Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Week 11: Namibia in Retrospect

Allison, Anna, Julia

This week was a transition, as we returned to classes and internships after three weeks of travel and fall break. On Monday, many students continued their internships. Some felt overwhelmed by the amount of work still to be done.

On Tuesday, Politics class focused on the idea of land as a human right and different views on land ownership in the post-colonial era. A land panel presented their views on how Namibian land could be used to benefit the most people. One of the panel presenters, Mrs. Sululu Isaacs, was involved in a legal controversy over a farm curre

ntly owned by an absentee landlord, but pre-Apartheid inhabited by Mrs. Isaacs family. After Mrs. Isaacs was denied permission to bury her mother on this farm, a group named “Ancestral Fire” attempted to reclaim the land, but they were unsuccessful. Mrs. Isaacs’ organization argues that unused land, especially that which has sacred significance, should be returned to the ancestral farmers who had a closer tie to the land. We

also heard from Herald Schutt, a land consultant. He spoke about differences between traditional African views of land and modern attitudes. Controversies over communal versus commercial land, and issues of land distribution in general, comprise a fascinating part of Namibian history and political debate. As is clear from the multitudes of opinions, land reform is a very complex issue. None of us were able to come up with a coherent solution to the problem. While we all sympathized with people like Mrs. Isaacs, we could also recognize the rights of whites to land they had owned for several generations. Like in the United States, there is no easy answer, and we struggled to come up with something that was just for everyone.

On Wednesday, some of us returned to our internships while others attended Religion class. A representative of the Namibian Human Rights Coalition presented his personal beliefs about human rights and explained the role of his organization to prevent these abuses. For example, his organization has worked against the church in issues of homosexual and women’s rights. We all found it refreshing to hear from a Namibian NGO seeking to correct the many problems we have seen throughout the semester. Women still do not have a safe place in all homes in Namibia. Children are still often abused and neglected, and homosexuals are a taboo category. To see so many groups still marginalized in a country that prides itself on a democratic constitution is scary for all of us. Just legislation demanding equal rights is not enough.

On Thursday in our Racism and Resistance class, we visited the National Archives, where we saw historical maps of Namibia and spoke of the pre-colonial tribal movement. In the afternoon, we went to the UN headquarters in Namibia and listened to a presentation that showed the change in the HDI in post-independence Namibia. In particular, many of us were shocked to see how much the average lifespan, income, school enrollment and quality of life fell because of the widespread affects of HIV/AIDS. On the bright side, however, the destructive course of the disease seems to be slowing down and in a few cases reversing, and literacy in the country has increased. Ultimately, most of us left the talk sobered by the toll that the disease has taken on the country but hopeful that recovery has begun.

Friday’s Development class featured a speaker on the role of women during and after the liberation struggle. Women’s contributions were limited to the Youth League, or to domestic tasks, such as braaiing. These braais were very effective in disguising political meetings that would otherwise have been banned. Women also contributed greatly to the exposure of domestic issues during this time. Coming from the United States, where women have made great strides towards equal rights, many of us were appalled by the lack of these in many aspects of Namibian life. It was difficult to comprehend the many ways women are threatened by issues like domestic violence and HIV even today.

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