‘The Future of Work’ 1 S T M AY 2 0 1 9 |
‘The Future of Wor k’ This is a new interdisciplinary publication curated by Kaleni Kollectiv, a collective of Namibian and German artists. This volume was produced in corporation with the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen as part of the 2019 trans-national festival project. The project is funded by TURN, a programme of the Cultural Foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Owela collaborations include the National Theatre of Namibia, Goethe Institute Namibia, the National Arts Council of Namibia, the Rose Luxemburg Foundation and the National Art Gallery of Namibia. Owela is an Oshiwambo name of a popular game played in various African and Arabic communities. The name Owela also implies other types of domestic and strategic games played in local communities. This game has been studied as a social feature of migration. For example, migrant labourers in Southern Africa played it as part of their leisure time. Owela Museum in Windhoek offers the following translations: ||hus, Xoros - Khoekhoe Gowab Omunye; Otjitoto - Otjiherero Thuskae - Hai||om Wera - Rukwangali This game is a point of departure for the collective to reflect on historic intersectional worker struggles and solidarities around the world. This first volume has holds contributions from different scholars and practitioners working in areas of artistic and performance praxis, critical spatial praxis, radical histories and queerfeminist activisms. It is a critical reflection and invitation to imagine futures that suggest trans-historic and transtemporal decolonial praxis, an overdue assignment. This is a free of charge publication. KALENI KOLLECTIV: Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja För Künkel Julia Wissert Hildegard Titus Nelago Shilongoh Trixie Munyama Veronique Mensah Ndinomholo Ndilula Esmeralda Cloete PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Sabine Reich Jenny Kandenge Lavinia Kapewasha DESIGN & LAYOUT: Betty Sibeso at BM Design Studio TRANSLATIONS: Isabell Höckel
This Owela installation, a tribute to migrant laborers was created by Shikongo Moses. This installation was part of the 2015 Diver-City Public Art intervention, a site-specific project by University of Namibia’s Visual and Performing Arts Department and John Muafangejo Art Centre. Picture Vanessa Roolfing.
CONTRIBUTORS: Asher Gamedze, Koni Benson, Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, Beauty Boois, Keith Black, Haymich Olivier, Florence /Khaxas, Elrico Gawanab, Nayasha KuchekanaChirau, Nesindano Namises, Veronique Mensah, Prince K. Marenga, Hage Mukwendje, Renata Gaspar, För Künkel, Nambowa Malua, Martin Namupala, Natache Iilonga, Shomwatala Shivute, Oupa Sibeko, Isabel Katjavivi, Vilho Nuumbala, Tina Schönheit, Tuli Mekondjo, Vitjitua Ndjiharine, Helen Harris.
Produced by the Kaleni Kollectiv in co-production with the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, funded by the TURN Fund, a program of the Cultural Foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The cover photo by Alexander von Hirschfeld, is a historic image of women constructing the railway in central Namibia. Although this is a representation of forced labor during the German-Namibian War 1904 – 1908, it
No parts of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in
also complicates the narrative of contract migrant labor which is often written along the lines of men, leaving
any form or by any means, without the prior permission from the
women at home, to go and work. This photograph is part of a wider collection at Museum am Rothenbaum
contributors of this publication.
Kulturen und Künste der Welt ©MARKK, (Inv. Nr. 2018.1:298).
© Contributors and Owela Team, 2019.
T he Fut ur e o f Wo r k
Fellemon Ndongo performing The Art of Living at College of the Arts as part of 2016 Oudano Afro Lab workshop. Photo: Hildegard Titus.
A poster by Nicole Benade at the Old Location memorial site in Hochland Park, Windhoek. Apart from this being a historical site, it is also a place where young and old men wait to be picked up by potential temporary employers for cheap labour. The artist responded to this to make a link between sex work, worker exploitation and unemployment in contemporary Namibia. This project was also part of the Diver-City Public Art Intervention, a UNAM-JMAC collaboration. Photo: Vanessa Roolfing.
Ndinomholo Ndilula performing The Last Judgement at College of the Arts as part of 2016 Oudano Afro Lab.
Nelago Shilongoh performing Umbilical Cord at College of the Arts as part of 2016 Oudano Afro Lab workshop.
Photo: Hildegard Titus.
Photo: Hildegard Titus.
Expose Artistic Black futures Research Lab Creating within the now now - KALENI KOLLECTIVE, 2017
What is the importance of art for black people throughout the world? I would prefer to address it in a very vague sense. It is the creation of the space in which making is possible that is so crucial. And to create those spaces, we must do the impossible and find each other in the cracks of the system – find each other as wholes beings who remain whole within the world against all odds. From this impossibility, creation emerges. -Thulile Gamedze
We, artists from Germany and Namibia, want to create an artistic research lab in which we create new, innovative and transgressive art, which defies the current hegemonic structures and gazes. Over the course of one year we are going to meet in five workshops, twice in Germany and three times in Namibia, for three to four weeks, to play and work with each other. The question at the centre is: Is Collaboration also Cultural Resistance? We are developing this research lab in Namibia, where Black people have been missionized, enslaved and murdered by German military. The traces of this social and geographical violation of the land and its people are still visible in the architecture as well as the structure of society. These colonial continuities are the link between our two cultures. Structural racism and the process of racialization, as a social relationship of dominance to maintain the power of white bodies, exploit and dehumanize Black people in order to benefit whites.
MICROCOSMS OF IMPOSSIBILITY, RULED BY BLACK PEOPLE When we enter our local art spaces their architecture screams our colonial history. The posters show white artists and the narratives presented focus on white perspectives. All these structural forms of oppression are left unchallenged by most of our fellow white artists. Even more so whenever this structural discrimination and the reproduction of racism in these spaces is contested or protested our white colleagues feel their “artistic freedom” is being cut by a group of sentimental, emotional Black people or people of Colour. As Ruth Frankenberg notes white people always view themselves as non-racial or racially neutral. Furthermore whiteness is,” ...a set of locations that are historically, socially, politically and culturally produced and (...) intrinsically linked to unfolding relations of domination.” To overthrow these existing structural inequalities we want to create an “impossible space” as the Artist Thulile Gamedze calls it. A space where those people often unseen feel seen, a space that focuses on otherwise marginalised narratives and phantasies. A space, where Black artists create. We will use our art to communicate our worlds and collaboratively research approaches to living and thinking our futures
„For me, this future is about microcosms of impossibility, ruled by black people– myths– with ideas that produce spaces that produce things that produce ideas that produce spaces that produce ideas and so on. It is easier than we think to invite people to come and make things with us in our personal parallel universes.“ -Thulile Gamedze
We will use our individual professional backgrounds to go beyond what we can individually, creatively imagine at this point. Each working period will end with an event that reflects our experiences and invites the community to partake in the process. We will apply a different format each time, drawing a concept from the individual needs and narratives of the location of our collaborative practice.
IDEAS THAT PRODUCE SPACES THAT PRODUCE THINGS THAT PRODUCE IDEAS THAT PRODUCE SPACES THAT PRODUCE THINGS THAT PRODUCE IDEAS The final part of this process will be the creation of a handbook for resistance and subversion of hegemonic art spaces. We will merge our individual experiences, the work results and articles by guest contributors, into this manifesto. This is our contribution to spreading the idea of collaborative resistance and methods for creating „impossible“ spaces for artists.
WHO NO KNOW GO KNOW.
Tuli-Mekondjo & Helen Harris
Ovakwanaidhi/ Those of the grass, a street performance is a 4-minute video recording of a live performance that took place in 2018. In this work Tuli Mekondjo walks on Independence avenue carrying a woven grass basket on her head. From the basket she carefully lays out many discreet, individual pieces of wet clay each shaped like a cow. Over the course of the performance she destroys these pieces while looking at a cell phone. The clay is then re-amalgamated into one large cow. This artwork represents something more complex than the simple erasure of tradition. In her work Mekondjo is speaking to a re-shaping and a re-moulding that is violent but also resilient. Mekondjo asserts a link with a pre-colonial past that, over time, has not so much eroded, as evolved. HH: This work existed first in the form of a live performance and then transmuted through recording into a secondary piece, the video. Do you think of the video as a work in its own right or as just a recording of a work? TM: I suppose the video could pass as an artwork on its own. When I asked Vilho (Vilho Nuumbala) to do the recording for me, I didn’t have a script to direct him on how I wanted the performance to be documented. I was hoping that, since the performance was on a busy street, whatever Vilho captured with his camera would be random and not ‘’stylized’’ or choreographed. I was amazed by the response, the moment I stopped and placed my basket on the pavement, strangers stopped walking and formed a crowd, they took out their cell phones and started recording what was happening. I didn’t expect a crowd. The video is an artwork in itself, it records the mundane act of ‘’crowd forming’’. What triggers the need to stop and look/investigate as a collective? Why was it important for some viewers to record the performance with their phones instead of capturing it with their eyes? Does it make more sense to view the performance through the screen of a smartphone? The recording captured not only a performance but also the current state of thinking in this age of technology and electronic devices. HH: I would like to know more about the costume that you wear in the video, from the other works I have seen of yours costume seems to play a central role. Relating to this I also wonder if when you perform or photograph yourself, are you creating a persona/ character, or do you see this as an expression of your individual identity? Of course, it could be both or neither. TM: Yes, being in costume is very important to me because I have a fascination with costumes made from natural/organic materials. I’m always impressed by the ingenuity and creativity of the many diverse cultures/tribes living on the African continent and how our hands are capable of inventing beautiful costumes from natural fibres. Before cloth/fabric was introduced widely on the continent (even though some tribes were expert weavers of cloth) amazing attires were made from tree bark for traditional rituals, dance, every-day-wear and story-telling (kishikish/animal totems). My costume is not only an expression of individuality or creating a character. I’m very much paying homage to my clan’s totem, which is grass (maternal side) which I find very interesting because it is a plant, most totems are animals. I like using raffia because it is organic and very much resembles a type of grass in colour. Whenever I put on the raffia costume, I’m reminded of my own fragility and that I am also made up of organic matter. I am also reminded of the resilience of grass and how it is fodder for cattle. There is this unique dependency between the two (grass and cattle). I’m proud to belong to a plant totem because I’m organic, shooting from the soil and sustaining life. Being in costume also allows me to question how we (Aawambo) had lost the art of creating organic attire made from cow hides and plant fibres (Oihanango’s coming -of- age costumes during olufuko) due to the introduction of Christianity. Have we lost this art forever? Will there be a revival? HH: I saw an image on social media in which you wore a similar costume and wore horns on your head. The image was accompanied by the Okahenene song in the caption. Can you tell me more about the image? Is it documentation of another performance, is this a growing body of work? TM: The image on social media is documenting myself trying to connect the two totems of ‘’Ovakwanangobe’’ (cow totem) and ‘’ Ovakwanaidi’’ (grass totem). This image also documents my thought process of creating a performance idea and to test the costumes. Everything is connected in that image, from the Okahenene song, which was sung by the girls during olufuko, the sacrificing of cattle during special events such as funerals/ weddings/ olufuko etc. I realized the importance of intertwining customs and rituals and how cattle are central within the Aawambo state of being and survival. HH: I am hesitant to talk about cattle as purely symbolic because of the very real and tangible role that they still play in people’s lives. Of course, in the realm of art making everything has the potential to take on symbolic meaning, do you think you might be able to define this meaning a little further for me? TM: Well, to me cattle represent the embodiment of the spirits of the ancestors. Cattle are both the pulse and lifeline, they are a symbol of the wealth of lineage. During some traditional spiritual rituals, a completely black bull would be slaughtered as an offering to the ancestors and to appease the spirits in conflict. In some special cases the cries/howling of cattle is the
bearer of good or bad news. Symbolism will always remain central during my process of art making and when I look at traditional Oshiwambo folklore and mythological stories about ‘’Omakishi’’ and about the physical and spiritual embodiments of the various clans’ totems for example, I have discovered valuable information that inspires my work and enables my mind/ soul to dream and that has helped me come up with symbolically infused performances. I have discovered that I’m able to think of a mahangu field and in that process I came up with an idea for a performance about ‘’Wamadu’’, she is mythical and is the embodiment of the dirt we toil to grow mahangu from. HH: One of the things I enjoyed in the film was seeing people filming you with their cell phones as you performed. In some way it seemed as if they were performing with you. Do you think that this work can be re-performed or was it final in that moment? Have you thought about different contexts in which it might be performed? TM: You know, first and foremost I like to see myself as a ‘’canvas artist’’ and everything else, the performances that I do, are an extension of whatever is left on the canvas and vice versa. I can never say that the performances are final because after reviews and self-critism, I always discover new elements that I can add on. I really like the idea of doing the street performance again in a darkened room, with a single light source hanging from the ceiling, the idea would be to focus only on the clay cows for example. HH: You have spoken about your work as Janus-faced. Always holding two sides. Could you describe those two sides a little further in relation to this work? TM: Our existence is Janus-faced, if there’s a lack of reflection of where we come from, where we are at the present moment, we would lack imagination of where we are going. My work will always reflect on the past because I am trying to understand who I am and how I relate to customs and traditions in this present moment. Even though we are evolving culturally, it is important to preserve where we come from because that will always remain our cultural blueprint. HH: In the artwork the clay transforms from many discreet, individual pieces into one large piece. The destruction that takes place is followed by a re-making, a reamalgamation. Is this resolution a hope for the future or a reflection on the present? TM: I would like to believe it is both a hope for the future and a reflection of the present and the past. The many cows represent a people that were at some point deeply rooted within their culture, customs, rituals and belief systems before converting to Christianity. During the process of transitioning to Christianity, a ‘’death of the coiffures’’ emerged, heads were clean shaven, hairstyles that represented a gateway to womanhood and manhood were burnt to ashes, representing a ‘’death’’ of rituals and a ‘’birth’’ of modernity rooted in Christianity. Traditional names were abandoned and Christian names were embraced. The large single cow is a reflection of the present and a hope for the future. Even though Christianity was embraced, Aawambo people are very much still connected to most of their cultural belief systems. I would like to imagine that in the present times Christianity and traditional customs are both respected and there is a strong emphasis to pass on important rituals/ customs to the next generation. I’m using the cattle as symbolic sign of regeneration, not only in the physical sense but a spiritual reawakening and to reconnect with our ancestors through our various clan totems. HH: In your work you draw from many sources, however in the final piece you are alone. Do you think of your work as collaborative in some way? TM: It’s an interesting question that I’m suddenly thinking deeply about. I suppose one could also conclude that, even though I am alone during the performances, it’s very much a cultural collaboration because I’m drawing inspiration not only from my cultural beliefs but also from the various rituals/ structures within the customs (eg: coming of age ceremonies, the role of the “onganga”, child naming ceremonies) and the day-to day struggles of the ordinary women toiling the soil, raising children and still remaining the backbones of their homesteads, communities and preserving cultural customs/ beliefs. It would be a shame to isolate my practice or to dismiss the notion that I am in collaboration. Without these various sources, I wouldn’t be able to create a blueprint that would give birth to the performances. I believe in order to create anything, there has to be a connection with ones subject matter. This connection could be personal, cultural, based in community, activism, politics, trauma, etc. but at the core of it all, it is the duty of the artist to acknowledge the intimate connections that led to being inspired and to have a collaboration within the work itself, which is basically the core of the work/ labour. TULI MEKONJO OVAKWANAIDHI/ THOSE OF THE GRASS, A STREET PERFORMANCE 2018 DIGITAL VIDEO AND SOUND, 4MINS DIMENSIONS VARIABLE UNLIMITED EDITION LINK: HTTPS://VIMEO.COM/259864618
H E R D E M O C R AT I C S PA C E
A stab at one element of democracy, equality, and the transparency it helped build around the Namibian black woman body. An examination of self-identity, race and racial politics in space, ownership of the gaze, and my questions around desirability. Authors: Natache Sylvia Iilonga Martin Jimmy Namupala
P LOT I
THE BL ACK WOMAN BODY AND T H E D E M O C R AT I C S PA C E :
In the piece, ‘Is it fake? Black Women’s Hair as Spectacle and Spectacular’, author Deborah Grayson states, ‘Hairstyle has become a battleground where issues related to the politics of personal appearance and beauty are being fought out.’ Further elaborating that, ‘due to mixed breeds, when skin colour fails to racially define, the characteristic that does not fail, is hair texture and colour’. This even relates to the 15th century slavery times where, according to Cheryl Thompson in ‘Black Women and Identity: What does hair have to do with it?’, there was a clear association of functionality between hair and the space that black slaves occupied. Where the house nigger had to dress their hair similarly to their slave owner, different from the field nigger. Today, there are 3 structural dimensions, we identified to explore, of social systems that construct and upload our social norms. Namely: • Signification: signs, symbols and words • Domination: political and economic institutions • Legitimation: regulation and legal institutions Regarding bullet 2 and 3, I find that when it is harder to trace racial prejudice on legal, political and economic terms, due to civil rights progression, it falls onto the tracking of its covert forms through point 1, signification.
P LOT | |
ACT ONE To r e c o u n t t h e e x p e r i e n c e i s a form of evidence: subjective exploration
I did not realise how powerful black hair was until the day I ‘went natural’. It was the summer of December 2011. We had just written our final year matric exams and I was home awaiting our higher level results that month. (In my head) If I fail, I will cut off all my hair and move to Owamboland, enroll into a VTC (Vocational Training Centre - which is like the black sheep of the tertiary education family…like how dare you even?!) and have a whole new identity. How funny it was that I instinctively knew that changing my hair(style) was a way of either accessing a whole new identity or essentially “disappearing” from the identity and image that people understood/kept of me. Ultimately, rendering you “unrecognizable”. I passed matric and big chopped that December of 2011. I looked into the mirror and instant regret took over my body.
