Monday, April 12, 2010

Week 7: Classes

Antonio, Martin, Lindsey

In history class, we visited a professor at the University of Namibia who spoke about apartheid from a perspective we had not yet encountered on this program. Dr. Christo Botha gave a realist presentation on the origins, practices and justifications of apartheid. As an Afrikaner who fought against apartheid but whose grandfather campaigned in Namibia for the National Socialist Party, he provided us with a very well-developed and multi-faceted analysis of apartheid. His unique position as a university professor, historical analyst and white Namibian allowed Dr. Botha to speak from a much more objective position than we usually hear from speakers. Obviously his view was not entirely objective, but because he was not part of the oppressed group during apartheid his view was much less emotional and much more factual. His presentation focused primarily on the origins and political development of apartheid rather than the lasting psychological, social and economic effects we generally encounter. When we left UNam, the group continued the dialogue. We realized that although we all understood the power structure of apartheid, until hearing from Dr. Botha, we didn’t fully grasp the roots of apartheid as an institution. Dr. Botha was able to effectively convey the fear white South Africans felt. This fear was manifested in segregationist policies that claimed to provide protection of African culture and give black Africans a road to freedom.

I (Martin) particularly enjoyed this speaker. I believe that he was a very genuine speaker, and was effected by apartheid in a very different way than any other speaker we had in the past. Beacuase of this the history of apartheid that he gave made me think of that time from a very different perspective. His talk highlighted the appalling rhetoric that South African’s believed and used as a basis for a racist policy. They talked of African freedom, and building African culture but what they really wanted was to keep Africans from moving forward into education and employment. It was heartbreaking to hear the way Afrikaans leaders gave speeches, hear how absurd the things they said were, but also know how many people followed those men. It was eye opening in a way none of the other speakers had been on the same subject. It is amazing to me how multiple perspectives can finally put together a picture that was very confusing from only one. Now not only do I know what happened, I know why, which might be most important.

At the end of the week, we visited a San farm as part of our politics class. Earlier in the week, in Urbanus’ class, we learned about land reform and redistribution in Namibia. When we arrived at the San farm, we received a brief introduction from the chief and a visiting government official, Gerson Kamatuka. The farm was essentially a project of the Namibian government aimed at rebuilding the lives of the displaced San people. The relocation of this farm forced the San people to drop many of their traditional practices and conform to a more modern way of life. Traditionally, the San were a nomadic hunting and gathering tribe, but what we saw was a permanent community with concrete houses and tin shacks. The government official present at the farm described the government’s goal as being the development and improvement of life for this group of people. However, many of us struggled with the fact that so many aspects of the San peoples’ lives had been drastically changed and even outlawed (such as hunting). Our apprehensions were confirmed by talking to residents of the farm and from observations we made during our tour. Our tour guide, in particular, revealed that the people had not even been consulted before moving onto the farm. We were quite disturbed by the fact that such a huge change to the San way of life would be undertaken by the Namibian government without even an attempt at consultation. I (Lindsey) personally have been struggling with this contradiction of development. Oftentimes, the results of development-oriented projects do not benefit the people for which they propose to. More theoretically, the San farm visit forced me to consider the point of development. Is the goal of development increased happiness? More stable income? Better resources? Security? More importantly, shouldn’t it be up to the people, rather than the government, to evaluate their own happiness or stability? When development isn’t initiated or demanded by the people themselves, it likely isn’t what the people want; and if the people don’t want it, why is it being done? There are so many contradictions inherent in development that this program has forced me to grapple with. The conflicts between development, modernization, traditional life, Westernization and culture seem almost irreconcilable at this point in the program. However, I hold out hope that with more travel seminars and experiences in Namibia, I will be able to move toward formulating some concrete ideas about the good and bad of development. On Thursday, for History we had Lily Azrat, an American, give a brief overview on American history. I (Antonio) was overall fairly impressed by the way Lily Azrat approached the lecture. Ms. Azrand began the conversation with a brief question and answer session on the numerous ethnic groups, disenfranchised in the U.S. We then took those race issues and compared their similarities to Apartheid. The overall objective of the lecture was to show that racism in America is very similar to South African Apartheid.

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