Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Week 5: Legacies of Colonialism

Rachel, Allison, Anna

The legacies of colonialism and apartheid still shape much of Namibian culture and society. This week we examined this from a variety of perspectives. On Monday, we continued our internships and volunteering. Rachel, working as an intern at Friendly Haven, was struck by how closely domestic abuse and poverty are related. Anna also came to the realization that feelings of helplessness are perpetuated by ensconced racial and economic barriers, which manifest themselves in poverty. This is one of the direct causes of gender based violence and child abuse in Namibia. Even after their conclusion, colonialism and apartheid left people--in particular adult males--hopeless. It is easy to view this situation as one sided especially when you are presented with the innocent victims. These are amazing women and children who are caught in a virtually inescapable situation. But this is not a black and white issue. The prevalence of the violence makes it clear that it is at least in part a result of a system of oppression, and it will not be fixed until the system is ultimately overhauled.

Tuesday’s Political Science class focused on the idea that the poor education of the indigenous people was an intentional creation of the colonial powers. The Bantu education system used language barriers to create a class of servants rather than scholars. Our speaker for this class, Mr. Elia Manga, the deputy director of the Ministry of Education, talked about what the current inadequacies are (early dropout and failure rates, school fees, inefficient allocation of funds) and what improvements are being attempted. Specifically, he told us about an online school that dropouts can use to try to continue their education. Although Apartheid has ended in name, its legacy continues to separate people based on class and race. Until there is a system in which all Namibians have equal access to education and opportunity, the system of separation and resentment will not end. It is crucial to be aware of the inequalities, and to address them directly. Pretending that the educational system is adequate will never fix the problems within it, and believing that all Namibians are equally protected under law will mean that the inequalities will never be addressed. We, in conjunction with Namibians, need to speak up about the injustices that we have been privileged enough to be educated about.

The written history of the colonial period has left many Namibians and foreigners with the impression that pre-colonial Africa was a godless society. Though Europeans brought Christianity to Africa, it was readily embraced by the indigenous societies in part because it resembled traditional religions. Our Religion speaker, the Reverend Kristoph, emphasized the fact that nearly all pre-colonial societies had a concept of a supreme being that Christians would call God. We did, however, spend much of the class discussing whether or not comparing the traditional religions to Christianity detracted from the religions in their own right. We came to the conclusion that while the colonial imposition of Christianity might have been problematic, it does not give us the right to question the faith of modern Africans. They best understand their own religions, and we must trust their opinions above all in a consideration of the overlap between indigenous religions and Christianity. Africans may have been coerced into Christianity at one point, but now it belongs to them, and they have adapted as well as integrated it.

In History class on Thursday, we listened to Uncle Paul discuss the role he played in the liberation struggle as a member of SWAPO. We had another speaker from Breaking the Wall of Silence who chronicled her tale of torture by the SWAPO party. Many students walked away from the class with troubled and conflicting ideas about how SWAPO influenced the liberation struggle. Though SWAPO's influence was instrumental in gaining liberation for thousands of people, they did so at the price of human rights for many others. In this case the question becomes do the means justify the ends? What are we willing to give up for freedom? Is freedom really just another word for nothing left to lose?

Development class on Friday finally put a more positive spin on the week. We went to the Basic Income Grant office to learn more about the grant and what it has done for the test village in which it was implemented. Overall, the BIG seems to have been effective at helping to alleviate poverty In the test village, Omitara/Otjibero, the program has been running since January 2008. The changes in the town have been immense. Malnutrition among children has decreased, independent businesses have started up, and drop-out rates have greatly declined. The BIG is an effective way to alleviate poverty and allows for a completely reasonable amount of redistribution of income. We then discussed how the concepts of economic-dominated minorities apply in Southern Africa. These groups represent a very small sector of the population but control a large majority of the economic resources. Despite the popularly elected government, the descendants of colonists still control the vast majority of the economy and means of production. This leads to continuing racial barriers and separation. It is hard for us to understand Namibian whites are not doing more to aid the economy. For example, Rachel was shocked to hear rich Namibians claiming that they were not interested in the BIG, because they were unwilling to sacrifice any of their privilege for the basic needs of others.

No comments: