In Political Science this week, a panel of experts on the land question in Namibia offered divergent opinions and solutions. Harold Schutt, a business consultant in Windhoek, started the conversation by asking students “Who owns land?” and “What happens to you when you die?” Over the course of his lecture, we realized that the two questions illustrate the tension between communal and commercial land and the difference between land for production and land as a spiritual entity. Schutt illustrated the limitations of commercial agriculture and argued that the more sustainable alternative is to recognize that “This is our mother earth that we borrow from our children, rather than inherit from our ancestors.” I, Justine Goeke, thought looking at land as something we “borrow from our children” also promoted environmental sustainability and an understanding of the world’s transience. While I am not sure I agree that land should be massively communalized in an upheaval of a corporate system, I do think that the “Western” way of looking at land could use revision.
Erkia von Wietersheim, author of This Land is My Land and former third generation farmer in southern Namibia, argued that despite Schutt’s implications, white farmers have an emotional and spiritual connection to the land. I felt like the conflict between Schutt’s implication that black Africans have a more spiritual tie to the land and Wietersheim’s assertion that white people are also tied to the land paralleled tension in the United States between Native Americans and white farmers. She said that, “In Namibia…people associate land with a mystical quality. Land means livelihood and safety and security and family. Something stable in their lives…something [they] cannot lose easily.” Some students felt that their experiences on farms or in their homes in the United States matched Witersheim’s spiritual connection to the land. While she indicated that the inequality in land distribution demanded change, she argued that Namibia must avoid the path of Zimbabwe in which land was taken violently from white farmers and redistributed to farmers that neglected the land.
In History, we examined the United Nations’ measurement of development. John M. Ashipala, an economist for the United Nations Development Programme, illustrated the use of the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI uses three dimensions – life expectancy, population knowledge, and gross domestic product – to measure countries on a numerical scale. Over the course of Ashipala’s presentation, we learned that the decline in HDI is caused by the decline in life expectancy, which has a direct relationship to the rate of HIV/AIDS. Components of HDI were divided into population measurements by language, rather than by race, which blurred some measurements. The use of language rather than race was hotly contested both at the UN and in our classroom. Romanus Shivoro argued that, “It is somehow emotionally driven that we do not address color any more, but it is part of our history.” Race, while a means of dividing people to measure “development,” can also be incredibly inflammatory.
Our first night on our trip to the south was spent just outside of Mariental at the Hardap Dam campsite. After speaking to Catherine Boois, the Mariental Municipality Public Relations Officer, we were able to gain a different perspective on the development of the campsite and the effects of tourism on the town of Mariental. Mariental has experienced flooding in recent years and as a result, many businesses have been devastated. The dam provides an opportunity for locals to sell crafts and other traditional materials to tourists and also has the potential for businesses such as bed and breakfasts. I was surprised at all the dam is used for: fishing, water sports, water for irrigation schemes, water that is bought by the municipality and sold to residents for drinking, water that is used for non-drinking purposes (ie, residential gardening) and various scientific endeavors and experiments, such as aquaculture (fish farming).
The dam seemed to be quite useful, but Ms. Boois insisted the dam is under-utilized and has great potential to become a large tourist spot and as a result, economic booster for the town of Mariental. She commented on the campsites and how they needed updating. I, Nichole Rohlfsen, agreed that better facilities would help to attract more business, along with more advertising. But I doubted the dam’s ability to lift up the town of Mariental; I felt as if the dam was seen as sort of the messiah, the potential savior of the town’s woes. Informal settlements were also present in Mariental as was unemployment and the possibility of job creation through the tourism raised interesting possibilities: a way for more people to be employed, but this is dependent on the flow of tourists. Also, Mariental is not largely populated and I feel like there would be competition between different craftsellers, bed and breakfasts, etc if the starting of small businesses for tourism purposes was endorsed. All in all, the dam was a beautiful man-made part of nature that had various uses but the role it plays within the community of Mariental could be helpful or detrimental, depending which way you look at the situation.
On our way to the Berseba Community Campsite, it was hard not to notice the hitchhikers on the side of the road. We picked up a mother and her children who were on their way home. Being on a hidden gravel road, it would have taken her at least a full day, if not more, to walk.
Upon our arrival to the campsite we met Peatrus, the Berseba chairperson and development coordinator. His role was to oversee the construction of the community project and represent the town on political issues. He earned this title by being the second citizen of Berseba. So far, the campsite and project has built a total of four shelters, two fire places, two outhouses and has bought a container for the future storage of water. In an extremely dry and impoverished climate, it was fascinating to see that it took over thirty years, starting in 1984, to achieve such few tasks. With the mountain as the main attraction, they initially hoped to lure tourists for the future development of other projects in Berseba. With a lack of funding and water resources, their ultimate goal of building a lodge seems unlikely to happen any time soon. The difficulty in sustaining a community through ecotourism was a direct reflection of development readings on sustainable tourism and pro-pour tourism.
After camping, the adventurers in the group explored the landscape. Some went for a hike up the mountain, where two of the four shelters had been placed, and the others walked through the streambed. The fierce hike and the scarce water clearly exhibited some of the current development issues. Later on we had been joined by the local HIV/AIDS club to help clear a patch of grass to deter snakes. We took on the role of community members by interacting and working with the curious, energetic singers of Berseba. They taught us songs and dances that they used to reach and teach others about HIV/AIDS. The good byes were difficult, but we held great hopes of continuing our alliance.
The Kambahok project was quite interesting to find and get to. While sitting next to Passat and Linda, I Yedidya Tabanpour, noticed how the language barrier prevented us from obtaining proper directions to the site. We were told to “just go straight.” The issue was our own fear of getting stuck on the sandy road. Luckily, we made it with minor stalls and stops. The community campsite had been run through council of sixteen women, all running individual projects, such as sewing traditional Herero dresses, catering, and camping. Like the previous community campsite, this group hoped to make money through ecotourism. The main attractions were the salt pans and the vivid history of the Nama war against the Germans. Njandee Kazongominja, the chairperson of the project, often found weapons left over from the war. She spoke to us about her project efforts and methods of achieving her goals. For cheap sustainable construction, she used beer bottles to build the walls and tall grass for the roofs of the shelters, bathrooms and workshop. As quick as her warm welcome came, we were off to go back home to complete our upcoming school assignments on our current educational experiences.