SCENE ONE: “My hair…I look like a boy”, were my first words. Note, at this point, all other features on my body that socially certified me as female/woman, were irrelevant. My skin colour and my hair were my identity tokens/(dom)passes. SCENE TWO: The days and weeks, of what felt like eternity, of you trying to recognise yourself. Standing in front of the mirror at least once or twice every hour. Going through memories of ‘the good days’ when you had long relaxed hair. Never stepping out of the house but because the big chop was something I had planned to do, I planned for it; I stocked up on dramatic earrings and headscarves. This is after having done some research on ‘how to look acceptable without my hair’, although natural resources were literally non-existent on the internet at that time. SCENE THREE: The reaction of the other women in my life (in a nutshell). The realisation that I had put myself in the extreme contrast-position to societal constructs of beauty standards, in other words, what you should strive towards to attain the ultimate womenness ← she was a white woman with long, silky straight hair. Meme was part angry, part shocked and partly found me with my t.w.a, an extremely hilarious sight. “My dear, those hairs odi kukutu, you are going to suffer momtw’ omo”, referring to the difficulty the magic wand comb will go through to try and glide through African curl infested black hair strands. Apparently, I had lost that privilege. And so agreed my aunts, my female cousins, my grandmother…all I got were hmmmm’s, ouf’s, mem’s and hewa wa’s (disapproval in sound form). SCENE FOUR: Natural hair required natural, hair products that barely existed in the Namibian scene. Products for relaxed hair or white woman hair, were not a good match with my African textured hair. Just…no. Thank goodness for olive oil.
ACT TWO Started first year of varsity in Durban. At this point, I was suffering from mild depression caused by my own appearance and lack of relaxed hair. So I tried to make sure my 4C twa looked like a 3c twa whenever I stepped out into the public (luckily resources on natural hair were slowly growing on the internet). The societal constructs were the same there too, so I was judged harshly whenever my hair looked African or non-mixed breed by the eyes of other black female students on campus. They all wore weaves or braids, by the way.
SCENE ONE: (In my head) I need curl definition! Gel, curl holding creams, anything to stop my hair looking too extreme African, which would ultimately demote my social standing to “You look like a boy” level. My hair was at t.w.a stage, too short to get long rastas braided in so I could be at peace with my appearance. So, I carried on with my dramatic jewelry and headscarves to exaggerate the fact that I was a female/woman. SCENE TWO: The elating sense of relief I had when I finally qualified to get rastas braided in (oh happy day). SCENE THREE: The humid weather of Durban provided optimum conditions for my natural hair to grow a bit faster. In my mind, my goal was to grow my hair long and then straighten it. Note that I still found comfort in the white woman standard of beauty which had, subconsciously, remained ingrained in me despite the fact that I was moving in the complete opposite direction of the ‘shadow’ beauty. But the longer my hair grew, the more I tried to tie it into a tight bun or, out of shear exhaustion from trial and erroring with natural hair, dared to walk out of my room with my afro looking African. Note again, at this point fellow black female/women also took notice of the hair length and began interrogating me at random on the authenticity and ownership of my hair. “Is that your real hair?”, “How did you grow it long like that?”, “Which products did you use to make it long?”. All aspiring towards the white woman long hair image, but I shared my selfaccomplished knowledge. I won’t lie, I was feeling myself though; a sourceof-reference, source-of-power even. Mmmm! Needless to say, by the time I finished studying in Durban, I had left behind a few t.w.a’s on their journeys towards long natural hair.
ACT THREE I returned to Windhoek to work for the year of 2015. My first boss was a black man, the office space was black staffed and I was the only female/woman amongst 3\4 black men.
SCENE ONE: My first day in the office, my boss sat me down in his office to run over some house rules. “Make sure that you are presentable at all times, your clothes, shoes, hair… that hair, please, make it neat and professional. I don’t wanna see those messy afro things, okay?”. At this point, something inside my head snapped, like, is my hair in this here puff that I worked on for a whole hour, not professional looking? Is natural hair not allowed in offices? SCENE TWO: My second day in the office, I defied the boss’s opinion, and rocked up with my messy afro. Boss looked at my hair, I gave him the ‘it’s my hair and I am here to work’ facial expression black women do so well. It was an awkward first two weeks after that. Note, however, I felt a sense of confidence and power that came from saying ‘no’ to female/women office beauty standards, with my hair. I further realised that if I was a white woman, my hair would not have been an issue to risking my employment. I was beginning to learn how to invert the power of the white womanness. SCENE THREE: My second boss was a white lady. She found my hair fascinating and cute, although I walked into the interview on guard in case she dropped a ‘professional hair’ comment about my curls or wanted to attempt to touch it. Although I did have white learners in my classes during my primary and high schooling years, our differences were most prevalent in the office. “Can hair like that even get washed? Like everyday?”, “Can you dye that hair type?”… Luckily for them it was the year the Natural Hair Movement took over Namibia and the first Namibian Natural Hair Convention took place. I sincerely advised them to attend and enlighten themselves.
AC T FOUR 2016, back at university, but this time in Johannesburg to do my masters. And again, my hair was an invitation to converse… about my hair. As though the hair was a stand-alone identity that commanded space. However, this materialised into a journey on hair and institutional space.
Scene one: I returned to campus, this time having brought with me a hair routine, Namibian natural hair products and confidence, although the desire to straighten my hair never shook off. By now, the natural hair wave made its way to South Africa. Black girls in primary schools began wearing their hair natural to school, but would get suspended on the bases that their hair did not abide by school rules. My analysis of a few other school rule books revealed that some schools even governed the diameter size of a rasta braid…Or the swimming cap, if your hair did not fit into a swimming cap, the learner would not be allowed to join other learners in swimming classes…that was deep. Scene two: I got my first hair straightening done by a black man at a white hair salon. Everybody around me loved it. “Is that the lady who had that mop of hair?” “You look gorgeous darling”, said the white salon owner… My elatedness quickly faded. I felt like I was back at square one. Yes, the hair moved when the wind blew but suddenly I couldn’t recognise myself again. Instead every passing day with my straightened hair, grew panic of “What if it doesn’t revert back to the afro when I wash it?”, “What if I have heat damage?”. At that point, I had been in year 5 of being natural and all that effort going to waste became my biggest fear. Never mind the social responsibility bestowed upon me by fellow black women to keep my hair natural. Scene three: Needless to say, depression eventually creeped up on me. I started feeling the social pressure again, this time white women around me awkwardly feeling the need to comment on or touch my hair and black women seeing my hair as goals. But thank goodness for the safe space sessions I had with my black studio mates where we expressed likeness issues we faced like hair routines, access to spaces as a black woman, to even how one would whitewash their voice on the telephone to ensure you received service… Fast forward to hair modelling for a hair show, hair got bleached and damaged, I ended up doing my second big chop by the end of that year. But this time when I looked at myself in the mirror, it was a sense of relief. Apparently I disappointed many people around me, but I am not my hair.
SCENE D E M O C R AT I C S PAT I A L I T Y Since the relationship between ‘appearance’ and ‘being’ is not direct - things may be, even if they appear not to be – following Jean Baudrillard, it may be possible to use transparency to create forms of control and order that are difficult to confront since their power lies precisely in their absence. The definition of transparency is irrevocably tied to light - it is defined by its own absence, which is made apparent through the presence of light. It is also apparent that, in this visual era, to be seen to exist (to be represented) is essential in staking a claim for one’s humanity. For this reason, transparency is touted as a positive or desirable quality: since it allows light through, it allows us to be seen. audit
real i ty
Good hair = white women hair Black women’s hair is political
There is a beautiful irony to the democratic space. A space built on the This is where the black woman interestingly is a character of example. principal that all members of a/its society are equal. Her lived experience, because of her skin and irrevocably hair, is largely navigating through social constructs spatialised and legitimised by the This exploration hypothesises that the very notion of democracy, democratic space. The white occupied space. This means that she has although largely meaning well, negates the lived reality of the very to constantly negotiate access to spaces that largely embody white members of the society it encourages. Individual groups with different power/preference (heteronormativity is rife here too, but let’s just focus social experiences. And perhaps, to a larger extent and considering for a second). This is expressed (in one way) through her hair, a naturally Namibia’s colonial and apartheid past, assumes equality to be about occurring phenomena that is part of her identity both internally, visually elevating the black skin to the level of its ‘white rival’; therefore, and socially. And perpetuated by white-washed society and men. deeming the white skin as the standard in the achievement of a sense of equality in our democratic space. And so perhaps, the notion of equality is blatantly yet subliminally biased. Do you follow? The beauty social constructs around hair and skin colour are amongst the most impactful towards black women. The sheer preference of white Namibia first inaugurated its democratically elected, democratic women hair type over black women hair type by men, brought about government on 21 March 1990 (voted in by a majority number of hope- the invention of the relaxer (google it). A lye-based sodium hydroxide bound black Namibians). This meant the establishment of a rule of law cream hair application that permanently alters the hair texture of black bound by a new Namibian Constitution that adopted the principals women’s hair from afro curly to straight. Why straight? Because white of democracy as a means to liberate her people (black people) from woman are the standard of beauty socially, and so is their straight hair. decades of torture, depowering and degradation due to the colour of This is one of many ‘spaces’ built around a black woman from the day their skin. In other words, democracy was meant to eliminate forced she is born and has been inherited for generations since the onset of white spatial power and replace/restore the vacant ‘position’ with inequality. But perhaps it could have been addressed with the incoming black power (largely represented politically) through the application of of democracy? Defining what exactly equality is/was? the principal of equality. But perhaps the large political domination or involvement, in our context, inhibited the wrath of ‘equality’ from taking Ingrained and interiority full effect in permeating into several spaces such as social constructs; because I am not a standard, I am not recognized as that were cast in stone pre-independence, and continued to perpetuate having any form of immediate threatening value torture towards the black skin today. Example: we obliviously agreed to ‘professional hair’ for women in the And so essentially, institutions we constructed to regulate ‘equality’, workplace being straight, neat hair. It is perhaps not obvious but for legitimized the social preference towards whiteness. Interestingly, a black woman who naturally has afro hair, this implies that you need architecture duly plays a part in this legitimizing as it itself is a form of to alter your hair texture in order for your workplace to consider you representation of power due to its occupation of physical space which compliant. A white woman, generally, with straight-neat hair, need only enables the protection of an interiority space. A breeding space enabler, walk in as her natural self. Resultantly, it is spatial discrimination against if you will. Our courts of justice, as legal institutions, are architectures that the black woman as her natural self, because she has to alter herself to legitimize the spatial depowering of the black skin social experience in gain access to her workplace. But the Namibian constitution says black the democratic space. Where the most powerful institution in the land, woman and white woman, you are both equal. And what is even more the house of democracy, depowers and delegitimizes the social spatial fascinating is how ingrained, and normalised this spatial discrimination experience of the black skin, so grew the crave for spatial power in the is in the black woman, such that it is second nature set of skills she must black skinned interiority (respectively). A space that thrives off its being have in order to survive in the democratic space! invisible/transparent, therefore able to propagate a parallel space of power production. And perhaps ultimately, deep states…? equality needs to be decolonized. We are all equal. But are we though? END
10 Years of Namibian
CON TEMPO RARY
An Owela interview by Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja with Haymich Olivier (Dancer, Choreographer at First RAIN Dance Theatre- FRDT)
NM: If we think of 10 years of Namibian contemporary Dance Theatre, what would we be celebrating and/or reflecting on? HO: During the past 10 year the landscape of dance has shifted substantially; we have seen the rise of a number of dance companies creating thought provoking work as well as dance festival aiming at providing a platform for more independent dance celebration and collaboration. However we are nowhere closer to employing more dancers on a full-time basis (most dancers operate on a freelance basis), choreographers are still working as teachers and the most prestigious platforms are still occupied by foreigners like NAMAS and Miss Namibia till recently still employed South African dancers. It is difficult to look at dance theatre and not look at the environment in which it exists. When I observe the Namibian dance environment we can do more in supporting each other but we also need support from government (but it can be argued arts in general needs more support from government). The past 10 years is as much a personal reflection as a professional one. I think that if I am to achieve better results as a Namibian Dance Practitioner my personal and professional goals should be aligned. It is my experience that personal sacrifice is experienced in professional realm and that those sacrifices need to be made consciously. The opposite is also true, that professional sacrifices can be experienced in a personal realm. NM: Contemporary Dance as it is taught and practiced in the academy is deeply classist and ableist; how have we addressed this in the last 10 years? HO: I do not agree with the statement that Namibian contemporary dance training is classist; the dancers that train at the College of the Arts come from a very wide range of economic backgrounds whether it is dance training on a full-time or a part-time basis. Those who choose to study dance on a fulltime basis do so with the support of their families and many of those families do not always have the means to keep them in school . This also highlights the value attached by ordinary people to the arts. If arts were valued at the same level as sports and academic education we would see more full-time dance students. Ombetja Yehinga Organization (OYO) employs and trains dancers from marginalised communities. One also needs to understand as with any other art discipline; you need to have a certain level of natural skill in order to grow as a dancer and that it takes time in the studio and outside of it to enhance your ability, a lot of students who want to be dancers do not have the discipline and that makes it easy to blame the institution for its approach or lack of ability. Saying that contemporary dance training is in favour of abledbody dancers is neither true nor false; it is not true because contemporary dance training in Namibian is very inclusive of all bodies and dance backgrounds. Secondly it is true because we have not seen a lot or any of disabled dancers in Namibia for a number of reasons, and yes we can do more to promote dance to disabled bodies.
NM: But the University of Namibia and College of the Arts, the two institutions that offer formal dance education have restricting and rigid curricula still embedded in colonial legacies. We see this in the problematic classification of classical, modern, contemporary and traditional performance categories. These dance schools are not holistic and integrated, they are discipline-based, and discipline is a form of class. 20 years ago, Prof. Minette Mans studied how we could use Ngoma, a holistic Southern African concept of music and dance, to help us reform arts education in Namibia. This vital lesson does not reflect in contemporary pedagogies. The ‘dance industry’ is predominantly based in Windhoek, on the privileged side of the railway. And even if companies like OYO employ and train dancers from marginalized communities, the choreographer and director of the productions is often one individual, the power is hardly shared. The photographic archive that you are presenting here as a decade of Namibian contemporary dance is not visually inclusive of other contemporaries, particularly those on the margins of the city and countryside. I read all of these realities as class and power issues. Not so? HO: What you see as classifications I see as genres, style, choice of expression or preference. Dance being a body-based art and bodies being different as well as personalities and modes of expression, makes these genres not just relevant but needed. Its existence allows dancers from different backgrounds to find a voice that suits their personality, physical expression (body) and cultural background, while at the same time gives them the opportunity to explore new approaches to dance. This is not just seen in institutional dance but also in social dance . Have we made enough room for an integrated approach ? definitely not . Have Namibian training institutions developed a curriculum (that is not just academic but technical) that considers the Namibian body in motion exclusively ? not yet. This needs research and experience especially since dance has become one of the fastest growing art forms. The internet, global and social media have increased the pressure on dance artists to not just be relevant locally but also globally, and the students that are interested in dance training are well informed about global social dance trends. Developing a curriculum is not just about the vision and understanding of the dance professional but also about the need of the future artist. This needs funding, time, commitment and support. Resources that we do not have right now; however that does not mean that we have not experimented with the ideas. This is an ongoing process. Art development is where the money is and the money is in Windhoek. Let’s unpack the idea of money as power or access to money as power. Many choreographers , who end up doing a lot of arts administration in order to arrange the funds, manage the bodies and spaces as well as promote or market the artwork has the right to claim choreographic authority . Choreographic style is a different point all together. While running FRDT, Tuli and I did all of the administration but the work that we really wanted to do was in the studio with the dancers that’s why we were motivated to do the administration. Our dancers received free training and were paid
Global and social media has taken the focus of art from a tool for social change to a way to create fame and wealth. The west has taught young people that the most rewarding thing about the arts is being famous; we are yet to understand what to do with the power of fame once we get it.
COLLAGE PHOTO CREDITS: TOP LEFT: Anima, 2014 NIPAM Photography: Willem Vrey BOTTOM LEFT: Art of Broken Pieces Baxter Dance Festival Photography: BetterLife Productions MIDDLE TOP: Anima rehearsal, 2014 COTA Studio Photography : Willem Vrey MIDDLE BOTTOM: Independence 2010 NTN Photography: Giovanni Laite TOP RIGHT: COTA Production,2010 NTN Photographer: Hangula Werner BOTTOM RIGHT: Anima, 2014 NIPAM Photography : Willem Vrey
I do not think that it is in interest of the Namibian Government to educate artist to the extent that they can incite political or social change. It is something we have to do for ourselves, even the idea of education needs to be revised; although formal education gives one a level of prestige and credibility it is not the only relevant means of education. NM: Indigenous and decolonial dance praxis today invites us to disrupt straight lines, the black box and choreography of sameness as preserved in the western classical canon, and imagine African immersive and interdisciplinary futures. How can we read ‘township and traditional’ dances as contemporary? HO: By bringing it into the studio and understanding that the main aim of any arts teacher is to facilitate the natural ability of his/her student to create a vocabulary/language that is relevant to their experience. All dance styles are relevant what makes it effective is quality, execution, timing and refined vocabulary. NM: But this is the point I am trying to make. Indigenous dance praxis causes an administrative challenge for the studio because they exceed the borders of the studio and contemporary theatre stage. These dances are part of day to day functions of our communities. Is there still potential for Namibian contemporary dance to imagine itself in all kinds of spaces, particularly those that have been historically excluded from dominant practice? When do we commit ourselves to going out into the streets and villages to study and collaborate with ‘untrained’ contemporaries? HO: This question highlights two issues for me: One is the fact that different dance styles exist (even in your reference to “indigenous dance praxis ” and relating it to “contemporary dance practice ”) and that they in themselves have different backgrounds and existence and there for different audiences and different spaces in which they are practiced, and from an individual perspective these dance genres are equal but different. Now the question is how they can inform each other, because if we want to decolonize anything we have to first recognize that all is equal and therefore I say inform each other. Secondly it highlights the question of what these different dance styles are trying to achieve.
according to the project we worked on, and because we enjoyed the artistic ability of our dancers they at times created with us. However the training was free and the responsibility of all administration fell on management and the choreography created in the FRDT studio were owned by FRDT. This was our style of working and our dancers understood it and agreed to it.
