available then and an office chair cost only 45 Shs in 1964.
Makerere Inauguration Day
Makerere University’s inauguration as the National University of Uganda on 8th October 1970 was a memorable day. At the time, the Social Sciences building was yet to be constructed and so the day’s celebrations were held on the turf that currently houses the weather station equipment. The Inauguration shed was constructed out of chipboard on the eve of the celebrations by Mengo Woodworks an Indian Company. Unfortunately, a heavy downpour that night brought down the entire shed and my team from the Estates and Works Department Workshop had to hurriedly reconstruct the shed on the morning of the Inauguration.
After all these years serving Makerere University, the biggest benefit has been the ability to educate all my children. Having learned the value of Education thanks to my exposure at an early age, I ensured that all my children pursued it. Whereas I earned a low salary then, I was still able to educate all my children as the fees were yet to hike then. The Biological Staff Students Scheme helped me educate one of My children at Makerere. The others managed to gain government sponsorship, while I had to pay the others’ tuition fees.
Life back then was simple and much more affordable than it is today. Prices of goods were commensurate to one’s earnings. I would often go to Wandegeya Market after work and after purchasing my goods, I’d take off my neck tie, and after folding it neatly and tucking it in my pocket, would proceed to carry my purchases on my head, all the way to my residence at the other side of campus. I would only hire a porter if I had some change to spare.
I started working for Makerere at the age of 25 and retired aged 60 years in 1990. However owing to my unique skills, I received four two-year contracts amounting to 8 years. It was at this point that the Vice Chancellor at the time Prof. P.M.J. Sebuwufu recognized that I was still willing and able to continue serving Makerere University and so my salary kept on being paid. This was the status quo until 2004 when I opted to retire at the age of 74 after 14 more years on contract.
During my work life, I often endeavoured to share my carpentry skills with students from the Mengo School for the Deaf and a host of others that were keen to learn the practice.
Mr. Balitta as a carpenter was key in the furnishing of the then newly completed CCE Block and Faculty of Technology buildings. For his great efforts, he was given letters of appreciation from Prof. Gramesen then Head Department of Technology.
On officially retiring from University service in 2004, I was required to vacate the University House. I opted not to return to my roots in Kaliro but instead moved into my own house; just off Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road across from the School of Food Tecnology, Nutrition and Bioengineering. I had been fortunate enough to purchase this plot of land at 500,000/= in 1989.
Owing to my still valuable skills I often get call-ups from my contacts within the university to help fix their old furniture. I also regularly receive and make orders for new pieces of furniture. My observation of today’s generation is that artisans place more premiums on making a quick sale than on producing a quality product.
On 90 Years of Makerere University
As Makerere marks 90 years of existence, the present regime and generation have made us appreciate our own training and upbringing a lot more. We witness a lot of moral degradation especially prevalent among those who are money minded. Whereas they are more preoccupied with materialism and value money a lot, we cherish life above anything else.
End of Part Three of Three