Namibia, previously called South West Africa, was under South African control from 1915 (when South Africa wrested it from Germany during World War I) until independence in 1990. As part of South Africa, Namibians were subject to the same apartheid policies as the rest of the country, although it did manage to escape some of these restrictions (laws against interracial marriage and integration of blacks and whites in the same neighborhoods) in the 1970s, well before the rest of SA. However, lack of voting rights for black people, and general prejudice and intimidation, continued on.
One of the legacies of apartheid still visible in Windhoek is the different characters of the various “locations” – what would be called townships in South Africa. In 1959, residents of the Old Location (a segregated area of Windhoek set aside for black people by the Germans in 1913) were forcibly relocated to another location outside of Windhoek, which the people called Katutura, or “the place we do not want to stay.” On December 10, a protest against the removal in the Old Location turned bloody when 13 demonstrators were shot and killed by police. December 10 is now recognized in Namibia as International Human Rights Day to commemorate the tragedy.
Katutura is still here. In fact it has grown significantly, and now about half of Windhoek’s residents live here. It remains the poorest location in Windhoek. Although there are some nicer areas, a lot of the houses are just tin shacks erected by squatters too poor to buy or rent a house. But Katutura is also a vibrant part of this city. There are nightclubs, shops, markets, even a court, and teens walking home in their school uniforms. I work here every day, as the NANGOF building is here (NANGOF stands for the Namibian NGO Forum, an umbrella organization that represents Breaking the Wall of Silence as well as many other organizations). It is still an overwhelmingly black neighborhood; I have never seen another white person here, and people often look surprised to see me. Recently, a taxi driver taking me home from the office joked that the longer I worked in Katutura, the browner my skin would become!
The other locations all have their own character. My host, Talita, took me to visit with some of her family in Khomasdal. The houses there are obviously nicer, better-built and bigger. She told me that it used to be the location set aside for the “coloured” people, or people who are mixed-race. Now people of all races and tribes live there.
I don’t think the neighborhood where Talita and I live, Dorado Valley, used to be an official location, but it also has a mix of people. There are black families of different tribes, “coloured” ones, and apparently even some white families. I take this racial mix, perhaps somewhat naively, as a good sign of healing after the years of abuse and harassment under apartheid. All is not perfect, however. Talita told me that I will never see the white people in our neighborhood. Apparently they only come out in their cars, never walking to the local taxi rank like others do. And it’s true – at least at this point, I still haven’t seen them, whereas the other families all have children out playing in the yard or people hanging out on their front steps, listening to music.
Posted By Johanna Wilkie
Posted Jun 21st, 2009