Friday, September 19, 2014

Week Four: Race In Today's Namibia

By: Harry Summers and Ben Williams            

Our fourth week here at CGE Namibia has been one full of learning opportunities and experiential exploration. After settling into Windhoek, we were ushered out into the local community. This week, all ten students participated in an urban home stay that placed us in a home with a family in the Windhoek, Namibia area for one week. I was lucky enough to be placed in a home that had a mom and two sons – both of whom were in their early twenties; twenty-one and twenty-three to be exact. I stayed in Khomasdal, the 'colored' section of Windhoek. My stay in this part of Windhoek afforded me a detailed look into the inner workings of a society still deeply enthralled by the racial question. Even though I understand the factual knowledge that Namibia liberated itself from apartheid's grip just twenty four short years ago, it was still riveting to experience living in an area that was partitioned off based solely on race. In Windhoek, there are multiple parts of town. This racial question is not just one that governs social structures; it defines political life as well. Politics in Namibia are based on racial and tribal affiliations.

In our history class about racism and resistance, we visited the Owela Museum where we learned about some of the major tribes in Namibia. Included in this grouping were the Himba, San, Hererro and Nama amongst others. The museum provided a perspective on each of these group's lifestyles and histories, as well as some of their rituals and customs. Seeing these differing cultures allowed us to not only form a historical basis of understanding of Namibia's diverse group of people, but also to begin to understand why people view themselves as so different. Yes, it is important to understand similarities and difference between groups, but we must also consider how much of the differences amongst the groups are perceived differences as a result of "divide and conquer" policies of colonial agents. This policy sought to separate the natives from each other based on tribal identities. Colonial agents did this because it would be easier to take advantage of natives if they were separate and bickering rather than standing together on a united front.  In today's society, it is important to question whether this policy still affects the racial structure and how others interact with each other.

Racism does not adhere to national boarders. It is a universal truth that emanates from all corners of society, from all different types of people and from every socio-economic class. The United States of America and Namibia share a commonality in that racism has become an accepted institution bent on keeping those who have the power in control and those who do not in control. In our weekly Racism and Resistance in Southern Africa and the United States course we watched a film named "The Color of Fear" as well as heard a lecture from Tim Wise on white privilege. As a white man who has never experienced discrimination based on the color of my skin i found these films both fascinating and appalling. How can a country that deems itself 'the land of the free' be so set on practices that continuously alienate an entire part of the society, lessen its full potential by granting unequal educations and health care to minorities? What was the most striking was the massive amount of unawareness by the white community, the lack of recognition that racism and institutional racism were even still problems in 21st century America.  

Namibia experiences its own racism in the sense that the white minority holds the majority of the country's wealth and where a predominantly Black parliament has not moved to change this fact in over two decades. Instead we see a system of the few Black elite in power taking advantage of their newfound positions and filling their pockets with state funds while the majority of their country suffers. For example when he visited our class, a University of Namibia political science professor informed us that $880 million dollars is currently missing from the Parliamentary national coffers, mostly from social security funds of the working class who rely on these accounts for their retirement. This is not surprising given the amount of tribal racism in the country left over from old pre-colonial grievances. What is seen is an institutional racism between the different tribes, such as the Owambo people making up the majority of the South West Africa People’s Organization SWAPO, holding out positions for only those that come from the same heritage. What is to be done about Racism? How can humanity move forward and shed these old stereotypes that have plagued our species since we first developed organized societies? The answer is not obvious; the answer will not be discovered in the near future. All one can do is to continuously raise awareness, not let the issue become stale and keep the conversation going.

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