Saturday, April 30, 2016

Week Thirteen: Decolonizing our Minds in the “Little Germany” of Namibia

by Luke Beasley, Olivia Cook, and Siri Ericson

Last weekend was spent in the coastal city, Swakopmund, studying foreign investment, colonialism, and the 1904-1908 genocide. The city provided a stark contrast from Windhoek with its distinctly German colonial architecture, cool and humid weather, and array of coffee shops. Overall, our week was filled with new, challenging, and eye-opening experiences as we toured the Walvis Bay Export Processing Zone, Marine Denkmal monument, NamPort, Namibian Dolphin Project, and more.

Here is the controversial Marine
Denkmal monument commemo-
rating German soldiers who died
during the German colonization.
Our first full day in Swakopmund was spent with the political activist, Laidlaw Peringanda. Peringanda took us to the Marine Denkmal monument, a monument that stands in the center of town commemorating German soldiers who died during German colonization. The statue has been criticized for listing the names of German soldiers that committed atrocities against the indigenous peoples and has recently been doused in red paint symbolizing the blood of the thousands of people that were killed by the Germans. Although Peringanda and other activists have lobbied for its removal, the government and community have remained largely resistant to these demands. Throughout the tour, we were continually reminded of the intricate history between Germany and Namibia and the legacy of colonialism that exists today. As we learned about the brutal colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples, we were uncomfortable watching tourists smile and take photos before these statutes without recognition of the violence and injustices these statues represent. 

In this photo you can see the unmarked gravesites of the
OvaHerero/OvaMbanderu people who died during the genocide
of 1904-1908. In the background you can see houses upwards
of 6 million dollars overlooking the mass graves.
Continuing with our critical, decolonial, activist-led tour of Swakopmund, we walked through the gravesite of thousands of OvaHerero/OvaMbanderu people who were killed in the 1904-1908 genocide. The gravesite was clearly divided between a German gravesite neatly marked with tombstones and flowers and a plot of land where the indigenous people had been buried without tombstones. Te mounds of dirt where people were buried almost a century ago can still be seen. There is one single monument commemorating the OvaHerero/OvaMbanderu people who died under “mysterious circumstances”, signifying the government’s slow response in acknowledging the genocide that took place, and another monument in the corner of the gravesite, as far from the German housing settlement as possible. Walking through the gravesite, we imagined what it would be like to live in German houses upwards of 6 million dollars, built over indigenous land and graves, overlooking the graves of thousands of people who died in the genocide. As ATV’s fly by the gravesite without having to be confronted by an inconvenient history, we wondered how individuals teach themselves about this history, as the history of genocide and colonization is largely erased by the public school system and erased as homes are literally built over mass graves that remain unprotected by the government. 

Here is one of the large cargo
vessels that transports goods
from all over the world. I felt
incredibly small next to its
physical size of the vessel and
global implications of trade.
The next day, we started our foggy and overcast Friday morning traveling to the nearby town of Walvis Bay to visit the management company for the Export Processing Zone (EPZ). An EPZ is a free trade zone where companies are allowed to avoid paying taxes to the government on the condition that they are manufacturing a product and exporting the entire product. The idea behind an EPZ is to bring foreign investment into the country in hopes of developing it more by providing favorable conditions for business investors. While there is significant investment coming into the EPZ, many argue that it only minimally benefits Namibia. Our speaker, Jan Kruger, mentioned the EPZ only creates  300 jobs, and the government receives no money from taxes. Namibia’s high unemployment makes 300 new jobs a positive, but for a project that is supposed to help “develop” Namibia it is relatively insignificant. After the presentation about Namibia’s EPZ we had a tour of Namport, a large port in Walvis Bay where goods are loaded and unloaded from container vessels that travel distances ranging from South Africa to Europe. Something we noticed at Namport was dredging, a process of moving sand from the seabed to improve functionality of waterways for the port’s ships and to expand the port. It was very clear that this was an industrial zone from rows upon rows of shipping containers that are usually unloaded and reloaded onto cargo ships within 24 to 48 hours of arrival. Namport’s physical size is very large, but its influence reaches far into central Africa; many of the goods that pass through Namport are sent to landlocked countries in Africa.

Here is the Namibian Dolphin
project. It is a small little
building on the waterfront in
Walvis Bay near a couple little
shops and a nice cafe. Our
speaker was from Ireland
and has been in Namibia
for a year studying dolphins
and the environment.

After our tour, we enjoyed a walk along a beautiful lagoon and hundreds of flamingos. The lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but slightly north is the industrial zone that creates an ugly backdrop unfitting to the natural beauty of the lagoon. While the development does not aesthetically complement the flamingos, it has also harmed the environment and slowly encroached on the Heritage Site. Later when we visited the Namibian Dolphin Project to learn about Namibian dolphins and human impact in the area. For example, we learned about how the constant noise of dredging has harmed the dolphins’ abilities to rely on sound to communicate and hunt. Overall, the day was full of interesting visits and we experienced the juxtaposition between the coast’s industry and nature. We learned about two points of view about industry in Namibia: Economically, the port has provided jobs vital to imports for Southern Africa, but environmentally the industry that is helping the economic environment is damaging the natural one. 

On Saturday, we were given a free day to do what we wanted around Swakopmund. About half the group decided to conquer our fears and go skydiving. It was a nervous twenty minute flight up to 10,000 feet where we were quickly moved to the door with our guide. In a heart-stopping and adrenaline-filled 30 seconds we fell for thousands of feet before our parachute deployed. As the parachute slowed our momentum and we drifted to the ground and were able to fully appreciate the magnificent view that the Namib Desert meeting the Atlantic Ocean provided. It was an incredible ending to a trip that in a few short days gave us so many varied and valuable learning experiences.

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