As a Namibian Dance Practitioner specializing in Contemporary Dance , it is my observation that the Contemporary dance Identity (aesthetic, practice and presentation)of a nation is rooted in time, time that can be divided in to history (culture and tradition), present influence(social trends, politics and economics) and future (visions and ideology). This genre of dance changes and shifts with local and international trends, it seeks to find the abstract vocabulary to employ movement as a vehicle of consciousness and it aims to move forward (be progressive). Indigenous dance practice is about the history of a culture. It is about the social and spiritual engagement of a people and in one country there are different cultures with dances devised for specific practices , in African Culture some of these are sacred and spiritual.
The issue of choreographic ownership like any arts work needs to be earned and like in any other environment ownership comes with responsibility . If dancers want to choreograph and put work on stage they are free to do so at platforms such as College of the Arts, National Theatre of Namibia and the Windhoek International Dance Festival. Artistic leadership also comes with responsibility and this brings me to the issue of discipline.
Now to answer your question; firstly let’s do away with the idea of untrained, cause there are different levels of training but if you engage with dance consistently you will experience a level of training.
Discipline is not just a rigid set of rules to be followed or get punished; but it is commitment, honour, loyalty, respect and perseverance. If one follows these principals in a disciplined manner meaning not straying from them you will experience the freedom of creation, and this has nothing to do with class, but everything to do with character.
Namibian dance needs to excess all kinds of spaces not just because space is the one thing we have plenty of but also because we need to break dance performance and training out of the traditional settings and make it more accessible to everyone. We will then be able to experience its power as an art that transforms society. But yet again I am not just referring to what I will refer to as institutional or academic dance , the type of dance studied in academic or formal training institutions for qualification sake but all dance. All dance needs to break out of its traditional environment for us to truly experience it’s power, which brings me to the second part of your question. Commitment to develop an aesthetic that reflects indigenous as well as social Namibian dance practise is an ongoing exploration. Dance work like Anima, Land, The Mourning Citizens, The Tales of Nyambe, all drew elements of Namibian Indigenous dance styles. Western Contemporary dance technique is only a vehicle not the message. But we will only be able to see a true engagement when we are able to have a dance company that is supported and fully funded to do the proper research and archive these very important elements of our culture and re-imagine it for contemporary society and artistic expression.
For sure, power exists, but it exist everywhere and anyone can have power. Information is power, confidence is power, discipline is power, perseverance is power, respect is power, owning your own voice and narrative is power. To me decolonizing is giving new meaning to words they used to oppress us and to take ownership of your experience and to see opportunity in every single optical . Perception is everything . My understanding of decolonizing is that of freeing oneself first before we seek to free a structure or a policy or an art form.It is to take that which was used to enslave you and to give it new meaning. Lastly, the archives that I presented, is not a measure of what we are capable of but what has been done in Contemporary Dance Theatre and that I collected. Maybe the mistake is in the title of the collection. This contribution to your publication is a personal and intimate one. NM: Dances in/of Namibia have been historically used for political mobilization; this role seems to be displaced in the new dispensation. What is your view around this? HO: Political mobilization does not seem to be high on the agenda of the average Namibian. Dance or arts in general is a strong tool for political mobilization. However, most artist are struggling to make a living and find very little time to engage their discipline as a means of social and political reform. Those who are able to use their skill have full-time jobs and might practice their artistic skill on a part-time basis. Arts education also has a big role to play in the understanding of the power of arts (dance). Support for informal dance groups are important as well as creating dancers/artist that are socially and politically conscious, this is the responsibility of those in leadership positions.
Given the above parameters it becomes easier to asses:
Dance for stage and dance for cultural practice is not supposed to be in competition with each other, and the techniques of stage dance that helps to transport the elements of cultural dance are needed to bring the message into a new light. So bottom line all this are equal and all this are relevant. NM: What is your vision of dance theatre for the next 10 years? HO: I want to be part of a generation of dancers and choreographers who create and army of strong socially and politically conscious deeply in touch able bodies (with this I do not mean “not disabled”), that are able to absorb a while range of dance styles and that speaks eloquently both with the body and verbally about the world they want to live in and express that world or (Namibian) every day. While at the same time critically analyze our individual and collective history.
I come from womXn
Triple-B-threat womyn Black,
Bold, Beautiful Women. Who birthed nine, ten, fourteen children And still had the time and strength for men Men who stole from, abused and cheated on them I come from women I come from Damara, Owambo, Namibian womxn Craved by colonial beasts You see these women were phenomenal
Where to? Who gives a fuck? But he ran off when reality struck
I come from womn I come from women who fight for the rights of
other women Even if “these women” spit it back into their faces I come from generations of nappy-haired
All-tones-of-brown-skinned women From Ou Lokasie to Katutura Women who you don’t dare to interrupt Womxn who themselves were gods And women who left their mark I come from… Generations of nappy-haired, all tones of brown skinned Generations of fiery -haired, all
tones of brown skinned Generations of cosmic-haired, all tones of brown skinned womyn! I come from womxn ©Khoes
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Whose fathers ran
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CITY FILLED WITH SITES OF AMNESIA
By Shomwatala N. Shivute
(AN EXTRACT FROM REMNANTS 2018)
CURRENT LANDSCAPE OF THE CITY
WINDHOEK AND NAMIBIAN CENTRAL AREA Historical landscape Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia, located in the central area of the country, nestled in a basin surrounded by the Auas Mountains in the south-east, the Eros Mountains in the northeast and the Khomas Hochland in the west. The city has had several names such as /Ai//Gams – which is Khoekhoegowab for “Firewater”, Otjomuise in Otjiherero – “the place of smoke,” these names both refer to the hot springs that were once found in the eastern part of the city, where the affluent suburb of Klein Windhoek is today. Windhoek, which means windy corner (wind-hoek), was the name given by Jan Jonker Afrikaners during the 1840’s, when his clan was settled in the area (Wallace, 2011:61) and (Lau, 1993:18) . The town was the site of many battles between the Nama and Ovaherero. This space for me was where I took my first breath of air, my first steps, where I graduated from high school and where I have lived most of my life it is HOME. However more recently I have discovered that the history of this place I call home is a window into the way the city functions today. The functionality in terms of city planning, the way our movement as residents is regulated, to the architecture that is in and around the city. These elements all influence the way we engage with one another and also affect the social dynamics of the city. Windhoek is home to over 431 000 people, according to the population projection report from the Namibian Statistical Agency 2018(NSA), and like many large cities in Southern Africa, the largest part of the city’s population lives in the informal settlements on the outskirts of the town. Manyhave traveled long distances to come to the city in hopes of better economic prospects . However, these hopes are often not realized due to various limiting factors imposed by living in the city.The inhabitants of the informal settlements are, more often than not, the work-force that travels long distances to get into the city every morning to man the businesses in the Central Business District (CBD).
Windhoek’s history is written all over her landscape, some markers of this history are more visible and prominent than others. It can be seen in the names of streets, such as Jan Jonker Street, Lüderitz Street, Independence Avenue and Sam Nujoma Avenue , all names that refer to a particular point in time in the city’s history. In a sense, this is a landscape marked by deep contradictions, where, on the one hand, there is recognition and celebration of liberation, while, on the other, the colonial past stubbornly continues to exert its presence. This, of course, raises interesting questions around the extent to which the divisions and inequalities wrought by the colonial period still have life in African cities. The historical narrative can also be told using the names of buildings in the city; for example, the German colonial era can be traced today using buildings such as the Alte Feste, the Christuskirche and a number of monuments. One such monument is that dedicated to Curt von François (1852-1931). He was a commissioner of the German army sent to ‘assist’ the German settler community in Namibia. The monument states that he founded Windhoek on 18 October 1890 and is said to have broken ground for the Alte Feste (Old Fortress). In his honour, the German regime erected this monument that today stands on the corner of Independence Avenue and Sam Nujoma Avenue, in front of the City of Windhoek Municipality Head office. I will be using this monument to begin my exploration into the period of the short yet traumatizing German occupation in Namibia and the scarring it has left on the Namibian landscape and collective memory. This area is what Dr Memory Biwa in a recent presentation at a recent symposium of Museum professionals termed the “museums constellation” of cultural heritage sites. It is a chain link of cultural sites all steeped in colonial memory As part of an ongoing project that I am working on with performance artist Nelago Shilongoh, we have interacted with these sites in a project called Ma Ndili. Ma Ndili is Oshiwambo for “Where I am”, in an effort to try and unpack what it means to be a young black female born and raised in Windhoek and to have to been confronted by and interacted with the monuments/ spaces on a daily basis. We explore the memories they evoke and the impressions they have made on us growing up. The project challenges the power these monuments still hold; they resonate with the colonial period and all the traumas that the Namibian people have faced. Draped in a red cloth, Shilongoh leads the viewer to engage with the monuments and to think critically about their positionality in Namibia today.
Wallace, M. 2011. A history of Namibia : from the beginning to 1990. Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media.
Lau. 1993. Three views into the past of Windhoek : history conference- Windhoek 1-3 June
1993. Namibia: Namibian-Deutsche Shiftung für kulturelle Zusammenarbeit.
Jan Jonker Afrikaner was the chief of the Oorlam people in 1980’s, they had settled by the hot springs in Windhoek before the German settlers arrived. Before 1991 it was called Kaiser street, it runs right through the centre of town from South East to North West Used to be called Curt Van François Avenue (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_renamed_ places_in_Namibia) 5
“Museum Dialogues” hosted by Goethe Institute held in Windhoek (August, 2018)
CORNER OF INDEPENDENCE AND SAM NUJOMA AVENUE
Von François was a General in the Schutztruppe. He stands on a pedestal, overlooking the city. However, gradually over time this view has become obstructed as higher rise buildings are being constructed in the vicinity. In the afternoons he spends his days standing in the cold shadow of the recently built Hilton Hotel that is across the road from the monument. This specific monument is no longer listed on the National Heritage list of declared sites. This means it is not protected by the National Heritage Act 27 of 2004 which protects National sites. This is not stated anywhere near the monument, and it is well maintained. The location of this monument is in a position of power, facing north overlooking the city of Windhoek and the informal settlements that surround her. This monument can be quite a trigger of emotion and anger or bitterness for most Namibians. To a Namibian viewer, this monument portrays not a hero, but a man who left pain and suffering in his wake. According to Olusoga & Erichsen (2010:56) von François had been working in the Congo under the leadership of King Leopold II, King of the Belgians, in what had become a private slave state. Von François was known for his brutal tactics and ruthless ways of treating Africans, and he brought these tactics with him to Namibia. He was determined to use the businesses in the Central Business District (CBD). “force against the natives” to remove any power the local Namibians had. At this time local groups had been trading in goods and people with the traders from the Cape Colony, to acquire ammunition, horses, livestock, tobacco and most of all, alcohol (Wallace, 2011). They owned land and interacted with the German settler community as equals. This did not sit well with von François, who was determined to make sure that local Namibians, especially the Herero and Nama tribes in central Namibia were not in control (Olusoga &Erichsen, 2010:58). The German commissioner was manipulative and he had tried to get the Herero and Nama groups to sign protection treaties which, in actuality, he had no plan of upholding. He managed to get the Herero Paramount Chief Tjamuaha and later his son Chief Samuel Maharero, to sign such treaties. However, von François never managed to persuade Nama Kaptein, Hendrick Witbooi, to sign the treaties, as Witbooi had worked out and witnessed that von François had no intention of protecting them but was instead using the treaties to control the local groups (Wallace, 2011:124). He used these treaties to gain control of land in central Namibia and settle in Windhoek, where he built the Alte Feste the Headquarters of the German regimen in Namibia. This monument celebrates a man who killed unarmed women and children; whose belief was that ‘native Africans’ could only be dealt with using extreme violence. This monument, though not protected by law, is an overarching presence, implying that we as the inhabitants of the city are supportive of and comfortable with living with this constant reminder of an oppressor who inflicted violence and pain on this countries inhabitants. The monument is taking up space and forms a kind of vacuum or vortex into the past. See that’s there is very little engagement with it, its stands proud celebrating a past that many seem to have forgotten.
Figure 1 Image from Ma Ndili at the Captain Curt von François Monument
CORNER OF INDEPENDENCE AVENUE AND FIDEL CASTRO STREET – ZOO PARK
Further down Independence Avenue, at the intersection with Fidel Castro street, is the Zoo park. A park that the busybodies of Windhoek occupy , whether it is to take a break from the beaming heat of the sun, or if it’s to get a photograph snapped by the local photographers who sell photographs printed on the spot, calling as people walk by ”Sista picture, picture sister”. It could also be the occasional family outing on the weekend , although this isn’t such a regular occurrence anymore as the grass in the park has withered away from the recent drought period the country went through- park maintenance stopped watering large grass areas in effort to lower water usage. One of the busier times in the park is the night that the City turns on the Christmas lights. They decorate the park and lamp poles along Independence Avenue. This happens early December and many people bring their families to come out to enjoy the marvellous scene, this event is often paired with a Christmas market and groups singing Christmas carols. The park boasts a number of features; a sizable Amphitheatre where I fondly recall attending my first music concert, a playground with a number of rides to entertain the young children, a few water features including a pond that now, unfortunately, is empty due to water restrictions. The park also houses two monuments, the one is a memorial to the elephants fossils that were found in 1963 on the site where the park is built during construction. The remains of elephants that had fossilized along with a variety of tools during the reconstruction were discovered. The fossils are said to date back 5000 years ago making the find one of the earliest of its kind (Lau, 1993:4). Another source states that the site of the current park was a tool workshop and that tools that were manufactured from elephant bones were discovered and they date back to 5000BC (Dierk,1999). The elephant monument was made by artist Dörte Berner a well know German sculptor who has lived in Namibia for over 40 years. The second monument that I would like to draw your attention to is on the east end of the park, the ‘Schutztruppe Memorial’. It is surrounded by a white picket fence the monument looks better cared for than the monument to the fossils that were found in the area that gives the park its name “Zoo Park”. I say this because the elephant memorial or public sculpture has a thorn bush growing around it, that on most days has a variety of chips papers and rubbish stuck in the bush. The thorn bush prevents one from being able to get close to see the sculpture, but unlike the white picket fence that seems to send a message of safeguarding the monument from human vandalism etc the thorn bush deters in a different way that makes the view fear being hurt (vandalised by the thorn bush). On the “Schutztruppe memorial” there is a commemoration to the German riders and the Basters who migrated from the Cape that fought alongside them. The monument on one of the four panels reads in German
“Dem Andenken der in dem Kriege gegen den Stamm der Witboois in den Jahren 1893 un 94 gefallen helden” . Translated “In memory of those that fought the war against the tribe of the Witbooi’s in the years 1893 and 94 Fallen Heroes “. The war that the monument is referring to is the battle at Hornkranz that is described above. There are a number of people who died on both sides however only one group is represented by the memorial. Like many things in Windhoek as Ellison Tjirera states in his article “Locating the City in Windhoek: Regimes of the Legal and other Spaces” (nd) , the monument doesn’t have much written about it. The monument sits proudly in the park with no or very little context about what it represents. There is also no translation of the text above in the space so it functions as a sort of private monument in public space that only 0.9% of the population who speak German (Namibian Biodiversity Database, nd) along with the many German tourists that visit the country can understand.
“MUSEUMS CONSTELLATION”- (BIWA, 2018)
The following monuments are a cluster at the intersection of Robert Mugabe Avenue and Fidel Castro Street. As one leaves the Zoo park there are large street signs that point eastwards up Fidel Castro Street to the Christuskirche, Alte Feste and The Reiterdenkmal. (Fig 3). Moving eastward past the Goethe Institute on Fidel Castro street, stand the Christuskirche, perched on the hilltop it standing in the middle of a traffic circle overlooking Windhoek to the West. Across the road heading south on Robert Mugabe Avenue, you will find on the west National Museum office and on the east the newly built Independence Memorial Museums that have the monument of the First president of Namibia His Excellency Sam Nujoma in front of it. In the shadow of the large golden Independence Memoriam museum is the Alte Feste, in its courtyard the Reiterdenkmal. This area for the longest time remained unchanged as though it were frozen in time until 2009. When one of the prominent colonial monuments was removed from its high vantage point overlooking Windhoek. The monument I am referring to is the Reiterdenkmal (Figure 4), the monument was erected in honour of all the German soldier who died during the Genocide of 1904-1908. The monument is one of two that are still standing in the CBD, commemorating fallen Schutztruppe along with the memorial in Zoo Park. Rider part of a trio- this was broken up by the construction of the Independence memorial Museums (Kӧssler, 2015: 148) Rider is a monument of victory (Kӧssler, 2015:148)- “intended to document and symbolically underline Germans claim to permeant dominate and rule her colony –South West Africa”- this is drawn from the quote at the unveiling of the monument of the rider in 1912. The monument was first moved from its prominent position in 2009 to make way for the Independence Memorial Museum. It was then erected a few meters away from its original position in front of the Fortress. This move had a lot of members of the German community in Namibia up in arms, one member of the public even threatening to march if the monument were to be moved . The rider was then moved to its current position which is in the courtyard of the Fortress, it was removed on 24 December 2013 under heavy police guard (Weildlich, 2008) .
