Namibia: the good, bad and its cry for dignity.

Namibia: the good, bad and its cry for dignity.

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Namibia. – As part of a self enriching journey, I have lived in South Africa for half a year during 2015. Only a few weeks before my return to the Netherlands, I drove with two travel companions to beautifully diverse neighbouring country Namibia. This blog is not so much touching upon absolute hotspots to visit, but rather has a purpose to share a discussion with regards to history and current decolonial developments.

Forgotten past
The Namibian dry lands have been inhabited centuries ago by the people of San, Nama and Damara. Its population extended from the 18th century onwards by nomads relocating from the southern Cape and Namaqualand region. My association with Namibia in terms of occupation, was Germany. But in fact, the first European explorers have been the Portuguese somewhere during the 1400s; they haven’t occupied the country though. It’s only in 1884 that Namibia became a German colony, causing the first genocide of the twentieth century under the Herero (85% of its population) [1] and Namaqua people (50% of its population). The survivors of the genocide were put into concentration camps to an apartheid regime and dehumanizing labor.

I didn’t know about all this, only until I travelled to this beautiful piece of land.

I assumed it had to do with my own ignorance and lack of knowledge thereof. However, I realized slowly but surely that it seemed almost like a forgotten past; something that people should ‘move on from, because the past belongs to the past’. A classical narrative I have heard way too many times in South Africa as well, referring to the horror of its apartheid regime.

            Something that touched me, was during my visit to Kolmanskoppe, close to Lüderitz. During the early 1900s, German colonizers built the town; which serves as a protected ghost town nowadays. Apparently, back in the day 20% of the world’s diamonds came from this desert area. In fact, during that time diamonds were laying on the ground and could easily be collected. Local Namibian genocide survivors were forced to collect the diamonds; in that work process, they were continuously monitored. The tactics of the oppressors was to force feed the Namibians with castor oil, to throw up potential diamonds in case they swallowed some. This, in combination with terrible work and living conditions caused thousands of Namibians to pass away.

Now, reflecting on the historical events as mentioned above makes me question many things. To start with the history books I had to study in both primary and secondary school. The first genocide of the 20th century in those books, I remember, was portrayed to be the holocaust. I have never even heard of the country of Namibia, let alone the impact of colonialism there. Second, I wonder what the relationship is between Germany’s colonial history and its Nazi history – to what extent are the actions against humanity driven by a similar ideology, separated by time and geography? And in that line: why has it taken the international community, and Germany in particular, more than a century to recognize these events without taking any formal responsibility [2]? These questions are relevant; and are from the ‘outside-in’ perspective. What happens in Namibia regarding its history and cultural heritage?

Business VS. Dignity?
Since 2014, there has been a national debate, and request for a referendum, concerning changing or keeping the name of harbour town Lüderitz to !Nami≠nüs. The latter name is the town’s original name, derived from a subtribe of the Nama people [3]. Proponents attempt to decolonize and reconstruct Namibia. A similar motive as to the South African #RhodesMustFall grassroot movement: the name Lüderitz is a daily reminder of inferiority and dehumanizing oppression. On the other hand, opponents of the name change argue that it would harm the country’s international reputation and ultimately its tourism [3]. This 3 min. BBC Africa clip, addressed the issue briefly.

My opinion is simple: for Namibia to grow and mature, it needs to experience true liberation; not just in terms of being a free country. But also in terms of freedom of the mind and the heart. I think it’s a good development different movements internationally are exhibiting that African culture is shifting its position and becoming more central. This movement is a step in a good direction. As creatures of habit, humans don’t like change; that is a general given. But with change comes adaptive transformation…And in terms of tourism I think that there are solutions at hand such as two names for the same place, like Peking and Beijing. The latter serves as a perfect example that it is very much possible to make a change that won’t tremendously and negatively impact tourism/ business. Ultimately, one thing is for sure: whoever sets feet on Namibian soil, would be crazy not to visit !Nami≠nüs/ Lüderitz.

Sources:
[1] Article: Germany finally apologizes for its other genocide – more than a century later.
[2] Article: Brutal genocide colonial Africa finally gets its deserved recognition.
[3] Article: Lüderitz v !Nami≠nüs: dispute over town’s name divides Namibia.