Johanna Wilkie

Johanna Wilkie (Breaking the Wall of Silence in Windhoek): Johanna lived and worked in Rome, Italy for two years teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). After her return to hometown of Boston, she taught immigrants and college students ESL for two years before moving to Los Angeles to work as a program manager at a California non-profit. At the time of her fellowship, Johanna was studying for a Masters degree in international affairs and development at Georgetown University, and working toward a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She also interned at the International Rescue Committee as an Africa Advocacy Intern.

Windhoek’s neighborhoods

21 Jun

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!

High school in Katutura

High school in Katutura

Kids at the school, in between classes

Students (called "learners" here) at the school, in between classes

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.

My neighbor, Junior, in front of his house in Dorado Valley

My neighbor, Junior, in front of his house in Dorado Valley

Posted By Johanna Wilkie

Posted Jun 21st, 2009


  • Andre

    June 22, 2009


    Problem with you foreign folks seem to be that you prefer staying in the lower income areas. I am sure you have been to Eros, Pioneerspark etc. Why don’t you let your audience in on the integration there. But no, you prefer not to see change since that may not be a good subject for your research paper. Grow up or get out! We don’t need your charity or condescending attitude around these parts.

    • Johanna Wilkie

      June 22, 2009


      Hi Andre,
      Thanks for commenting. In response to your first concern, the NANGOF office where I work is in Katutura, so it seemed to make sense to me to describe the neighborhood and what I see day-to-day. I haven’t really seen much of Eros or Pioneerspark (I’ve only been to Eros once, Pioneerspark not at all), although I did describe the neighborhood where I live, Dorado Park. I have only been here a couple of weeks and am still getting to know Windhoek, and I look forward to exploring the city more.
      As for the second part of your comment, I apologize if I came across as condescending. I did not intend to. The city I’m from, Boston, Massachusetts, has many issues, including poverty and ongoing racial and class segregation. I don’t think that I or my compatriots have all the answers, and I hope that my post doesn’t come across that way.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  • Janet Wilkie

    June 22, 2009


    I’m enjoying details about the neighborhoods you’re visiting. Glad Talita is showing you around. Keep up the good work. Love the pictures too!

  • Laura Gordon

    June 26, 2009


    Enjoying reading a bit about where you’re staying – I personally got the feeling that (notwithstanding big problems) Namibia had better race relations than South Africa, so it’s interesting to hear about where there are mixed neighbourhoods and where there aren’t. It’d be interesting to hear more about Katatura though – do people who move to the city tend to move there or other places, and if they move there do they tend to try and move to other places, or do they just try and build nicer houses there? It’ll be really interesting to hear about some of the other areas of Windhoek – looking forward to some more of your posts!

  • Natasha

    June 29, 2009


    Thank you for honest blogging of the situation. I find your blog to be neither the ignorant description one commenter has claimed it to be nor a blog geared solely towards the writing of a successful research paper. Your blog was written with what appeared to me as a completely unbiased voice and was very informative (and interesting) to read.

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