Figure 2 : “Schutztruppe Memorial” in the Zoo Park in Windhoek
The city is very quiet during this period of time and many of its inhabitants are away on holiday in other parts of the country and abroad. The choice to move the monument from the front of the Fort to inside its courtyard is one that takes away the power that the monument held over the city, like a gatekeeper it used to hover overlooking the city. Growing up I remember the Rider memorial being ‘The signifier’ or key image of Windhoek, I used it myself in many school projects and presentations. Little did I know that this monument was placed as a sign of Germany’s apparent victory and celebration of their ‘defeat’ of the Namibian nation. The monument is meant to be a memorial to the fallen German soldier who died between 1904 - 1908, however, more Herero and Nama lost their lives during this genocide. According to many scholars the genocide or ‘acts of genocide ”can be seen as the testing ground for the Holocaust in Germany, and then it was the first genocide of the 20th century. The extermination order that general Lothar von Trotha put out for the Ovaherero people was aimed at wiping out the entire group of people and some 10 000 or more Namibians, predominantly of Ovaherero and Nama decent were slaughtered this monument is a reminder of that loss of life whether it was at the battle of Hamakari or in the concentration camps at Shark Island or the one in Windhoek that was right in front of the Fort (Wallace, 2011:181) (Olusoga& Erichsen, 2010:214). Many of the lives that were lost were due to people being overworked and malnourished and living in harsh conditions. Many remains of those who died during this time were taken to Germany to be studied as part of racial sciences research. Kössler (2015:149) writes that the monument was not a celebration only at that moment when it was erected, instead, it was meant to be a long-lasting mark of the German ‘victory’, a mark made on the Namibian landscape, branding like one would brand cattle that they own. Therefore the fall of the rider can be used as a signifier of the way that the country belongs to all its inhabitants and not just to a minute part of the population.
n pointing toward Fidel Castro Street sig Figure 3 Image of the Feste (Image: e Alt kmal and the Christuskirche, Reiterden 8) 201 er Octob
This is also a signifier for us starting to interrogate our collective history and decide how we want it to be represented. The removal of the rider definitely sparked a number of conversations amongst the Namibian nation. Conversations about what is the ‘Namibian Nation’, a country so diverse with such a small population it is difficult to represent all. However we do share a history and we need dialogues that will engage and educate. Alte Feste where the rider is currently stored which according to the National Heritage Council website (2018) was designed by Curt von François, served as the headquarters of the German regime in Windhoek. The fort sits on a hillside overlooking the city still today. The fortress was used as a museum under the National Museums of Namibia until 2015 when it closed down and the new Independence Memorial museum was built right next to it. Today the fortress sits empty and the only aspect of it the public is able to see is the courtyard, which houses the rider.
In the local Newspaper the Namibian – A German historian who resides in Namibia, stated that the government had not done enough research, and was at risk of damaging the monument if they moved it. He also mentioned in his letter that he along with other members of the German community in Namibia would march against the removal of a monument that speaks to our joint heritage. 10
Tjirera, E. n.d. Locating the City in Windhoek: Regimes of the Legal and other Spaces. Available: https://jwtc.org.za/the_salon/test/ellison_tjirera.htm . 8
Namibian Biodiversity database. ND. Namibian. Languages. Namibian Biodiversity. Available : http://biodiversity.org.na/NamLanguages.php[ accessed22 October 2018] 9
EMERGING LANDSCAPE The original site of the Rider stood overlooked the area where the concentration camp in Windhoek. This site today is commemorated with and a bronze sculpture of a man and a woman breaking shackles and the statement “their blood waters our freedom” below it. The statement comes from the Namibian national anthem, a line meant to assure that the people who died prior to Namibia being a free country on 21 March 1990, they formed part of the fight towards freedom and their deaths were not in vain and not forgotten. Below the two figures is a bronze relief of what looks like a colonial officer watching and two black people get hung a common practice in Namibia by the German army and a lot of this violence is document in the ‘blue book” or as it is official know Report on the Natives of South West Africa and their treatment by Germany. The book is an explicit report by the then Union of South Africa describing the horrifying act that the Germans had during their colonial rule in Namibia. The monument is much like the Independence Memorial Museum next to it stand out in the area they are placed, not only because of the location they occupy that is mainly German architecture but because of their materiality. They are large bronze sculptures and the museum is a large gold building that stands out in the Namibian landscape. Thuli Gamedze (2015) questions the use of a medium, bronze that mimics the language of the colonial monuments still occupy our public spaces today. Especially in Windhoek, a city where there are very few public arts. The language that these monuments communicate in is one that is still foreign to the very people it is meant to honor and represent. This form of memorialization was used by the Germans to brand the Namibian landscape, as one that will always be conquered by them. The need for us to be more critical and engage the public in what will occupy their ‘public space’. As space that many Namibian do not engage with as their own. These spaces are made to attract the tourist and visitors from beyond and often do not engage the Namibian visitor. Dealing with the impact The German colonial era although short on the calendar has had a long-lasting and immense impact on the Namibian landscape and her peoples. The German colonial rule ended during the First World War of 1914 when Germany lost all her colonies. Namibia was then taken over by South Africa (representing Britain) in 1921 the League of Nations gave Namibia over officially as a protectorate (Wallace, 2010:205). Not long afterwards the South African government implemented the Apartheid legislation in Namibia. The German settler community did not leave when South African took over, they became naturalized citizens after the London agreement of 1923 (Wallace,2010:238/9). They became part of the legislative assembly and were able to make sure that German heritage was safeguarded and lived on. Today, these remnants of history remain propped up in the city, many of her inhabitants oblivious to their existence. These brutal and violent imagery are not being dealt with and it is as though we are suffering from collective amnesia. It is as though we have forgotten, however yet these painful memories that these monuments are drenched in are intertwined in our contemporary trauma. To quote the late Jackson Kaujeua “The winds of change are sweeping across the African continent”. The removal of the Reiterdenkmal echo the sentiments of the recent Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa along with the larger #Fallist movements, without the public participation. A conversation has started bringing to the foreground issues of representation, access, memory and questioning of HIStories and colonial legacies. Through this interrogation I am hopeful that we will start to unpack what a Namibian landscape could look like and who it would represent.
Figure 5 The Concentration camp” that housed Herero and Nama in harsh conditions; with the Alte Feste in the background (Image: National Archives)
Besides his protest, the monument was moved and there are reports that high-level Government officials stated that the Germans can collect their monument if they like and return it to Germany. The irony is that in Germany all signs of the old Germany have been removed from the public so why not in Namibia 10
11 Weidlich Brigitte. 2008. Konjore gets on his high horse over crosses at memorial. The Namibian July 07,. Available: https://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?id=44543&page=archive-read [Oct 24, 2018].
UN definition of “Genocide in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1 ; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (United Nations[UN] n.d) states that the Term genocide did not when the events happen so it cannot be termed a genocide, rather acts of genocide. 12
Kössler, R. 2015. Namibia and Germany: Negotiating the Past. Windhoek, Namibia: University of Namibia Press.
The Namibian Newspaper has a number of open letters that members of the public wrote voicing their opinions on the issue (see Newspaper article below)
Gamedze, T. 2015. Heritage For Sale: Bronze Casting and the Colonial Imagination. South Africa:
Lo v e in a t ime o f Dro u gh t BY BEAUTY BOOIS
Give yourself the freedom to learn, to love, to grow, to know Better when people tell you that you aren’t good enough. “Too fat, too tall, too gay, too feminine.” They say “too short, too masculine, too skinny, too loud.”
Stop and choose to look within you; For a glance in the mirror to reveal the truth: Reflections of love staring back at you, through your own eyes. Allow yourself to forget the lies and realize the god within you.
Master of your universe, made in gods image, Clothe yourself in more than just jewels and gold, But in the knowing that you are wholly your own, Slowly learning to un-learn the self-hate.
You sit in stillness daily; Praying; Chanting mantras; Contemplating; Making yoga moves; Redefining all the rules So that the healing of your soul becomes the ultimate life goal! Freeing yourself from a shrunken, hidden and melancholy soul.
For the rain has fallen and you see that the sky went pale, just for you. The clouds impregnated by the heat radiating from your dimmed glow, Who gave birth to the rain sent down from the heavens to kiss and caress a heart broken. Placed in the hands of a world filled with f*** boys and girls who parade down ‘h** is life’ lane and magazines that body shame and news channels that only spread hate.
Pause! And choose to listen to the rain as it washes always all your pain, flowing down your window pane. Bringing with it love that flows into rivers, Reborn into the seas, who will no doubt rise again, just as you do every morning Cloaked in freedom, beauty, truth and love.
Love that abides by and defies gravity simultaneously, Love that falls for you like the rain, Love that not only rises but also shines for you like the sun. Love that never forgets to acknowledge or wave at your majestic presence like the sea. Love that bows before you and kisses your feet like the soil. Love that blooms at your touch, Like the flowers awaiting and awakening to your bloom As you enlighten to your true nature in the knowing that the love that you’ve longed and thirsted for has returned to your desert being
Just like rain in a time of drought.
Reimagining Queer storytelling and activism in Namibia By: Florence /Khaxas
The struggle for independence in Namibia was long and ugly. The vast majority of Namibians still continue to live in poverty. Women, children and LGBTQ+, differentlyabled people continue to redefine their identity and fight justice in the midst of the hype of agenda of the newly liberated post-apartheid Namibia. Furthermore, the post-independence hate speech by Namibian leaders further alienated the queer community and forced the activist of the era to redefine the models of LGBT organizing. That firstly meant decolonizing the way we organized ourselves as queer Namibians, but also decolonizing our movement and organisation. The hate speech by political leaders such as Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma, the founding president of Namibia pushed for the feminist women’s rights movement to stand in solidarity with the queer Namibians and that gave birth to TRP (The Rainbow Project of Namibia) which was the first LGBT rights organization in Namibia. As they blend into society into the boxes that confined gender roles. In 2005, a Namibian politician and SWAPO member in the National Assembly , Teopolina Mushelenga claimed that the LGBT betrayed the fight for freedom and were responsible for the HIV / AIDS pandemic as well as an insult to African culture Such statement threatened the safety and security of LGBT community. State aggravated homophobic statements are residue of the violent colonial era that oppressed and discriminated against Namibians. Feminist activists and organizations such as Sister Namibia and TRP (The Rainbow Project) were the first LGBT Human rights advocacy organizations that challenged the state by resisting the patriarchy and demanding the rights of LGBT peoples and women’s rights during the post-independence LGBT rights activism. Being African is all that we know in a land that queer visibility outrages the dominant narrative of my unAfrikan-ness. Black queerness in sync with both the negative and positive aspects of colonization as we narrate our lived realities. The year 2004 gave birth to a new kind of activism through the work of Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) that documented Indigenous Namibian feminist stories telling through the lenses of marginalized women including lesbian women telling their lived realities of poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS. The synthesis creates new ways of documenting our lived realities by challenging the traditional literary that is dominated &caters for public spheres versus on-traditional literary imagination which is a private sphere. Personal Journaling in its raw authentic form is African feminist consciousness and thought that is powerful as we reclaim our power and document our lives.
We resist the unAfrikan-ness, The social exclusion Human rights violation That is fuelled by formalized homo/Transphobia, Heteronomativity Patriarchy State control of women and queer bodily autonomy& choice By promoting Freedom of expression To tell our own stories our own lived realities
Photo Credit: Women’s Leadership Centre.
As queer women we resist social expectations of heteronormativity that has been the result of colonization and religion. We dismantle the concept of gender which was the imagination of our colonizers and adopted by Christianity. Queer women have always been resisting the dominant narrative of Patriarchy by creating visibility and culture through creative expression. Writing gives us a sense of belonging and liberation of becoming free thinkers and leaders. Through poetry we redefine power as we find the words to describe the violence that we face from the same institutions that are meant to protect us. Institutional violence continues to oppress and discriminate against marginalized women, children and queer people. We can dismantle colonial laws through collective organizing and literature to tell own our own stories. The violence that we experience from the church discriminates as it subjects negative images of our queerness. The social isolation of LGBT youth makes them more vulnerable to alcohol and drug misuse. Non-traditional literature of free writing, private journal entries allows us to name our depression. The dairy has always been the means of expression, monitoring moods and giving name to the many facets of patriarchy and heteronormativity. Zambian Feminist activist Sibusiso Malunga had this to say:
>>>>>>>> ‘I did not have anyone to talk to about my queerness As I thought I was alone in my country And no one would understand me.
And demanding an end to oppressive colonial laws
I kept a diary as a friend to share with truthfully
towards the bodies of LGBT people and women in Namibia
In my life
what has been happening It was my form of therapy’
- Sibusiso Malunga
Poetry has always been a means for me to express myself and it has been a form of resistance and resilience as a young, black queer women growing up in Namibia, as a way for me to redefine feminism for myself and finding my voice. This is the poem I wrote when I was thinking about writing on reimagining queer stories. The past wonâ€™t be erased, Memories of the dance that our ancestors danced is stories that would heal us, Guide us into victory This is the land of the brave not land of the shamed Let my tongue speak for me when heart is too broken Resisting the shame of patriarchy My Culture colonized my autonomy My choice and disobedience, Defines my belonging in this land of the shamed I belong to the land of the words, The immortal representation of my struggle Liberated is my soul the one that writes on canvas of the desert, Dama #Nu axas a se ta ra kaima The Daures gives me courage reclaim my power I decolonize my language My eyes monitors the poverty of my mind that was installed by colonilization But my heart overcomes poverty through kindness as sisterhood, The social isolation doesnt scare me as I walk through the streets of Mondesa, Expressing my sexualility through the movement of my poetry, my identity Belonging Home Redefining my power, Challenging the dominate narative By defining myself for myself I am Africa, in this land of the brave Where blood of black women floods the rivers Orange river Hoarib river Kavango river Kuiseb river Ugab river Tsauchab river The rivers that carries the shame from colonialism that taught us to hate ourselves and each other, The same rivers that are the map A map to to the future of collective action to heal the wounds of generations of abuse, The rape of Queer bodies is the legacy of the genenocide of the bones of our ancestors The silence is so loud but the words that comforts collects dust In the bookshelf of dairies Documenting each tear The birth of activism through adversity Becoming thinkers and stepping into our power As young, vulnerable, invisible in society yet emerging as creators of new ways of thinking with courage and resilience, Silencing the voices of guilt of being a outcast at the black church that colonize our sexuality to the perpetuated denialism of depression of our black bodies as prophets the new colonizers shrinks queer thought we march to end violence and corruption on a hungry stomach, as capitalism taunts our intimate relationships healing the wounds of abuse in isolation, while feminism reminds and comforts us that we are more than the bullying& harmful cultural practices that deepens our trust issues, we still march for LGBT visibility through the colonial streets of Swakopmund Resisting shrinking spaces, redefining our collective power and healing
The rise of emerging grassroots queer women’s voices are taking lead in the digital activism of the public spheres through traditional literature, photography and film-making given the digital revolution and multidisciplinary mobilization through organisations such as Young Feminist Movement Namibia (Y-Fem).This is a feminist women’s human rights organisation that promotes feminist activism and young women’s leadership, visibility, feminist thoughts and ideas, movement building, leadership, agency and activism of marginalized women. The organisation is currently based in Usakos but operates as a virtual organization and the organisation aims on moving office in different towns to strengthen feminist organizing in rural communities and strengthening the leadership of young women. We organize ourselves virtually and have activist across Namibia that we work with. Currently we are working with women in Usakos and surrounding villages. As part of dismantling Queer organization and decentralization of human rights work we made a radical decision to try something that has not common in Namibia which is how we organise ourselves we want to fulfil the mandate of building feminist movements in Namibia and align with the global feminist movement through alliance building. We are currently supporting young feminist set up feminist groups and set up a women’s rights collective by women of Usakos. We also want our work to align with The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Namibia as well as to see how our multi-disciplinary activism fits to the National strategic framework for HIV and AIDS in Namibia. We specifically looking at innovation on HIV/AIDS prevention & care campaigning for girls and young women, key populations in Namibia that is feminist to eradicate gender inequalities through our activism. The work of Artist, activist and healer JuliArt creates alternative ways of storytelling from a queer lens. JuliArt is leading Queer feminism through virtual arts by resisting patriarchal notions of the place for women in society. Her artwork not only creates visibility of the lives of black women but also that of queer people that change the narrative of our existence. Her artwork interrogates the shame that is placed on black women’s creativity of queer youth using arts as a form of advocacy and resistance. Her work aligns with the intersectionality of queer identities through her multimedia activism that redefines feminism and creates visibility of queer voices through contemporary unapologetic artwork that positions women’s and queer bodies as a site of resistance, acceptance and love by resisting shaming women’s bodies. JuliArt’s Podcast Mastrubotorium conversation empowers queer women to claim their sexuality and be sex positive. On keeping a journal, the founder of Body Positive Namibia JuliArt had this to say about keeping her journaling experience
‘I journal every day to keep track of my mind and heart space. And moment when my magic is active Keeping track of it help me heal When I am lost And I come back to see that all I need in the moment I have already provided myself
From within the pages’ - JuliArt
THE NAMIBIAN LESBIAN FESTIVAL
The first Namibian lesbian festival was hosted by Women’s Leadership centre in 2017 and created a safe space for artistic expression of over 80 young lesbians from all over Namibia. The festival strengthened the resilience, leadership, sisterhood and artistic expression of lesbian women. We organized creative writing workshops, incorporating theatre, dance & music and poetry as a medium of storytelling. The integrated storytelling facilitated a process of archiving queer performance and culture by creating visibility on lived realities of young lesbians in Namibia. The multimedia storytelling, as well as the use of artistic expression created visibility on the daily stigma, discrimination and violence that they face in their communities. Through creating platforms of healing, WLC has redefined queer women’s movement building and storytelling by building the agency, self- esteem and confidence of the participants that participated in the festival.
To conclude, now more than ever, when civil society spaces are shrinking we should imagine new ways of dismantling power and privilege by breaking the silence of violence. We can only break the chains of our silence by finding new ways of thinking, creating feminist content and actively organizing ourselves in a healthy way that promotes collective care as well as self-care as a political act and Love. By dismantling oppression means we need to step outside our comfort zones and imagine authentic caring activism that allows us to speak about our vulnerability and our mental health that is rooted from generational trauma of our ancestors. We need to imagine new activism that demands access to health of marginalized women and LGBTQ+ people and people living with disabilities. We can only openly talk about decolonization when we are honest with ourselves as Namibians and as Africans. As we are leading the torch that was passed on from the post-independence women’s rights and LGBT activism we need to be radical and unapologetic.
