Thursday, 5 January 2017

Namibia – The weird ways of Windhoek

December 21-22

Hello everyone!

After a lovely and relatively relaxing week or so in Western Cape, the time had come for me to leave South Africa. My next destination was the country to the immediate north: Namibia. Definitely not Zimbabwe, in spite of what you see below…

Mugabe: not Namibian

A surprisingly-pleasant 23 hour bus journey took me from Cape Town to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital and largest city. It was uneventful apart from the Christian message being rammed down your throat by the TV every couple of hours and the difficult gentlemen who searched my bags at the border. The first kept complaining that my big backpack had too many pockets; the second requested the receipt for my laptop which was bought in the UK a long time ago, then demanded I take the laptop to customs for ‘registration’. The latter kept asking, “Man, why you being so difficult?”
“Man, why are you not answering my questions?” was my ever-so-diplomatic response.

Surprisingly comfortable for what turned out to be a 23 hour ride
Bible quotes adorned the screens and blasted through the speakers,
though this was later replaced by the film about Eddie the Eagle

Sunrise brought a new frontier, one which resembled barren wasteland. I will be exploring more of Namibia’s landscape later in the trip but I can assure you that there is more spectacular scenery to see.

First sunrise in Namibia

I had two days in Windhoek, most of which were spent trying to organise the rest of my two weeks in Namibia. Normally one to plan in advance, I’d been scuppered in my desire to rent a car by my lack of a credit card (silly me for not spending beyond my means and getting into an unbreakable spiral of debt).

Unless you're trying to rent a car...

One interesting feature I did notice whilst walking from place to place in the over-30°C heat (startling when you consider Windhoek is 1600m above sea level) are the city’s road signs. More specifically, the street names.

Louis Pasteur: not much of a connection to this part of the world

I know a lot of cities use street names to honour important people but Windhoek has taken this to a new level. It reminded me of the ludicrous number of statues in Skopje, Macedonia. Whoever had the responsibility of naming these ways clearly had a penchant for classical music in addition to including various politicians.

Lot of musical talent honoured in Windhoek
In terms of major roads in Windhoek, we go from the obvious…

Sam Nujoma was the first President of Namibia after independence

…to the understandable…

…to the seemingly ridiculous.

I know enough about African history to appreciate that Mugabe was – was – a very popular leader in his younger years, banging the anti-colonial drum with gusto. Zimbabwe is also quite close to Namibia. But Castro? Really?

Maybe Putinstrasse will be here soon too

Actually, I need to clarify what I said in the previous paragraph. I know enough about some aspects of African history, from my degree module and reading travel books. However, I’ll be honest at this point. I knew next to nothing about Namibia. For example, I knew it was a colony but wasn’t aware that it spent most of the twentieth century as property of South Africa. Yes, the South Africa which was also part of a greater empire used to have colonies of its own.

South Africa saw Namibia as a 'fifth province'

I thus decided to spend some of my limited free time in Windhoek at the National Museum to learn more about the country. What I found didn’t seem to offer much help…

The dilapidated nature of the shutters made it feel like a ghost town

…until a security officer helpfully pointed out that this was the former National Museum: the new one was in a shiny Kazakh-esque building around the corner. Why she decided to withhold this information until I’d spent five minutes peeking around the decrepit building is beyond me.

The actual museum

The actual museum is fascinating, if a little nationalistic and possibly one-sided. I wonder if they learnt that from some of the leaders their future president fraternised with when in exile…

Language and imagery I would associate with communism...
Sam Nujoma, future Namibian president,
with Kim Il-Sung of North Korea
The patriotic tone is unsurprising, considering the country is younger than me. Namibia got its independence in 1990.

It may also be due to its recent harrowing past. The previous hundred years were characterised by overseas control (firstly the Germans, then the South Africans), racial discrimination and the destruction of the numerous tribes spread across this vast swathe of land.

A photo of Luderitz, a settlement in the south-west, in the late
nineteenth century
A painting depicting a German attack
Even genocide. Widely accepted to be the first case of mass murder of a race with intent to exterminate, the Germans decimated the local Herero tribe in the Namibian War of 1904-8, interning and slaughtering many both on the battlefield and in concentration camps. The pictures are horrific but I haven’t included the worst ones on the blog. The statistics are damning (see the book). I don’t know whether it was done on purpose but that section of the museum was pitch black; it certainly conveyed the black mood and thoughts associated with it.

Many Herero were initially kept as prisoners of war
The German general surrounded by Herero bodies

The South Africans won control of South West Africa in 1915 and were soon to implement the apartheid way of life which suppressed so many in their own country. They committed their own atrocities in Namibia as well, leading anti-government rebels (the SWAPO) to undertake guerrilla resistance attacks from the other side of the Angolan border. It transpires that this is the Fidel Castro link; Cuba sent soldiers to assist SWAPO's fight in the late 1970s.

An artist's impression of the aftermath of a South African
military air strike

Aside from the museum, there isn’t too much to explore in Windhoek. The architecture varies wildly, highlighting the German and differing African influences on the city. The crafts are interesting but probably pricier than other places in the country.

The Christuskirche

Windhoek hasn’t left much of an impression on me. There’s a reason people come here to stock up on supplies and then head away as soon as possible. But the museum is worth a visit to gain an understanding of what this relatively new country has suffered through to claim its independence. Maybe I’m being too harsh on Windhoek here as a place to visit. I guess if I’d written a loving eulogy about the capital, I’d probably have a street named after me in due course…

Love you all


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