Friday, November 14, 2014

Week Seven: Namibia’s Struggle for Independence & National Identity

By: Kumari Lewis and Gaby Gretz

In history class on Tuesday, Professor Mburumba Kerina [1] came to speak to us about German colonization and early resistance in Namibia. We were all quite surprised to find out what this man had accomplished in his life: he was the first Namibian to study in the United States, he advocated for Namibian independence at the United Nations, he co-founded South West Africa’s People’s Organization (SWAPO), the currently major-ruling party, and he was the one to give Namibia its name. We were very honored to have the opportunity to speak with him. After reading articles and watching videos about colonization and resistance, it was nice having the chance to hear from someone who was in the presence and the making of the early resistance struggle in Namibia. Kerina started by telling us about Okahanja and how it was the former headquarters of the Herero people. When the Germans came to Okahanja, they told the Herero to move out. In 1904, the Germans initiated a five-year genocide against the Herero people; this is known as one of most vicious conflicts in Southern Africa. Concentration camps were set up all over the country, especially in Swakopmund. On Shark Island, prisoners who were considered too useless to work were thrown into the water to be eaten by sharks. Before this lesson, many of us had not known the dark history that Swakopmund had, and it was especially intriguing to listen knowing that we will be visiting the coastal town in the next coming days. Kerina told us that SWAPO was formed in 1957 in order to assure that the German’s would receive their punishment. However, ever since the genocide occurred, justice has not been served. He believes that the Herero should do as the Jews did after the holocaust by asking for a contribution of some type to help the Herero people get back on their feet, which doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Although, at the same time, I personally believe that nothing, especially money, can completely pay back the horrors lived through during the resistance struggle. And it is clear, even today, that the colonizer’s presence in Namibia will probably never disappear but there is some hope for an integrative society.

When googling Windhoek, one of the first photographs that is displayed is that of the German church prominently placed on top of a hill looking down on the rest of the city. My own photograph of the church is pictured here.

The German Lutheran Church has a relatively tiny congregation of about 200 in regular Sunday attendance, but seems to maintain itself as a central symbol of the city of Windhoek.

This is extremely redolent of the colonial relationship between Germany and Namibia. Although German colonial rule in Namibia has officially ended, Germans still hold a firm grasp on many aspects of Namibian society. Because of the pure nature of colonization this may not be shocking. But when considering that approximately only seven percent of the Namibian population is white while only two percent are German, it is extraordinary how much influence Germans have maintained while also holding onto much of the country’s wealth and controlling many businesses.

During our religion class this past week we met with Pastor Schmidt [2], the head of the congregation at the German Lutheran Church to discuss Christianity within Namibia and learn more specifically about his congregation. What I found particularly interesting is that the services are held solely in German and when asked whether Pastor Schmidt believed it to be a deterrent for Namibians he expressed that he did not believe so. As a group we found this very bizarre because the German language barrier is strongly based on racial lines and it is hard to comprehend how he could not see having the service in German acted as a racial impediment. He then went on to explain that the church did offer services in English for a six month period a few years ago but because there was little to no attendance of non-German speakers, they reverted back to German at all services. If missionaries had followed this example of only staying six months before returning home, it seems unlikely that there would be any Christians in Africa as it took about thirteen years for the first baptism to even occur. From the Namibian perspective, it is very understandable why they did not jump at the opportunity within the six-month period to attend a dominantly white Church service that just so happened to be offered in English instead of German. And while the pastor did verbally advocate for integration, it is saddening how few changes the congregation is making to do so. All in all it was an extremely informative experience and I am very glad that we had the opportunity to speak with the pastor because it is certainly interesting to hear from multiple perspectives regarding the still predominant segregation within Namibia. At this point we can only hope the congregation and the rest of Namibian society will do more to reach out and work toward a more equal and inclusive Namibia. 

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[1] Mburumba Kerinas; Conversation on 30 September 2014, Windhoek, Namibia. 
[2] Pastor Rudolf Schmidt; Conversation on 1 October 2014, Windhoek: Namibia. 

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