J M A C E X E C U T I V E S U M M A RY :
Decolonizing Arts Education The workshop was organized by the John Muafangejo Art Centre which is a Namibian creative think tank focused on establishing collaborative methodologies in contemporary arts practice & forging expansive networks. The relevance of this workshop topic comes from previous workshop discussions and studies on systemic challenges in both professional and creative practices of artists, cultural leaders and educators. Drawing from these recommendations of JMAC’s 2016 needs study, both formal and informal arts education is seen as a driver of change and thus its approaches and contents must be critically engaged. The workshop had three main points of foci. • • •
Critical dialogue on Namibia’s historic and contemporary arts education. Suggest new progressive approaches in arts teaching and learning. Practice Public Art.
The workshop had the following objectives: • • • •
To map/revisit the legacy of arts education in Namibia and Africa, its challenges and opportunities today. Highlight the importance of arts education and promote its implementation in formal and informal contexts. To continue reimagining networking, inclusivity, visibility, agency, decentralization, dialogue, access, and collaboration amongst artists, educators, cultural leaders, institutions and other relevant stakeholders. To create a documentation of the workshop process of suggesting and recommending a decolonized arts education for Namibia.
The intention was to map decoloniality practices and engagements within the Namibian arts pedagogical community, following other examples on the continent such as Asiko School in Nigeria and the 3rd Space Symposium at the Institute of Creative Arts at the University of Cape Town. http://www.asikoartschool.org/ http://www.ica.uct.ac.za/ica/news/3rdSpaceSymposiumCallOut This decolonizing arts education workshop was attended by independent artists, educators and cultural leaders from institutions such as Namibia’s University of Science, University of Namibia, and Technology, College of the Arts University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape and Art in the House. As the first of its kind in Namibia, this workshop did more mapping than anything else. We were interested to know what and how people were decolonizing in their own contexts. The following presentations were offered by Namibian and South African workshop participants; 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Cultural struggles & popular education in Africa: Thulile Gamedze (University of CapeTown) & Koni Benson (University of Western Cape) Teaching Photography as Empowerment: Hugh Ellis (Namibia’s University of Science & Technology) Teaching Dance- The Namibian way: Trixie Munyama (College of the Arts) Art, and the Student: Nelago Shilongoh (University of Namibia) Art in one community zone: Actofel Ilovu (Independent artist) Demystifying the colonial understanding of theatre: David Ndjavera (College of the Arts) Teacher don’t teach me nonsense, teach me a post-Muafangejo movement: Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja (John Muafangejo Art Centre) Project Week… community engagement projects at College of the Arts visual arts department: Nicky Marais (College of the Arts)
Audio records of all the presentations are available at JMAC. Throughout the workshop, participants were asked the question, what does decolonized arts education for Namibia look and feel like? Which they had to critically reflect on. This resulted in the writing of a basic vision of decolonized arts education for Namibia. It reads as follows. 1. The curriculum is not rigid, it is always changing. It is always fluidly adapting to the needs of its context. 2. Arts and culture education is compulsory and accessible at basic education level for every child. Arts subjects are promotional. For this to happen, we must develop capacity, and authentic arts pedagogies for Namibia. The initiation and implementation of critical arts pedagogies for Namibia are urgent. 3. It is concerned with facilitating ownership and agency for its students during the teaching and learning process. 4. There is consistent capacity building and extensive knowledge management. This includes creating internship and training opportunities while carefully archiving and documenting information available to us. 5. There is an ongoing integration of practice and theory. There is an emphasis on learning through making, reflexivity, embodiment and creative research is encouraged. 6.
7. 8. 9. 10. 11.
It is context-relevant. Namibian and African histories are highlighted as other global histories. Given our heritage of cultural invasion and suppression of indigenous knowledge, it references global indigenous creative practices and knowledges. It is socio-politically, economically and historically engaged. This includes the technological and digital role in arts education and production. This means that it is cognisant of other ways of cultural production such as public and ‘non-traditional’ art. It is aware of how these knowledges have been ‘othered’ and why it is crucial and urgent for them to be given space in the contemporary curricula. It is not binary. It confronts the dangers of binaries in cultural production and discourses. Binaries such as art and craft; formal and informal; aesthetic and function do not account for things in between. It is intersectional. It recognizes different struggles and their connectedness. It recognizes the role of racism, sexism/patriarchy, ableism, homophobia, xenophobia and classism in the coloniality of education in post-Apartheid Namibia. It encourages strategic stakeholder collaboration. Organizations such as JMAC, NAGN, MAN, NIED, NTN, COTA, COSDEF, and UNAM could work together more closely. This also includes informal contexts. For this to happen, we understand that there has to be trust, commitment and on-gong capacity building for workers and institutions. It has a reciprocal working relationship with national policy frameworks such as National Development Plans, the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, the Namibia Arts, Culture and Heritage Policy draft (2015). It calls for a collective process of unlearning harmful/violent habits and values. It is deeply concerned with safety and upholding of an ethical teaching and learning culture. It asks, what is a safe space?
The overall workshop reflected a lot of critical dialogue (identifying the issues) and a call for action (the vision suggested above) by all stakeholders in the sector. What follows from this mapping will be workshops and productions in which participants will actively respond to their issues through an artistic, curatorial or research processes. Through the workshop What Shall We Do? we will encourage active and creative participation in responding to these systemic issues.
This vision was co-written by the following workshop participants Sibali Kgobetsi Alfeus Mvula Hildegard Titus Zellmarie Brandt Trixie Munyama Nelago Shilongoh Herman Mbamba Actofel Ilovu Haymich Olivier Michelle //Inixas Elize van Huyssteen Keamogetsi Molapong Trianus Nakale Hugh Ellis Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja Vetunjona Uarije
It is holistic, multifocal, comprehensive and inclusive. It gives choice. It seeks to integrate visuality, performance, other artistic forms and fields of study such as entrepreneurship, contemporary issues and publicness.
Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, Teach me Owela: A Journal Entry
don’t teach me nonsense, teach me owela...
PHOTOS: DANIELA MAGG
The body as subject for queer intervention Julia Hango in an Owela interview with Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja
NOTE: Also see page.... (The page on The Future of Work is Playful) as well as the back page.... of this publication for other images by JuliArt on The Body as Subject for Queer Intervention.
What is this collection titled and what inspired this work? “Sexuality is self-determination. Yet, the free expression of sexuality in all its facets, even in a society that defines itself as liberal, is not necessarily reality.“ This body of work was created for the 2017 FAVT exhibition where I wanted to explore ideas around the Black Naked female body of the sexually fluid and erotic Witch/shaman of a Queer African future. Using the body as a tool for protest. As a place of pleasure. A subject of experiences reaching with in altered states of consciousness. EROTIC COLLAGE Mee Ndapandula / Jenny / Lerato (Trans Women who have embraced their queer erotic Identity Journey. Dancing between the lines of Masculinity and Feminity) Inspired by THESE shifting BODY portals.
You use the body (yours and others) in an overtly political and transgressive manner in your work, what role does memory and health play in your interest in the body? Just an amazing question to think about and attempt to answer really. Dare i say everything is memory? I mean, I am only the memory of who i think/thought I am? of course that changes every second and that becoming another memory left in the past. The work is a type of physical memory of that/this self? The memory of pain and the moment freedom is experienced and the body embraced. Memory for me in my work has become less spontaneous, a little less childlike and explicit. more censored and afraid to create, so finding myself finding new ways in which to express, ways that may limit the human activity to produce works of art but ways that allow the soul to grow. Memory holds the mould for freedom already experienced. And this boils down right into health, Health is liberation. Once you are free, you can choose what health really means for you, healing does not look the same nor is it linear, healing and health are different with every human experience. Mental health is largely influenced by memory. We can heal ourselves with memory.
What about landscape? Landscape for me represents external freedom. When I am stuck with in myself and the human ways I find myself longing to be in an open landscape with nothing but me for miles on end. The human body is also a landscape I often get lost in and with my work constantly am inspired by. The folds, the hairs, lines, colors, shapes and valleys of the body I find true internal freedom. I love to experience, both on and off camera the visible features of an area, of Earth mother and her landforms, mountains and sea’s and how they integrate with the natural bare human form in whatever shape it exists in. You work with live performance, photography, and painting, how did this come about? Everything has become so evidently fluid and purposeful. Photography found and saved me from myself and gave me a reason and a voice to speak out loud. Performance has become my altar. My place of worship and trance. I perform for and with myself, rituals of magic and pleasure. And then when I perform for/with others. I find myself, humbled and free as bird. Satisfied. Painting is my less egoic practice, perhaps because I have less to say with it? More to feel? Another type of communication perhaps
Radical queer feminist art in Namibia is on the margins, both historically and in the contemporary sense, what is your wish for its future? At this point, I can only hope for the mental and emotional wellness for me and fellow Radical queer feminists, it’s not easy, it’s not been easy, I suspect, it’s not getting any easier just yet.
How important is collaboration and documentation in your process? Collaboration is important. It has become more so for me in the last two years. I seek deeply to create and work on the same page with others here. But I to have a lot to learn and let go with in myself and sharing. Perhaps that is where the resistance come in? Now knowing how to share? How can one learn as a grown up, that it is okay, and it is important to share all of yourself for the greater good?! Documentation is my whole life. Life is fleeting, and that’s okay but the memories and love that fills your heart when you see old documents and photos is one of the best in this human life. You also feature your daughter in your work from time to time, how does this come about? I live and play in the nude all the time and so when I conceptualize and shoot she just walks in. I cannot separate my being her mother and my being me but ahg. Yes. This is a constant inner and outer struggle but with this question I am committing to doing more photos of us. This has been a hard journey, just being a mother and an unstable muse/artist/free soul and then my work and choosing to document our journey. Child pornography is a huge issue yet even when the photo is completely filled with love and good intentions there will always be prey. I hope to one day have a safe platform both on and off line to share my life and work with her as an ode to her magical spirit that was the TRUE point of liberation for me as a woman.
As a nude and body positivist artist, how do you cultivate self-love and self-preservation in a climate (Namibia) that is conservative and can be restricting? Rituals, rituals, rituals, solitude, magic, yoga, yoga, yoga, stillness, stillness, mindfulness, detachment, self-awareness. ALSO baths, magical body oils, nudity, earthing and simply existing but most importantly daily mental training, de-conditioning.
Your performance at John Muafangejo Season 2018 was challenging as it generated critical dialogue. I am interested in how that concept combined Olukula/Otjize, a dress, water (what else?) against the backdrop of Muafangejo prints. What are your reflection on how you challenged history and presence of Namibian art? What did you say to Muafangejo? What were you saying to yourself and others? It was clay, period blood, paint, water, candles and the body in trance. The idea behind this piece came from me asking questions of where the black female artist is, in Namibian art history, searching for this presence and trying to understand why it is not important, as important as Muafangejo’s work and presence as a revolutionary artist. I felt as though celebrating him in yet another season of his works, and my being the only female artist asked to exhibit in this particular section of the show deserved a beautiful ceremony of freedom, cleansing and reunion. A sort of, coming home. I wanted to challenge everything we know to be true, to be Namibian, to be art, black, female, a witch and contemporary art slut. Since Petelina (Johns mother) was the witch that gave him life, and he didn’t get to see her before she died nor did he attend her funeral, I wanted to celebrate them both by calling upon her spirit to fuse with mine as I cleansed the space and the people in it as his covered the walls. An ode to John’s mother. If I ever get into another Muafangejo season, she will be who I will be celebrating as the portal that john came through. To John I said. Thank you for your hard work and surviving in this unkind world and wherever he is I hope he got to see his mother again. To his mother I said, Thank you for the magic you hold and so readily shared with me. To myself I say, there is still so much work to do and space to hold. I had not anticipated this kind of reaction, I was naive enough to think everyone will understand spirit and purpose and that’s exactly why they were disrupted by the piece. But also because I was invited and had given the curator my brief way before the actual performance I felt as though it was her responsibility to have gone through the proper channels before the evening, but I guess had she done that, it would have never taken place.
BY PRINCE K. MARENGA
The Past is not Buried, 2017, Installation. The National Art Gallery of Namibia. Photo by Willem Vrey
ON THE ROLE OF FRIENDSHIP IN ARTISTIC COLLABORATION: PERSONAL NOTES ON THE FUTURE OF WORK - RENATA CERNADAS GASPAR
As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action (Lorde, 2007: 37). I recently finished reading a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde published under the title Sister Outsider (1984, 2007). Her words – her translation of her vision – have been a major source of inspirational sustenance for me, for writing this text in the face of mourning. Roughly until halfway through the book however, I had to resist feeling further overwhelmed. How will I transform the chaos brought about by very intense feelings into an affirmative life force? How come, really, after so many years as a self-identified feminist working in different artistic contexts (formal and informal), have I not carefully read Audre Lorde’s work? I initially felt my ignorance was too much to bear; it was too late to begin to consciously enjoy feeling deeply as she proposes, especially as I am grieving my father’s death. I was stuck with the question, what do I do with this information now? And, as I carried on reading, a new constellation of interconnections started gaining shape. Slowly, my grief, Lorde’s words, and the topic of friendship and artistic collaboration on which I was supposed to write opened up to each other. I could begin to identify within myself the urgency to create ‘what did not yet exist’, the words which could translate my own perceptions. And, in this way, to attempt at following Lorde’s steps by actively taking the responsibility for acknowledging my feelings as crucial sources of power and knowledge, consciously bridging across the personal and the political. What follows then, is a transposition of Lorde’s insights into my experience – as a white, middle-class, bisexual, able-bodied, childless, late-thirties cis woman – and how they encourage the written articulation of my feminist political convictions. For a while now, I have been interested in exploring the potential of friendship as both catalyst and means to create artwork that aims to contribute to counter-hegemonic (inclusive and pluralistic) cultural practices. As I see it, artistic collaboration is a place of connections; it is a place in connection with other places, and multiple other spatial (material and sociocultural) networks. As a location of intersection and exchange of collaborators’ subjective and embodied experiences, artistic collaboration becomes a fluid territory where cultural and socio-political practices meet. The exercise of overlapping collaborative artistic practice with concerns of progressive socio-political change can enable and sustain more inclusive kinds of inter-personal relationships amongst collaborators – this premise is at the core of my belief in the possibility of radical and meaningful change enacted through artistic practice. Based on my own experience of creating artwork through friendship, my suggestion is that relations of friendship can productively mobilise sites of artistic production, connecting them to wider sites of everyday socio-political practice. By sustaining an explicit link between artistic collaboration and participation in the public sphere, relations of friendship highlight the processes by which art-making can have a direct bearing on public space and society in general. In Jon Nixon’s writings on the politics of friendship – based on the life and work of Hannah Arendt, as well as on her correspondence with her friends – friendship grants access to a continuous practice of major political ideas, which in turn have critical socio-political implications, as he clarifies: Through our friendships we learn to relate to one another as free and equal agents and, crucially, to carry what we have learnt from those friendships – by way of the exercise of freedom and the recognition of equal worth – back into the world [...] Friendships sustain us: their intrinsic promise is one of mutual sustainability within the wider world (2015: 49-50). Friendship, in this view, is a rich terrain for exploring how artistic collaboration can speak and respond to everyday cultural, social, and political practices, and thus potentially contribute to the development of an inclusive sense of belonging. In my experience, adopting a collaborative approach to artistic practice is a choice that reinforces a particular need of, and desire for, togetherness and connection. This choice is emotional and it is political. The kind of interconnectedness that artistic collaboration can help sustaining, and here considered, is a relational mode of questioning – it is an intentional pluri-vocal analysis of the power relations at stake, an acknowledgment of each collaborator’s position. This acknowledgment cannot evade affection or care. Because if the goal is to confront hegemonic ideas and practices of socio-cultural ordering and control (based on exploitation, commodification, and exclusion) then it is crucial to devise alternative modes of engagement with art-making. Specifically, we need to create pluralistic configurations which can unfold an ethical (caring) reading of socio-political interconnectedness and interdependency. As Lorde wrote, ‘Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters’ (2007: 111). As unsatisfied partakers in sociopolitical structures built on the ‘institutionalized rejection of difference’, we have to take charge of conceiving the ‘patterns for relating across our human differences as equals’ (Lorde, 2007: 115). Our work then, I believe, is to actively counteract dominant and oppressive ways of knowing (and working) by engaging in reflexive, empirical, and embodied forms of knowledge production – by recognising the epistemological strength and thoroughness of personal experience, of our feelings. As we affirm the role of personal experience in determining the development of our collaborative epistemologies – of our ways of knowing and reading what we do – we support the progressive disappearance of borders between working and living spaces of action. In merging professional with personal relationships, not only can we disrupt conventional working arrangements that follow professionally assigned roles, behaviour, and learning approaches; we also enable longterm relations of friendship to form and/or develop. And, with relations of friendship as the locus for continuous personal, artistic, and ethical-political exchange, we expand the sites of potential counter-hegemonic reach – alliance-making (through difference) becomes a tangible possibility. The making of alliances is critical to the ideas and practices which I am promoting here; but before developing this aspect further I want to address the characteristics of friendship. From the perspective of Western political philosophy which I adopt, relations of friendship presuppose that all aspects of each person/friend – her rational, moral, and spiritual components – not only shape the relation at stake but have a bearing on the individual’s sense of belonging in civil and
