Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sun, Sand, and Uranium

Authors: Claire, Kristen, Patrick
Week 6: 21-27 February

This week was a busy one for CGE students. After a partial week of classes and internships, we headed to the Atlantic coast. It was relaxing to sit on the beach and climb Dune 7, but we also dealt with such topics as ethical mining practices, disabled children, and the Export Processing Zone.

One of the experiences that stood out to us the most during our trip to Swakopmund was the tour of the Rossing Uranium Mine. (Open pit at Rossing Uranium Mine, over 400m deep)

The Rossing Uranium Mine is just outside the town of Arandis, about 70 km inland from Swakopmund. It is the third largest producing uranium mine in the world and contributes to Namibia being the fourth largest uranium producer in the world.

I (Claire) work in a health clinic for my internship, so hearing about the health clinic at Rossing was really interesting for me. At my internship, the clinic is understaffed and they do not have the resources to provide the necessary services. There is a shortage of qualified nurses and doctors in Namibia, and the services are lacking as a result. Many nurses and doctors go abroad to work because the pay is better. In addition, the private sector draws talented health professionals away from the public sector. However, at Rossing there was a fully-staffed health clinic that provided necessary services to the mine employees. Every employee receives a full medical checkup every year and then are referred to other health professionals as needed.

Rossing’s clinic is most likely contributing to healthcare professionals working in the private sector as opposed to the public sector. I wonder if instead Rossing can invest money into a local clinic and refer their employees there in order to support the local community as well as their staff.

Another aspect of the Rossing Uranium Mine that stood out to us was the positive economic impact that the mine has on the local economy. According to our tour guide, the mine is “tied to the prosperity of the Namibian people,” and this certainly seemed to be true, at least for the region of Erongo. Rossing employs over 1500 permanent workers, and over 98% of these are Namibian. Rossing also contributes to many different programs in the communities of Arandis, Swakopmund, and Walvis Bay. Some of these include the Erongo House of Safety, Project Shine, Swakopmund Neighborhood Watch, and the Namibian Women’s Summit. All of these programs provide necessary services to society and are largely funded by Rossing.

Learning about the positive economic impact that Rossing has on the community complicated things for me (Kristen). I have always been firmly convinced of the negative environmental influences of mines, and believe that there must be alternative energy sources that would not negatively affect the environment. While I did not learn about the environmental impact of Rossing, hearing about all the good they are doing for the community has forced me to reevaluate my opinions on mining. I can no longer just think that mines are terrible, and mining as an economic practice should be abandoned. Instead, I have to balance this opposing information to figure out what I think about mines now.

Another aspect that stood out to us was curiosity about how the communities of Arandis, Swakopmund, and Walvis Bay will be affected by the eventual closure of the mine. The life of the mine keeps being extended, partially due to the increased worldwide demand for uranium, but at some point the mine will close. How will these communities survive without the mine? Once the mine closes thousands of people will be affected, from those suddenly unemployed to the social services that no longer have funding. For now the mine has a positive impact on the community, but the future of these communities seems too dependent on a mine that will close in the near future.

Another interesting aspect of the week was religion class. The religion class visited Christuskirche, the 100 year old German Lutheran Church in the middle of Windhoek. The congregation is primarily white, German-speaking Namibians, and their church services reflect this ethnic heritage. Pastor Rudolf Schmid talked to our class about the history of Christuskirche and the issues surrounding the congregation today.

Plaque at Christuskirche commemorating German Lutherans killed in conflict with Hereros from 1904-1910).

This congregation has strong links to Germany and, as a result, individuals seem reluctant to adapt to the non-German population in Namibia. The role of the pastors also contributes to this reluctance to adapt. Generally, pastors at Christuskirche come from Germany for six years and then return to their churches in Germany. Several members of our class thought that the six year limit on pastors at this church did not allow the pastor to become involved in the community. Pastor Schmid commented that he found it difficult to attempt to change his congregation, partly because of the short time frame he could be in leadership.

This statement, along with other comments about how the congregation is still very white and has not adapted to the end of Apartheid, was controversial for our class. Some students were very critical about Pastor Schmid, asking why he did not work harder to change his church. Other students have experienced how difficult it can be to change churches, especially when their members do not want to change. We all recognize that the lasting effects of Apartheid can still be seen in Namibian society but when it comes to religion, we have different opinions of how the church as an institution should be changing and adapting.

Another controversial aspect of Christuskirche was the plaque on the wall of the sanctuary that listed the German Lutherans killed between 1904 and 1910. This was controversial for us because we have learned about the Herero War in history as an ethnic cleansing by the Germans, in which thousands of Hereros and Namas were killed. Does this memorial belong in a place of worship? Some students compared it to commemorating Nazis killed during World War II. Although this memorial honors their ethnic heritage, it does so at the expense of those who were massacred.

This last week has given us new perspectives on the role of mining in the Namibian economy and the conflicts surrounding the different churches in Namibia.

(CGE group after conquering Dune 7. Dune 7 is outside of Walvis Bay, and is one of the tallest sand dunes in the world)

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