SUUM CUIQUE (“To every man his own”)
– Windhoek’s motto
Namibia is a vast country with a relatively small population of about 2.5 million. Its capital, Windhoek, will be our portal and launch pad.
This cosmopolitan city of 322,000, has six groups of indigenous people as well as remaining Germans and Afrikaaners. German is widely spoken – there is a German-language daily newspaper, and English is the official language of the Namibian government. Afrikaans is also widely spoken. The original buildings from the German occupation are now museums and government buildings. There is German cuisine and a beer named after the city brewed in strict compliance with the Reinheitsegebot, the German Purity Law of 1516.
The lovely pre-colonial African people are:
- The San, whose genetic history has been traced to 70,000 years ago, and who shocked us in the 1980 films with the possibility of a simple beautiful life and the insanity of commercialism in the gentle “The Gods Must be Crazy” series. They still largely live a traditional nomadic life. In a few days, we’ll see their fabulous rock art which also dates back 70,000 years.
2. The Ovambo, who fought for an independent Namibia. The founding President of Namibia was Ovambo and the SWAPO ruling party today is made up mostly of Ovambo people.
3. The Nama, who also wear incredible bright clothes. The Nama twice rose up in armed rebellion against German colonial rule, and suffered near extermination in what followed the second skirmish.
4. The Damara, who have the beautiful clicking language. Today they are pastoralists, and skilled copper-smiths. The first prime minister of Namibia and his immediate successor were both Damara.
5. The Himba, with their powerful architectural hairstyles, who are a northern Namibia people related to the Herero.
6. And of course the Herero whose brilliant subversive clothing we have already seen.
Met by our lovely guide, Tuhafeni, we climbed into our amazing safari bus/truck and took a tour of the small city, stopping at the German Lutheran church, in which services are still conducted in the German language.
The city has 300 annual sunny days and the beautiful jacarandas grace every street. There is even a white jacaranda tree. Legend has it that a version of this tree with white blossoms was first cultivated in Windhoek, so in a sense it is indigenous. According to the National Botanical Research Institute, the white jacaranda is a fluke, a single-gene mutation that was developed, and is basically an albino version of the purple jacaranda.
Across the street was the War Museum about the Namibian fight for independence. The people fought from 1969 until 1990 when they finally gained independence. This modern tower was built in 2014 by North Korea (possibly in exchange for uranium? – one of the leading exports of this country) with its three external elevators. Like so many African paradoxes, the charming original fort which had been the museum before held all of the artifacts – this oversized, flashy, modern building doesn’t have room for everything, so many artifacts are now in storage. There had been a statue here for the original German colonial leader but there was outcry by the country’s young and that statue has been replaced by a statue of the first president of the independent Namibia, Dr. Sam Nujoma.
We drove down the bustling main street, passing two outlets of a store called, “Beaver Canoe Toronto Canada.” I don’t think we’ll have time to stop in and check it out in person, but looking online, it is a Roots company. Three guys met at summer camp in Algonquin park. Michael Budman and Don Green went on to found roots while Mitch Springer went on to build his own canoe and revolutionize canoeing. The Roots guys enable Springer to mass-produce his canoes in their leather factory in Toronto, and have since named a line of their clothing and other products Beaver Canoe. There are stores all over southern Africa and the Beaver Canoe line is sold through department stores and other retailers.
Then Tehafeni took us through a massive shantytown where he lives with his wife, 14-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. There is a 40% unemployment rate and 50% of the entire population of Windhoek, some 160,000 people, live in these corrugated homes with a long walk to the standpipes for water. There were a lot of young men hanging around who obviously can’t get work, and a surprising number of hair salons and barber shops.
We found another Canadian connection in Tuhefani. He guides for Wild Dog Safari Tours Namibia which was founded by a Canadian man. He married a British woman. He died, and his wife has carried on the business. Tuhefani was one of the company’s first employees and he has been with them for 21 years. Anytime anyone in his family is ill, the company pays for private health care; the company is also paying for his children’s education.
We won’t be spending too much time here, we are off tomorrow to cross the country to the Namib Desert and the third largest national park in Africa. I hope the rest of my posts will be mostly about animals, animals, animals! (And I hope the wifi will be fast enough to upload photos.)
In the meantime, my research about Windhoek took me to more illuminating details about this country, just 30 years young.
Namibia at the U.N.
On September 25, 2019, H.E. Dr. Hage Geingob, President of Namibia, addressed the General Assembly of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. I’m including a few excerpts of his speech because they seem to say a lot about Namibia.
“Namibia is making inroads in eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities in income and wealth. Our Government allocates a high percentage of resources to the social sectors, including universal access to education and a highly subsidized healthcare system, with the aim to reverse the effects of the skewed economy. These investments have attained a measure of success. Within a period of 22 years, poverty in Namibia has declined from a 70 percent baseline, down to 18 percent by 2016, lifting more than 400,000 members of our population out of poverty since independence.
“According to the June 2017 World Bank Report, Namibia’s gradual decline in poverty is attributable to a targeted policy framework that includes ‘a well-developed programme of cash transfers to vulnerable segments of the population’. The administration of social safety nets has been a cornerstone in our multi-pronged fight against poverty. Namibia remains among the most unequal societies in the world, attesting to the deeply embedded structural nature of our problem. The status quo is not sustainable and Namibia is taking steps to build a more inclusive society.
“Currently, Namibia is under a state of emergency due to a severe, widespread and prolonged period of drought, with adverse effect on the livelihoods of our people. This vulnerability poses a major obstacle in achieving Agenda 2030. With this in mind, Namibia reiterates her commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), should guide our commitment to tackling the global environmental challenges. We have a responsibility to establish a world that should transcend racism, tribalism and nationalism … a world where women and the youth should no longer suffer exclusion. The future hinges on their participation. And we must ensure that they are no longer on the fringes of decision making but at the forefront of galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion.”
The Republic of Turkey popped up, too. The Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has launched a rural development program for one of Namibia’s most important ethnic groups, the San people. TIKA said that as part of a rural development program, stationery and school equipment, clothing, and other aid materials have been delivered to the San people who live in Tsumkwe, located in northeastern Namibia’s Otjozondjupa region. The agency will also work with local municipalities to teach farming techniques to the San.
I’m looking forward to the beginning of my WILD trip to Africa in the morning!