political society. The kind of friendship which I am speaking of is a voluntary relationship that has mutuality and equality as pillars around which the uniqueness of each individual is actively negotiated through affection and interest in the other’s perspectives1. This commitment to a person takes, in the words of feminist philosopher Marilyn Friedman, as its primary focus the unique concatenation of wants, desires, identity, history, and so on of a particular person. It is specific to that person and is not generalizable to others. It acknowledges the uniqueness of the friend and can be said to honor or celebrate that uniqueness (1993: 190-191). The distinctiveness intrinsic to friendship offers friends a place for recognising and acknowledging each other’s particularities – the ‘particulars’ of each other’s lives and of the relationship. This impossibility of generalising the relation (or the friend’s uniqueness) is important for a feminist (pedagogic) perspective on the role of friendship in artistic collaboration because it emphasises the idiosyncrasy of its approach to knowledge formation. That is, the element of uniqueness in friendship enables us to relate to difference beyond dichotomies of same/other; it productively underlines the question of each friend’s particular knowledge, experience, ability, and motivation becoming ‘equally’ important in informing the development of the relationship. Therefore, adopting friendship as the relational material upon which artistic collaboration takes place means that the characteristics of a particular friend (and friendship) can determine modes of working; it also means acknowledging the differences implicated, as well as embracing each friend’s specific set of interests and perspectives. With friendship as the vehicle (and route) for developing artistic modes of collaboration, the uniqueness of experiences (and their corresponding set of values and principles) that each friend/collaborator carries and reveals becomes decisive for enacting inclusive visions of belonging, where difference is both respected and cherished. As Lorde has put it: Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged (2007: 111-112). By means of each friend’s acknowledgement and respect for the distinct singularity of the other, friendship highlights a pluralistic attitude to social relations; according to Nixon, ‘friendship becomes a microcosm of a pluralistic world based on the equal worth of each unique individual’ (2015: 28). With plurality as one of friendship’s key constituents, we establish the basis for redefining difference, for developing, as Lorde proclaims: ‘new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference’ (2007: 123). Artistic collaboration based on the intertwined connection between friendship and the creative validation of the relationship enables art practice to become the epistemological translation of a particular relation of friendship. In other words, the materialisation of processes of artistic collaboration – the resulting combination of art-making and friendship – advances an ethical dimension of politics, which privileges exchange (and interconnection) as the location of power. With the personal relationship of friendship leading the transformation of dialogic exchanges into artistic outputs, and vice-versa, artistic collaboration can foster friendship’s potential for change; and, following Lorde, ‘when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile and feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives’ (2007: 127). This potential for transformation is activated in friendship’s capacity to widen one’s scope of experiential resources. Through mutuality, friendship promotes the accessibility to experiences beyond our own, which can serve as ground for assessing and updating one’s process of self-definition. Moreover, friendship upholds the latent possibility of adopting alternative, potentially divergent values than those previously cherished. The possibility of changing one’s views and beliefs through the association with a friend means that friendship can encourage a shift in normative-inspired perceptions of oneself, of one’s subjectivity, such as the idea of an independent, autonomous, and rational subject in full control of her life and decisions, as it is promoted by dominant neoliberalist ideologies. Friendship’s open-endedness – its spontaneity and ongoing capacity for self-renewal – is stimulated by the intersubjective space of dialogue and exchange that friendship provides, and through which we can nurture the connection between self, other, and the world. The space of intersubjectivity is, for me, the location where we exercise self-reflexiveness, together; it is where we situate difference(s) and acknowledge ‘built-in privileges’ like whiteness, maleness, or heterosexuality, as well as their implications for the work we do. Yet, friendship as a mode of questioning assumptions of power relationships is also an expression of the refusal to see oneself separate from others. This is important because to merge personal with professional relationships not only invites a situated dialogue with ethics and identity, it also enables sociospatial alliances across distinct territories. In other words, in the process of engaging in the co-production of knowledge, meanings and values, collaborating friends create and develop practices of shared responsibility and care. And here, I return to the question of alliance-making to speak of the role of the ally. Specifically, I want to propose that the figure of the artist/ally is the position from where we work towards pluralistic futures of belonging. In order to counteract the persistent reproduction of mechanisms of patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist exploitation, artists need to embody an ethical-political commitment towards pluralistic visions of belonging, that is, to identify one’s position as artist, to recognise and redefine difference – regarding the multiple ways in which gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability, ethnicity and so forth, variously affect subjectivities – and, finally, to assert one’s role as an ally against all forms of oppression. The artist/ally is a central figure for alliance-making, for a translocal approach to feminist solidarity. In practice, the artist/ally enacts a multi-located form of subjectivity by critically and creatively expressing her responsibility for the places she co-creates and helps transform both materially and conceptually. In practice, the work of the
My references include Heyking, J. von & Avramenko, R. (eds.) (2008) Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought; Nixon, J. (2015) Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Friendship; Friedman, M. (1993) What are friends for?: feminist perspectives on personal relationships and moral theory; Gandhi, L. (2006) Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship; Badhwar, N.K. (1987) Friends as Ends in Themselves. 1
artist/ally evokes a sense of responsibility towards specific others – not only towards others’ causes and struggles (and the sites where these take place) but also towards others’ subjective and embodied dimensions. In practice, artists who feel and act as allies perform an ethics of care, both as a mode of thought and as an everyday practice. The future of work, the future of our struggle for emancipatory socio-political alternatives, is actualised in the decision to choose our means of work. The future of our work is actualised in the decision to do work predicated on relationships which themselves constitute a significant part of what we aspire creating – places for learning, loving, and growth. Working with friendship means devising new modes of thinking about practice, within and beyond the fluid territories of art-making; but it also means seizing the opportunity to affirm our becoming, together. This brings me to Lorde’s insights again; specifically, her notion of the erotic as a source of power beyond sexuality. For Lorde, the erotic ‘is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire’ (2007: 54). In this sense, the satisfaction we associate with our experiences of the erotic can also be felt in the work we do, because ‘the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing’ (2007: 54). The relevance of the erotic in relation to (collaborative) work is that element of power which is activated in the depth of any sharing, what Lorde calls ‘that self-connection shared’. According to her, working through and towards deep connections allows us to become more reluctant to consent states of powerlessness; ‘for once we begin to feel deeply all aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of’ (2007: 57). Joy is something we can easily experience in working with friends; and the pleasure of collaborating with friends, and making friendships through collaboration, is amplified in the process of sharing our feelings. In the collaborative work that stems from friendship, we share the power of each other’s feelings. And, it is in the sharing of such knowledge that lies the vitality and determination so necessary to carry on envisioning a radically progressive transformation of socio-political landscapes. In the collaborative work that stems from friendship, we nurture the power to create the conditions in which we want to live and work by reminding each other of tapping into the joy of feeling deeply.
FRAGMENTS OF OUR CORRESPONDENCE: MIGRATING SEDIMENTS FÖR KÜNKEL & RENATA GASPAR
Thursday, 2/08/2018, Fårö, Sweden
Thursday, 20/07/2018, Windhoek, Namibia
I would like to speak about this pile. A pile on an island. A pile found in a hot summer afternoon when I was cycling around a small island. Piles move, islands not so much. Finding the pile was a catalyst in my own journey of exploration. We met in silence. In a brief suspension. And I realized I was on my way to somewhere which does not exist in the maps I knew.
Aina was telling me: we are expanding the city. This is the new place to be. Prices for land here are so high you cannot believe it. You have to take at least 5 million. I mean 3 million for the land and then what you build on top will also cost. But look at it - it’s so nice here!
Wednesday, 06/02/2019, Porto, Portugal Saturday, 15/09/2018, Berlin, Germany
I feel as if I was a pile that suddenly disappeared, like an interval in motion. The experience of mourning has prompted deep questioning, a non-intellectual kind of reorganisation of structural aspects of my life, and ongoing redefinition of my sense of self. This intuitive approach to finding ways of dealing with change, and accepting what is new and unnamed, is a form of resistance. It is a visceral way of learning how to deal with survival as a continuous act of transformation. It is a tortuous and painful journey, yet potentially equally emancipatory because this process constantly requires of me to acknowledge how affection, love, care, and attention are driving life forces of power and affirmation. The pile that suddenly disappeared was not especial in any particular way, a bulk of soil. I saw it once, and the next day I noticed, surprised, that it wasn’t there anymore. I guess there are millions of ways for piles to transform, for appearing and disappearing, and moving in intervals.
Today, I am carrying a cloud in my body. It is of the same muted grey colour the Berlin sky has on those(!) days in winter. The cloud is moving with me to a place without personal memories. I move through the city at random. A way that resembles the sensation of my body parts folding themselves outward, detaching and exposing the soul in unfortunate moments. This pile wrapped itself around me, creating belonging in a tired moment. And: 25 years back these two shapes would have found themselves on opposite sides of the wall - their loving correspondence would have remained unnoticed.
Sunday, 06/01/2019, Cape Town, South Africa My encounters today: “I am a builder Sometimes I have built well, but often I have built without researching the Ground Upon which I put my building I raised a beautiful house And I lived in it for a year Then it slowly drifted away with the Tides For I had laid the foundation Upon shifting sand“ - Maya Angelou, letter to my daughter, 2008
Friendship, in this view, is a rich terrain for exploring how artistic collaboration can speak and respond to everyday cultural, social, and political practices, and thus potentially contribute to the development of an inclusive sense of belonging.
A pile of sand is a thing made up of a multitude of individual and smaller units. It is a gathering of elements that have their own histories imprinted into them, and unknown futures ahead of them. A pile of sand or earth marks a moment in between: in between places, in between states and shapes of being, and in between functions. Piles can be seen to testify to how different places are interconnected; specifically, the sites of extraction of natural resources with the sites of construction of human society. Throughout the process of their formation, piles accumulate numerous trajectories, both physical and narrative. Thus, a pile of sand or earth is also a repository of experiences. It is a form of permanent emergence; it follows destruction and precedes creation. It remains in a state of making.
This visual and written exchange is an excerpt from a collaboration between two artist friends, För Künkel and Renata Gaspar. It is a snapshot of our ongoing conversation about questions of space, place, and materialities – in this particular case using a pre-defined channel on Telegram. It is a passage from an unplanned archive of correspondence, which began after the joint creation of the piece Stories from the perspective of piles (2017), an installation comprising photographs and text produced during our journey through Occupied Palestine in 2016. The practice of correspondence (through friendship) is the location where our different artistic backgrounds and personal experiences (as stage/space designer and performance artist/researcher, respectively) intersect, interact, and transform one another.
“Thinking“ from the perspective of the pile confronts us with the entropic nature of our thoughts; it asks us to accept the opaqueness of our experiences and yet encourages us to engage with the possibilities of our encounters. Using our mind in the way of earth matter does not ever allow for a single, linear or clear path. Rather, like the entities of piles, our learning shifts in a seemingly chaotic manner.
As mobile interlocutors between different places, piles carry on traveling along our friendship. The various journeys and connotations which piles can amass continue to entice our curiosity, and the desire to nurture our dialogue about the terms of our surroundings, our living and our working. This selection of moments in our correspondence is a fragment of the ground upon which we began to build the piece Correspondence on migrating sediments – an audio installation created for the Owela Festival 2019 – the Future of Work.
BORN TO FREE by Elrico .D. Gawanab
Dear Leaders, Eradicate before you evacuate Eradicate for we are here
They call us born frees But we were born to free the nation From economic slavery We will free the nation From mental slavery We will free the nation
Eradicate corruption before you evacuate Eradicate for we are here
Society saturates hate Perpetuating tribal differences Colonialism gave birth to tribalism
Eradicate inequality before you evacuate Eradicate for we are here
They discriminate against The advocate for change They are agents of the oppressor We do not want them as leaders
(Visual art) Illustration credit: Hage Mukwendje
Cultivating Cultural Citizenship VM Born Stars Productions cc, is an Educational Arts Company in Namibia. Under the creative leadership of Nyasha J Kuchekana- Chirau and Veronique B Mensah, we specialize in Educational Theatre, mainly focusing on Children’s Theatre, Theatre for Development and Theatre for Young People. Our methodology and approach is interdisciplinary, bringing together drama, music, visual arts, dance and research. We approach issues in an intersectional manner when working in social, community or educational settings so that diverse, inclusive and co-narrative outcomes can emerge from conscious and democratic involvement. As a project based closed corporation, we use the arts as a universal form of civic engagement to work towards social change and human development in Namibia and around the world. Our active collaborations and partnerships involve Parliament of Namibia, UNFPA, PAWO-SARO, Kalahari International Festival of the Arts cc, Peace Strings Network, The Hot Haus Zimbabwe and West Red Culture. These collaborations and partnerships have used culturally diverse aesthetics for dialogical interaction which is combined with care and transparency as the core dimensions for development. VM Born Stars Productions has currently three programs namely: NamibStories, Born A Star Express and KIFA Week. NamibStories: Draws knowledge from our folktales from the different regions of Namibia and the Diaspora. We believe that, the moral lessons embedded in these stories help shape us as people, as One Namibia One Nation. We strongly believe in the potential of facilitating morals and values that are embedded in these narratives and the potential of the making of a cultural citizen. Born A Star Express: Creates a safe embodied space, where difficult conversations take place, filled with expressive sessions, capacity building though the art takes places and participants are allowed democratic access to the creative economy and nature itself. KIFA Week: During the Kalahari International Festival of Arts, VM born stars productions Team runs a 7 day co- narrative Facilitation residency, for multidisciplinary creative devising also know as KIFA WEEK. It is through creative devising that we develop secure and progressive socio- economic platforms that appreciate evolving Cultures and Communities. The residency was launched as a pilot during KIFA on the 30th of November 2018 which marked the third edition of the Kalahari International Festival of Arts official Opening under the theme: It takes a village to raise a child. PRINCIPLES As a member of the Peace Strings Network, VM Born Stars Productions, ensures peaceful and progressive intercultural engagements within humanly evolving spaces. Hence our three point strategic code of principles are; o communication within intention for direction. o creativity within intelligence for effectiveness. o collaboration within innovation for balance
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Tselane and the Giant (schools tour) Opuwo Folktale research Woman from the Land of the Brave Our Bones Par our Land
BORN A STAR EXPRESS PROJECTS
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Opuwo Creative Devising workshop week KIFA Born A Star Express 2018 KIFA Capacity building week, KIFA WEEK Training of Trainers
EDUCATIONAL THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
• Enhancing Public Participation in the Law Making Process ( Parliament of Namibia) • Dialogue on Western Sahara (PAWO-SARO) • Don’t be a Zula Zombie (UNFPA) • Merek More than a Moved Foundation • National Heroes Day Celebration 2018: Land of the Brave. • Dialogue on Teenage Pregnancy ( UNFPA)
GHOST STORIES TI N A SC H Ö N H E I T I N AN O W EL A IN TER V IEW W ITH N AS H ILON G WE S HI P WE M U S HA A N D J A
Why use photography and its colonial legacy? To answer that question, I’d like to take a slight detour and discuss the analogue photographic process used in colonial times and in the creation of my work: “Ghost Stories”, and then refer to the way we take and share photographs now, in the digital age. As I was working with old photographic equipment, the images in the “GhostStoreis” project are from 13x18cm large negatives from a sheet film camera, it feels a little bit like time travel. Even more so because it takes a considerable amount of time to take just one picture. The large format camera is operated manually. When folded for transport, it looks like a little suitcase. Unfolded it can only be used on a tripod, since it is too heavy and not very practical. Before a photograph can be taken, the light in the subject area needs to be measured, to manually adjust the exposure time. A “modern” or digital camera does this automatically. For old analogue equipment, you have to use an external light meter. To set the focus, the distance between the focusing screen and lens must be adjusted. To check that the image is in focus, the photographers head disappears under a dark cloth – to better see the projected image, upside down or vice versa, on the focusing screen. When in focus, the photographed person/ or object must be completely still until the picture is taken, which can take up to a minute, or even longer. In that minute (or longer), the shutter is closed, a cassette (holding the film) is placed behind the screen, then opened to expose the film, when the shutter is finally triggered. Only when the shutter is closed again, the subject can move again. The slightest movement will result in a blurry picture. Inside the camera the following process takes place. While the shutter is open for a 10th of a second (up to a few seconds), the light reflected from the subject is projected onto the photosensitive emulsion on the film. All areas where light hits the emulsion, will appear dark on the negative. After the shutter is closed, the cassette, holding the sheet of film, is closed by sliding a sheet of metal or wood in front of the film. Then the cassette is taken to a darkroom, the film is removed from the cassette in complete darkness, and placed in the developer, a chemical bath. When developed, the sheet must be fixated to stabilize it so that the image does not disappear over time, and washed in distilled water to remove all of the chemicals, then it is dried. Only then you can hold the negative image in your hands. When exposed and developed correctly, a negative like this can be archived for over 100 years! As the images of the colonial era show. Back then the photosensitive emulsion was, most likely, not spread on film but on glass. To produce a positive from a negative on film or glass, the negative must be placed or projected onto an opaque object treated with photosensitive emulsion, mostly paper. Then again, developed and fixated with chemicals, washed and dried until we can again hold it in our hands – the final photograph, as we know it. Compared to smartphone photography, and how quick and convenient it is to take and instantly share a digital snapshot with the whole world, and maybe even start a revolution... the analogue process, especially with this large old format equipment, is a lot of work. It takes time, patience, and knowledge of the whole process. Plus, the equipment required won’t fit into your jeans’ pocket. Nowadays we consume more images through our smartphones before breakfast, than many people 100 years ago did in their entire lifespan! Today, we communicate with and through images. We take them instantly, we share them instantly. We don’t take notes anymore, we take a snap. Most photographs today are not produced to remain and/or to last forever. They are used to take a note, produce a quick aside and to be consumed even quicker. Then they are deleted from our hard drives or cloud storage, or copied onto storage mediums, such as CDs or DVDs which most new computers can’t read anymore... Who knows if we will still have access to our pictures, taken digitally today, 100 years from now? But we still have access to the pictures taken on film or glass plates 100 years ago and we can view them instantly, without any fancy equipment, by holding the negative towards a light source. We can even scan them, alter and circulate them digitally without the source image being lost. Think about it. Photography is not only a way to document time but also a way of expressing and visualizing one’s perspective and therefore making it available for others. Every photograph, every image taken, tells more than one story. The story as seen, captured, and told by the photographer. The story perceived and interpreted by the viewer of the image. And then also the story that connects to the background – information about time, place and the circumstances in which the image was taken. Therefore, a photograph may also be viewed as a political instrument and/ or statement. Photographs have always been and will always be used for propaganda and to underline a statement visually, or even to start a revolution. A picture speaks more than a thousand words. And it doesn’t matter if it was taken as a snapshot or from an artistic or a documentary point of view. The actual picture is what is created in our heads, the story that unfolds in our minds, what we read out of it. How it touches us. The way we read an image is strongly influenced by our knowledge, experience and education.
