Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Week 9: Flying High


Post by James Repp

After a great but somewhat isolated five days on a farm on the outskirts of Khorixas, I think everyone (myself included) was looking forward to the relative freedom that came with being on the coast. While we had plenty on our CGE agenda, we still got the chance to eat at some great restaurants, climb a massive sand dune, and have a day all to ourselves. I spent mine kayaking at Walvis Bay (with a great showing of seals and a few dolphins), skydiving on the outskirts of Swakopmund and enjoying a large meal of sushi and other seafood at a restaurant over the ocean. It was a wonderful day of adventure, trying new things, and enjoying the best of what coastal Namibia had to offer. However, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but thinking that these great privileges remain out of reach for a large portion of Namibians, and that while I was soaring through the clouds there are many just trying to get on their feet.

Swakopmund is no Windhoek in terms of scale, with an estimated sixty thousand people compared to the over two hundred thousand of the capital, but having lived in the still very segregated Windhoek for about a month and a half now, it was fascinating to see the same scars of Apartheid in what first appeared to be a charming coastal paradise. We were staying about two blocks from the ocean, in walking distance of the city center and all the great shops, caf├ęs and restaurants nestled within. However, on our first full day we got to have a tour of the former township of Mondesa and the DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community), and got a much fuller account of what it meant to live on the coast of Namibia.

It was an incredible experience, but most Namibians don’t get the chance to fly so high.
Mondesa very much resembled Katutura and the DRC the informal settlements of Windhoek, and the parallels did not stop there. In our politics and development courses, the issues of a stubborn high unemployment and land distribution, both legacies of the apartheid government’s rule, still dominate most Namibians’ lives. While we’ve read and heard that the government is working hard to solve the unemployment problem with programs like TIPEEG (an employment program implemented by the government that created around 10,000 jobs), and striving to become an “industrialized nation” by 2030, the situation has not much improved for those on the outskirts of town. If anything, the problems continue to mount as more and more move from the rural north to the coast looking for work.

Unfortunately, that work is very hard to come by, especially for those who live kilometers from the city center. The two large industries in Swakopmund are the tourism and mining industries. Tourism comes in the form of all the activities around the city (skydiving, kayaking, cruises etc.) and the mining happens at Rossing Uranium Mine, but even combined, these two don’t offer nearly enough employment opportunities to support the growing population. Walvis Bay has a strong fishing industry and is home to one of the largest ports in southern Africa, but the problem there is the same.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. I saw incredible signs of hope during our stay, and believe that the Namibian people have the skills and the will to overcome the heavily stacked table set before them. We heard an A Cappella group made up of local young men who have turned their passion of singing into an employment option. We saw toddlers learning their ABCs and behaving amazingly at Lucky’s Kindergarten, where only one woman looks over fifty kids. We walked through the Walvis Bay Community Shelter and saw abandoned children getting a second chance for a home because of the hard work of the staff there. These signs are good, and if Namibia can capitalize on its status as an attractive tourist destination, as well as the government get their act together, I believe that one day the wonders of this great country can become accessible to its people and not just its visitors.

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