It is the same for the way we create images. The story told is always a key component. A photograph is not only an image, it is also capable of creating an image. An “Image-Campaign”, for example, is nothing without its visual content. Looking at influencers on Instagram, who created a business model out of advertising products by arranging and displaying them in a staged environment that it made to seem “natural”. To make us believe this is how they live. To propagate that if we buy that product, we can be a little like them. These influencer images may look candid but are very much staged. As staged as old images, taken on glass or film negatives are. Because, when looking at the effort that is behind an image taken with a large format camera, a “snapshot”, a candid capture of a brief moment, isn’t really possible. Since the cameras are much larger, heavier and not as easy to handle as a today’s smartphones – they have to be set on a tripod, because they are too heavy to be used handheld especially with the long exposure times sometimes necessary to capture an image. The long exposure is also a reason why, on old photographs, the depicted people look “frozen” and therefore very staged. When images were taken indoors, people had to lean against walls or sticks, for them to be able to hold still for several seconds, so they appear sharp and clear in the photograph. This is also evident in many photographs from German colonial times, from the archives at MARKK, Museum am Rothenbaum Kulturen und Künste der Welt. Therefore, one could argue that the subjects of old photographs, as much as influencers on Instagram today, were very aware of the fact that their image has been taken. Or at least that something was going on, when someone placed a box on three legs in front of them and disappeared under a dark cloak for a while, while they were told to hold still. That may explain the stories told of people who thought their souls were taken when actually a photograph was taken.
Photography fails to capture the ephemeral. What role does it play in self-writing? Some may argue a photograph is not be able to capture the ephemeral. But it is most certainly able to capture evidence of it. For example, when we take a snapshot of a brief moment in time. Looking at it may help us to get back to that moment in time, help us to remember the feelings felt in that moment. It can work as a metaphorical bridge to memories and knowledge. Photography and video can create evidence of a certain moment in time. For example, the documentation of performances or plays, like Kuku, Eenganga and Dance of the Rubber Tree. It wasn’t my intention to document it. Rather to keep a “picture-memory” of that moment, that day and what was going on in my life at that very moment. The ephemeral. We can write down a memory and reread it again and again. Reading takes time. Or we can take a photograph and the whole story unfolds as we look at it. Also, we all have a certain preference as to how we like to consume information. Some people are auditive, they like to listen to information, others like to read, and some require visual stimulation. Pictures and Ppotographs are perfect for that. The “Photos-App” on my phone is like a diary for me.
What was Ghost stories about? What was your process? “Ghost Stories” described in one word is: questioning. By displaying photographic negatives, with a twist, I’d like to question our oh-so-“positive” world. Negative images do appear a little spooky. This in conjunction with the stories told through the portrayed referencing, the “ghosts” that linger above our societies, for example the “ghosts” of racism, sexism, ageism and many more. Within the photographs I like to question our perception of things which we tend to take for granted, for example, gender norms. For many there are only two options: male and female. But is that true? Not really. Some people are born with both sexes, others don’t identify as the gender they were raised. “Ghost Stories” tries to question our perception and perspective on what it means to be human. Since perspective is an essential tool regarding the creation of a photographic image, “Ghost Stories” is also questioning the photographic process itself, by leaving the negative image as the “final” result. A normal photographic negative is a color-inverted image. On a black and white photographic negative everything light, in reality, appears dark and everything dark will appear light on the negative. For “Ghost Stories” the portrayed people are “painted” in their “negative” “color”, with bold black and white makeup, before the photograph is taken. Meaning: “black” people are painted “white” and “white” people are painted “black”. For their skin tone to appear in their “original color” on a negative photograph — “white” people will appear “white” and “black” people will appear “black”. The hair and the eyes are usually left untouched, resulting in a spooky appearance. Our world is often categorized in black and white, positive and negative. It’s easy, since black and white, as dark and light, show the highest possible contrast. But our world is actually pretty colourful, and some argue, that black and white are not actual colours.
Still, white/light is often seen to have positive connotations, for example “the gods in white” for medical doctors, who bring healing and health. And black/dark with negative connotations, for example the “dark lord” for the devil. Black and white are also used to describe light and dark pigmentation of skin. Our skin tones come in all kind of hues of brown and beige, to pink as South American artist Agelica Dass’ photographic project “Humanae” perfectly illustrates. But it is still the words “black” and “white” we use to categorize humans according to their skin tone. The famous “doll-test” still shows that children still think that the “black” doll is the bad and ugly one compared to the “white” one. It’s time to question. Don’t you think?
What role do haikus play in your practice? Haikus in connection with snapshots, photography or other images can show another dimension, what lies between the lines, guide you toward another meaning, a way of interpreting the seen, offering another perspective. Haikus only consist of three lines of usually 5/7/5 words or in their shorter form 3/5/3 syllables. Even in their shortness, they are still able to tell a full story. Especially when the lines at first don’t seem to correlate. The further apart the meaning of the single lines seem, the more complex and wider the story can enfold. It’s like working with another dimension. A haiku is not what’s written on paper or typed out, but what’s happening between the lines. Looking at my first ever snapshot with Haiku from October 2015, it was a picture of blossom on a tree. It was a windy, late afternoon/early even evening, and it was almost impossible to take a clear, not blurred, picture of those flowers. I was walking my dog in the neighbourhood, walking home from the shops. Nothing special, you may think, if this scene was set in Europe. But I was walking in Windhoek, Namibia. I still had to cross a dried-out riverbed and it was close to sundown. Women especially know about the dangers of walking around, on your own, in Windhoek, having to cross a riverbed. You hear the stories, read about the abused and abandoned bodies of sisters in river beds, gender-based violence and all sorts of violent stories dominate the daily news. Friends of mine were so afraid, they never walked anywhere and always took a car... I walked. Aware and alert. But I walked. It was part of my routine, to clear my head, to process, to fight my fears and to work on ideas. During that time, I wrote a few poems on equal rights and emancipation, processing what was going on in my head and around me. When I saw the flowers, the following Haiku sprung up in my head:
They want to be seen They don’t want to be taken Them precious flowers
In that moment, it summed up everything that was going on in my head, my life and in that moment. It felt great, and when it was done and published (on Instagram) my head and heart felt wonderfully light and beautifully empty. All the heavy stuff was gone.
DISH D I S H I S A N E W W O R K B Y S O U T H A F R I C A N P E R F O R M A N C E A R T I S T O U PA S I B E K O .
…Evening news is where they begin with “Good Evening” and then proceed to say why it isn’t. This work is an invitation for people to write their own news and not be fed and rely on media for news but for each body to install itself, to feed itself what it needs to liberate and emancipate. The work was exhibited in March 2019 in Dance Umbrella Africa.”
- Oupa Sibeko.
Photography: Ben Skinner
O B Y
L D H E
R E N S O I B
Children of the soil we must stay grounded For we come from the ground We are of the ground The roots of our ancestors grow deeply beneath the ground
Children of the soil we must rise Just as the mighty sun rises to bring new life To shine new light We must shine with all our might So when the world faces Africa, they may see the sun-star that is she.
Children of the soil lets join hands and give thanks to the trees For just like our ancestors believed it is from them that new life springs Children of the soil, be power Liken yourselves to ancient African bonfires that burns great truths That reigns within us from old age to rebirth to youth
Be pure like water, like that which flows through stream or river gently flowing alongside one another with a sense of togetherness and persistence that cuts through the strength of rock. Like the tiny particles of sand that collaborate Embrace each other to form stone and as this stone grows old he turns into rock.
Children of the soil, we must stay grounded For it is upon this notion that our Africa, she was founded
“but I am not.” - KEITH BLACK
There is a brother of mine in the ground He is cold - before his time - and mostly gone His bones are now century old sand This one deader than his cousin before him And our mothers more broken Than their mothers were – about it
Only to end up against a fence Right outside where he dreamt he once lived In another time Before he killed And His father died And his sister declared never to be spoken of And his mother battling generational grief
There is a brother of mine in the ground Huddled in forever-graves Foe and friend in a century old embrace Much without choice Perhaps by fate, but certainly not by destiny Still he lies now - but not for eternity – forever unnamed Next to his kin in a now stolen kingdoms Too dried up to give off any smoke signals
Each one no longer holding a weapon But rather, became one Lethal and ferocious His teeth glaring into everything once full moon Speaking truth to power From his grave Through his son Who isn’t dead For here I stand
There is more quiet Now as it was then Since they spoke a strange tongue We begged in ours nonetheless Where More meant Violent Erasure And Less meant Us
Cheek bones still seen Mark a small but enduring triumph That saw his people here too Through Him Today Still
And now my sister is dead too I know nothing of her name or how she moved She lived and left 80 years before me Left because they took her as well Now the mounts in which she lay Are as high as her cheek bones were - I’m told
My brother is dead MY father is dead My mother is dead My sister is gone too …BUT I AM NOT
I had many such other-sisters who are now dead too They wore a defensibly long skirts Who, in its layers, held their strength together But was still too close to the settlers grip And as each tier was lifted So too he uprooted entire communities And its sisters, and her brothers Much of our mothers and too many a father Our fathers died first Their history I will not play upon for prose Them I will remember in every bone that holds me up Every one of their fears mine too Each of their bullets now in my barrel Each declaration for redemption echoed by my breath Our fathers didn’t come home And that killed our mothers My father didn’t come home And so another killed my sister My brother didn’t have a home So he killed It wasn’t just my brother who was homeless His brother looked just like him And wore the same size shoe So he followed fates narrow path
I am here; a small but loud testimony That will speak poem and pain In the name of my people Whom you killed In cold blood In the desert By the sea In our forests Right here where I stand All of them dead …BUT I AM NOT I’ve been called upon To walk as a living ghost To live amongst you and your people Here to haunt To remind and reprimand To reconcile mine, and heal ours To bring to task To take on this task To add back the stolen To give back the dignity AND FOR YOU TO MAKE RIGHT WITH YOUR GODS AS WE HAVE WITH OURS. END.
My people, it is because of you That my tears drop like heavy rains
a trail of bones
You who were forced in to a trail of bones You who escaped the teeth of a nightmare To be stung with poison from the tales of a ruthless dream My people, it is because of you You who screamed adieu to the Namib With muted voices, screaming silently You the brave who screamed with authority â€œthis is our land though befriended by tears n sorrow, We will rather die than leave!â€? My people, it is because of you You who suffered in the desert, stranded! No water to drink No food to eat No place to hide But six-feet under My people, it is because of you You my mothers You who suffered the weight of the white men You my fathers You who watched hopelessly Helplessly watched your women being raped! Oh! The halitosis of hate and pain In children faces The babes that saw their early graves The Scientists we lost! The carpenters we lost The fashion designers we lost! It is because of you, my people You who were robbed of your wealth And forced in to suffocating places You who saw a storm of tears That never reached the eyes! You who gathered strength Despite the blistered feet n visible rips! You who reached old age at ten Yet lived to see hundred It is because of you that now I am able to look long At this picture taken long before I was born!
A poem by Prince K. Marenga
“WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED” The poem “Our Grandmothers” by Maya Angelou serves as inspiration for this multimedia photo montage that dissects the visual legacies created by photographers, ”explorers”, collectors, historians, ethnographers, and military officials during the German colonial occupation in Namibia (1884-1918). Using photographs housed at the Ethnological Museum in Hamburg (now renamed MARKK), the work deconstructs and repurposes these images to disrupt the colonial order of knowledge. As the printed photographs entered the MARKK’s collection, they were filed on so-called ikono catalog cards with referential information on time, location, subject matter and origin inserted. There is limited documentation about life as experienced by the depicted, instead, the photographs teach us more about the ideologies of their creators, which continue to shape societies today. With this notion in mind, the images are rearranged to depict an alternative narrative, one that is punctuated by blown up portraits consisting mainly of black women. Subject to political and intimate forms of violence, the selected photographic subjects are transformed to reflect the tensions between freedom and oppression, resistance and submission, and strength and fragility under colonial occupation. We Shall Not Be Moved was exhibited at M.Bassy, a non-profit alternative space that represents artist and art from Africa. The work is created in conjunction with another body of work, Ikono Wall/Mirrored Reality, which was on display at MARKK. Both works aim to challenge late 19th and early 20th Century visual representation of non-European bodies.
BUT STAND AS A THOUSAND To my future children and children’s children: You are survivors. With ten thousand invisible eyes on your back. They exist because you exist. I exist because they exist. I come as one, but stand as ten thousand Our dearly departed ancestors. They did not exist as individuals. Only as groups. Only as entire nations to be erased. For the creation of a new fatherland. The only proof that they were ever alive, their children and their children’s children. It takes just one survivor. I come as one, but stand as ten thousand Entire family lines convoluted, by chaos and colonialism. Erased at some points in the folds history. Re-drawn here and there, seemingly out of nothing. Undoubtedly in the survival of a few. Because it takes just one survivor. I come as one, but stand as ten thousand Dearly departed ancestors. Anonymous black bodies. What are your names? Man, woman, or just a ‘type’ What are your hobbies? Taking pictures that flatten the soul. What are your favorite colors? Black. The stain that torments the Earth. Gazed upon by the fatherland. But it takes just one survivor. I come as one, but stand as ten thousand To break free. Of the gaze, and the glass boxes, and the storage containers, and the collections. For the future. It takes just one survivor. I come as one, but stand as ten thousand Dearly departed ancestors, suspended within our very existence. The only proof that they were ever alive. No record can bring back what is lost. Or stolen. No document can quantify oppression. Or genocide. But it takes just one survivor to stand as ten thousand - Vitjitua
The Mourning Citizen is an interdisciplinary, site-specific and ritual performance by Da-mĂ˘i Dance Ensemble conceptualized by Trixie Munyama.
T he Fut ur e o f Wo r k
Analyze This IV (2014) by Vilho Nuumbala
Fellemon Ndongo and Nelago Shilongoh performing border crossings at Oudano Afro Lab (2016). Photo: Luktos Shikongo
The Body as Subject for Queer Intervention by JuliArt Whilzahn Gelderboom performing â€˜Indepen(dance) Avenue (2015). Photo: Vilho Nuumbala
Radical Histories ll: Ottilie Abrahams Speaks by: Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, Koni Benson and Asher Gamedze Art by: Nambowa Malua
INTR ODUC T ION This contribution is an outline of an African radical history project. It has been facilitated through interdisciplinary and transnational dialogues aimed at stimulating interest and learning amongst ourselves and youth activists from Southern Africa. This article forms part of part 2 of a radical histories series. The first part of the series “Radical Histories I: SACHED and Some Others,” was published as an interactive timeline and reflection piece in Pathways to Free Education Volume iii: Third World and Social Welfare, 2017. Radical Histories ll is dedicated to the life and work of the late Ottilie Abrahams whose contributions to the Namibian liberation struggle as well as the post-Apartheid educational and community development have been remarkable. Aunty Tillie, as she was known by those that she worked with, was a radical feminist and educator, the founder and principal of Jakob Marengo Tutorial College. She was passionate about Paulo Freire’s popular education theory, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This chapter highlights some of her activist-educational experiences not only in Namibia but also in Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Sweden. We were deeply honored and privileged to have been able to document her narrating her own story during a study tour exchange of southern African activists - Youth Without Borders -which we were part of organizing as the education programming team in 2017. The workshops were co-facilitated through embodied, visual and archival approaches as a way of generating a trans-historic and activist learning experience. We intersect our experiences from research and practice in theatre, music, visual arts and history education to create meaningful and relevant content that is generally excluded from mainstream archives of learning and culture. The Radical Histories ll workshop was initially held in Katutura, Windhoek, on two separate occasions in October 2018. The first one was at the Katutura Community Art Centre with participants and artists as part of Operation Odalate Naiteke, a revolutionary culture festival. The second workshop was with senior high school students of history at the Jakob Marengo Technical College, a school founded by Tillie Abrahams in the 1980s. It was also conducted at The Interim People’s Library in Kensington in Cape Town, as part of a Know Your Continent African history workshop series. This was organized with the Popular Education Project for a group of interested in African history. -The course looked at histories of migration, racism, spirituality, Cape Town, borders, the city, and of resistance movements. The political life journey of Aunty Tillie was the content of the course’s last session. For the workshops in Katatura we used flour to create a map in the shape of the continent on the ground. . For the workshops in Kensington we used a large printed outline of the map and attached colorful yarn to the text cards. All the participants then received a text card or two with details about particular person, process or organization relevant to Ottilie’s life history. After discussing the details of the history on the cards in groups, people had to share a bit of that history with the group. People would often read out these cards which opened to animated dialogues about these moments and organizations. Then they had to place the card somewhere on the map, anywhere they chose. We used stones to hold down the text cards to give a visual representation of Ottilie Abrahams’ life journey and all the work she was involved in. . These text cards are also included as part of this article- they can be studied and digested in and of themselves, or copied and cut out to use in this kind of mapping activity. In the workshops, the reading and dialogue of each card was followed by placing it somewhere on the African map. The placing of cards did not necessarily have to be placed where the actual geographical location of the organization or moment was- the conversations around the choices each participant made about where they chose to place the history text card led to endless directions for the conversations, and for the future. This was part of the bigger dialogue in which workshop participants were invited to share responses and thoughts and map other radical histories and questions that came to mind. This contribution is structured in the following way. The first section is a transcript of Ottilie Abrahams talking about her life journey to Youth Without Borders, a group of activists from the Southern Africa region during a study tour to Namibia in 2017. The second section is a fold out map of the continent that highlights moments and movements of her journey that are elaborated in longer text boxes in the following section. This map can also be used as a template should you wish to carry out and build onto this workshop plan. The text cards give wider context and further detail on these key moments and movements mentioned by Ottilie Abrahams, highlighting a history of over 100 years of liberation struggle at the heart of this piece. We trust in the pedagogical potential of this dynamic and border crossing narrative to inspire modes of futures of work. Artists, educators and historians can draw a lot from Aunty Tillie’s
resilience, solidarity and commitment to the struggle as a way of re-imagining the futures of working towards liberation. LIVING ARCHIVES Otillie Abrahams addressed southern African youth activists at an exchange in Namibia Jan Mohr School, Windhoek, 26 May 2017 The input started off with Ottilie looking at the photos, news paper clippings, maps and drawings that were up on the wall from the morning session. Starts off pointing to a map and discussing where her late husband, Kenny Abrahams lived- in District Six/Walmer Estate: He went to school at Upper Ashley (primary) and then he went to Trafalgar High School. I meet him through my older brother who was also studying at Trafalgar and the two of them went to UCT and took a medical course at UCT. The thing you must understand is that from a very young age we were actually involved in politics. You couldn’t be born at that time without being involved in politics. And as soon as we got to Cape Town, especially to Trafalgar, we got involved. We were with people like Tabata (pointing to his photo on the wall). We also joined APDUSA. We also worked with contract workers from what was then called South West Africa. In the Unity Movement, APDUSA, and all those organizations, where we felt that we would never really get rid of apartheid through political means only. We felt it was time to start an armed struggle. We then formed an organization called the Yu Chi Chan- which is Chinese for guerrilla warfare. It was called the YC3 Club, and we had people like Neville, Fikile, Dulcie, and us, we were all part of that particular organization. We had a bit of trouble from the people in APDUSA who felt that to speak about the armed struggle was very dangerous- that we were endangering the struggle. Kenny and Neville were eventually suspended by SOYA but we continued in this vein. And when the time came, we came to Namibia. Very soon after we came to Namibia, we got to hear that some people who belonged to our underground cells were arrested. At the time my husband and I were working in Rehoboth, and it was a place where, well, I don’t know how many of you know the history of the so called Basters. It was semi-independent. It was the only place in Namibia or South West Africa where black people were allowed to own guns. Now fortunately a short while before we came back to Namibia, my parents had bought a farm in the Rehoboth area, which made me a citizen of that area. So when the police came for Kenny - we had arrived in Rehoboth and within about an hour - the police were there to take Kenny out as a prohibited immigrant. Now as I said Rehoboth was semi-autonomous, the Council of Basters immediately declared my husband a citizen because I have a right to be a citizen, and he’s married to me. But that wasn’t the end of the story. When people like Neville and Marcus and others, were arrested and taken to Robben Island- the police, very early in the morning, when it was still dark, we saw fires in the mountains surrounding Rehoboth. That was actually the police who came to arrest Kenny and that is where you had this situation here (points to the newspaper clipping on the wall). Luckily the people there were very well organized and within a few minutes you had about 400 people there with guns. And as you see here the newspaper writes “Rehoboters bereid om te sterf vir hulle dokter.” It says: “Rehobothers Were Willing to Die for their Doctor”. They took out arms, they told the police if you touch that man we will shoot, today there’s going to be blood. It was so dramatic- as you can see there these people standing there with guns ready to fight. So, we decided on a play, that I was going to take my car and the children because we had two children- and I was so upset and said I was going to go to the farm. And while everybody was still looking at us, Kenny slipped on his stomach like a snake and into the car of a certain Mr de Kerk. And while they were looking at us, they drove them over to a place called Sam Khubis where the Rehoboth people fought the colonial powers. It’s very dramatic when he tells how when they came to every house and just told the people what is going on, and how the men just took their blankets and food and their guns and they moved up to Sam Khubis ready to fight. In any case that was the first time that these people tried to arrest Kenny. And Kenny escaped from there.
TRAN SCRIPT I was then informed that the police are coming for me because people like Marcus and others were also being arrested and it was decided that I had to leave. I was disguised as a Herero woman. You’ve seen the Herero costumes – the women with the big turbans – haven’t you seen them? And SWAPO got me some papers with which I could leave. My name was Elsa Kairazikira and I was a girl, a young girl at school and I became pregnant, and I was now expelled from my school and I was now being sent back to my parents by the Stanleys. I don’t know if those from Botswana know the Stanleys? I was supposed to be expelled and I was supposed to go back to my father. That is how we escaped through the desert. And I was in Francistown when I got a telegram from Kenny that he will be coming. And I went to the station and waited and waited and Kenny did not appear. What actually happened- on his way to Francistown at a place called Ghanzi( where are the Botswana people? We are here!) So, at Ghanzi the South African Police, who had put on masks actually came to arrest my husband and Andreas Shipanga and Paul Smith and a man called Beukes who was instrumental in getting the people to stand up for my husband. They were actually arrested there and Kenny was taken back to Roeland Street jail and had to appear in court. In any case as you can read there, in the Argus where they wrote that Kenny was arrested in Botswana, and the Botswana government said they had absolutely nothing to do with it. Luckily we had friends in Britain who raised the matter in parliament and they demanded that Kenny had to be returned by the South African Police. Eventually he was returned and we went into Zambia – is there anybody from Zambia here? So, my husband worked as a doctor there and I taught at a school called Chizongwe Secondary School, for 5 years. And eventually I was declared a prohibited immigrant and the lawyer took them to court and said that my body must be produced in court. Habeas corpus! And I must be told why I am a prohibited immigrant. Kenny was arrested in Isoka – does anybody know where Isoka is? And it is so ironic because when we came to Zambia it was in Isoka that Kenneth Kaunda had a meeting and spoke so glowingly about us and said the Abrahams’ will always be welcome in Zambia and that is the place where Kenny was arrested. In the meantime, we made arrangements to go to Sweden and he was eventually released and taken to the airport and we went to live in Sweden. Eventually, after 15 years- there was Resolution 435. We came back to Namibia, and we immediately started mobilizing people- working with people: growing food. Everything based on participatory democracy. In the years in Sweden I was writing a PhD thesis on the works of Armah you know the one who wrote ‘The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born’, a Ghanaian writer. My thesis was actually based on the fact that when we went out to Africa - this was the time African countries were getting their independence – we find that every time an African country gets independence we see a counter-coup and a counter-coup. And were asking if we all fought for independence why is it that people are regressing? My thesis was- it is because the people are not part of their governance. They even used the phrase ‘One man, Vote once’. In Africa you just voted, the people are in parliament you are still living in poverty, you haven’t got a house your kids are not going to school and when there’s election in 5 years, what do you do? You vote for the same party. And we thought that for as long as people in Africa are doing that, we will not get anywhere. So, when we came to Namibia we felt whatever we do is going to be based on the context of participatory democracy. We then formed an organization called The Namibian Nationhood Trust or The Namibian Nationhood Programme. Our idea was that we were going to find ways and means of involving people in their own governance. We felt very strongly that that was the only thing that one could do to liberate Africa. We started with agricultural projects in the South where the people would say what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it and they would accept responsibility for it. We also then started this school called Jacob Marengo. We were helped in this by Alexander. He was at that time working for SACHED and he helped also not only with the curriculum. He also helped us to find support from the Ford Foundation with which we started our school. When we started in 1985 we had about 25 students from South Africa including the students from Paballelo (Uppington, where the youth exchange had stopped en route to Windhoek). So in any case: the motto for Jacob Marengo is ‘Education for Liberation.’ That is why we did not have a system of students representative councils. We have a system of Turumas, or groups, where every child in the school has a specific task to perform. The idea was that if children are taught from a very young age to be involved, when they leave school they will also insist on being part of their own governance. The school last year had over 1000 children and about 500 of them were from Angola. We have children from Zimbabwe, the Congo from various parts of Africa because sub-equatorial to us is very important. This year of course we have about 960 because many of the Angolan children had to return because of the falling oil prices they can’t afford the rent they are being charged all over. So that was the one project. Then we also started a few pre-schools. At the moment we have two of them running. We did a lot of campaigning with the Minster of Education because it seemed as if people didn’t understand the importance of early childhood education. I must say that the Ministry has been very good as far as this is concerned and we did a lot of campaigning and eventually people started really moving to implement this issue of early childhood education.
and they can actually achieve this if they sat together and they worked together, if they unite. I have some papers here if there are people interested in Namibian history, and on the Children’s Movement. I thought I won’t make a long speech because I thought if you wanted to to ask questions, you are very welcome to do so.
Q&A Who was Jacob Marengo/Why name the school after him? His history was totally forgotten. His mother was a Nama and his father was a Herero, and he was living in the Karasberg mountains. He was one of the first people who tried to unite the people in Namibia or what was called South West Africa at the time- hence the colonialists. That is why some called him the black Napoleon. That is one of the reasons why we decided that Neville should actually run with this. If you want to find out more about Jacob Marengo it’s all in here. He was a master in the art of guerrilla war. The Germans would attack, but when the Germans start to attack they would retreat- he would lead them into the desert and just let them die. It sounds very heartless. I am sure if he was alive, he would be one of the people in the Yu Chi Chan Club. He knew everything about guerrilla war. One of the reasons why he’s so important is that he tried to unite the people in good time before the colonialists came. He wasn’t a tribalist, he was a real nationalist. This is why we also decided to call this school Jacob Marengo. He was a very accomplished person, he spent a few years in Germany could speak German very fluently. He was really a man of the people. When we came, people didn’t even mention him. This is why we called the school Jacob Marengo. He is very low key but he was a brilliant fighter and a statesman. A comrade from Botswana asks about their time in Francistown: You know there was a man called Benny I don’t know what is surname is. He was a builder and he gave us a caravan to stay in when we were in Francistown so we stayed there… We did not stay there for very long- a few weeks. That was at the same time that Wolpe and Goldreich – do you know who they are?, escaped- the – the Rivonia Trial people. They were all in Botswana at that time. You know you had the world press there because you had the whole Rivonia Trial people and our people were all there at the same time. And things were really electric there at that time. A FeesMustFall activist from South Africa asks about the formation of SWAPO in Cape Town and the relationship to the Unity Movement: SWAPO was formed in Cape Town. Before that, Ovamboland Peoples Organization was formed here, and some of the people like I don’t know if you know Mburumba Kerina, he was at the UN. We had some people at the UN and you couldn’t come there with your organization called Ovamboland Peoples’ Organization. We wanted to make the thing national so that it doesn’t only include the Ovambo people but everybody else. Then we had several meetings in Cape Town and they also had meetings in Namibia and eventually the organization was formed in that way. …The Unity Movement had very good lectures and we thought its good that the people with whom we were going to work with in Namibia, are au fait, with what we talked about. Andreas Shipanga was in SWAPO also and was included in the Yu Chi Chan movement. We didn’t want to include too many people from SWAPO because if the cell was discovered then it would endanger the existence of SWAPO. So we only included 2-3 from SWAPO in the underground.
REFERENCES Abrahams, Ottlie, “Address to southern African youth activists,” Jan Mohr School, Windhoek, 26 May, 2017. Abrahams, Yvette, “Tribute to Mother of Education,” The Namibian, July 4, 2018. Akawa, Martha, The Gender Politics of the Namibian Liberation Struggle. (Switzerland: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2014). Alexander, Neville, “Three Essays on Namibian History, Namibian Review Publications No. 1, June 1983. Benson, Koni and Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, “She Was There Until the End: An Ode to Ottilie Abrahams,” The Namibian. 10 July, 2018. Boesak, Harry “Ottilie Abrahams: An Honest and Upright Person” Pambazuka News. 14 July, 2018. Caincross, Lydia, “Towards One Azania, One Nation,” Keynote Address, Renaming the Humanities Building of the University of Cape Town, 28 August 2015. Frank, Liz, “Ottilie Abrahams: passionate about education for liberation,” Sister Namibia, 1 July, 2004).
In 1975 when we returned from exile, we established an organization after a few months called the Namibian Women’s Association because there were many women in the political organizations. But the women’s wing of political organizations was only really called upon during conferences and you needed to make tea and give people food and all that. We said we aren’t really interested in that, we want to establish an organization of women for women by women and that is why we established NAWA. We did some work amongst the women but I must say recently we’ve really neglected the organization because NAWA’s projects have become very important to us – it’s running the pre-schools and also the Children’s Movement. In the Girl Child Movement in part of the Children’s Movement where you get children to teach other children whatever is necessary. Now this one is based on 5 principles: • • • • • •
The first one is respect for yourself- which means that you are going to do everything that you can to get the best out of yourself. If you’re at school, you study as hard as you can. Whatever you do, you do the best you can be. Second is respect for your neighbour -which includes girls. We stress the concept of equality – there’s no gender discrimination. Concept three: respect for the environment. Today most of our work centres around the concept of climate change. Those were the three principles that the South Africans had adapted but then we wanted to add two more: The concept of critical thinking, became number four. Number five: the issue of participatory democracy.
The Children’s Movement is based on the concept that children can do a lot, provided that they have the assistance of adults. And our motto is actually ‘We shall change the world.’ We want children to understand that their opinions are important, that their ideas are important,
Dierks, Klaus “Biographies of Namibian personalities: in alphabetical order,” 2003-2004, available online at: https://www. klausdierks.com/Biographies/Biographies_A.htm Sellström, Tor “Interview with Ottilie Abrahams, SWAPO—Student and SWAPO-Democrats in Sweden—Namibia National Front Director of the Jakob Morenga Tutorial College,” (Windhoek, 16 March 1995) Nordic Documentation of the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa: http://www.liberationafrica.se/intervstories/interviews/abrahams/?by-name=1 South African History Online | Towards a people’s history, available online at: https://www.sahistory.org.za/ Staff Reporter, “Namibia: Ottilie Abrahams: ‘Born to Make a Difference,’” New Era, 18 May, 2005. The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 4 -15 September 1995. Werner, Wolfgang, “A brief history of land dispossession in Namibia,” Journal of Southern African Studies 19(1), March 1993, p.135-146. Whittaker, Shaun and Harry Boesak, “Tribute to Kenneth Abrahams,” Pambazuka News, 27 April, 2017. Williams , Christina , “Education in Exile : International Scholarships , Cold War Politics , and Conflicts among SWAPO Members in Tanzania, 1961-1968,” Journal of Southern African Studies. (Special Issue: Southern Africa Beyond the West, The Transnational Connections of Southern African Liberation Movements) 43 (2017), p.125-141. Yu Chi Chan Club, Pamphlet No.III. Technical and organisational aspects of the Yu Chi Chan Club, c.1962. “Interview with Ottilie Abrahams” Koni Benson and Asher Gamedze, (Jacob Marengo Secondary School, 24 Nov 2016). “Tribute to Otillie (Tillie ) Abrahams - Freedom Fighter , Educator , Feminist , Internationalist ,” Ayesha Rahah , Marcus Solomon , Koni Benson , Asher Gamedze , at 50 Years of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Reflecting on the Praxes of Paulo Freire and Neville Alexander, University of Johannesburg, 7-8 Sept 2018. “Oral History Interview with Ottilie Abrahams,” Parts 1-7, Islandora Repository, Center for Popular Memory http://www. digitalcollections.lib.uct.ac.za/oral-history-interview-otillie-abrahams
Jacob Marengo (1875-1907)
Land dispossession by Europeans began in 1883 when a German trader, Adolf Lüderitze obtained the first tracts of land from chief Joseph Fredericks in the south of what is now called Namibia. Germans began to exploit local conflict and sign treaties with indigenous rulers in return for protection. The trading of land grants had to be approved by the German Emperor. By 1893 practically the whole territory previously occupied by indigenous pastoralists, had been ‘acquired’ by 8 concession companies. Communal land use was replaced with private property ownership, and strict land boundaries. The Rinderpest epidemic that wiped out 90% of the cattle of pastoralists forced many people into wage labour and enabled colonizers to settle on the land they had ‘acquired’ on paper. By 1902 only 38% of the total land remained in black hands. The rest was controlled by concession companies, white settlers, and colonial administration. These unethical trading practices that resulted in this loss of land, spurred the indigenous wars of resistance in 1904.
Jacob Marengo was the leader of more than 50 battles of resistance against Germans settlers between 1904-1908. He was best known for his ability to unite Nama and Herero rivals into his guerrilla army. His army, at various points, included Witboois, and some Xhosas and Namaquas from both sides of the Orange River. Born of a Herero mother and a Nama father, Marengo had a vision of broad African nationalism beyond ethnic loyalties. This is why so many revolutionaries liked his vision for the future of Africa. Nama-speaking people often refer to his love for humanity, and that he was the first leader to allow women to speak at council meetings. He employed guerrilla tactics and gained a reputation within the German army as a strategic genius and a noble fighter, earning him his nickname, “the Black Napoleon.” Marengo was eventually tracked down through cooperation between German troops and British police. Then he was shot and killed in a battle between his forces and a united German-British army, on September 20, 1907. Ottilie Abrahams: “His history was totally forgotten…. He was one of the first people who tried to unite the people in Namibia or what was called South West Africa at the time. He was a master in the art of guerrilla war… I am sure if he was alive, he would be one of the people in the Yu Chi Chan Club… When we came, people didn’t even mention him. This is why we called the school Jacob Marengo. He is very low key but he was a brilliant fighter and a statesman.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2017)
Trafalgar High School
Society of Young Africa/Azania (SOYA)
Trafalgar High School was established in Cape Town in District Six in 1912. It was a result of lobbying for schools for ‘non-Europeans’ by Dr Abdullah Abdurahman of the African Political Organization (APO) and by Harold Cressy. Cressy was the first ‘Coloured’ person to obtain a BA degree at the University of Cape Town. The schools, their educators and learners played a pivotal role in the anti-apartheid struggle. Leading teachers were involved in the Teachers League of South Africa and other political movements for liberation. During the 1970s District Six was declared a white group area and by 1982 over 60,000 people had been violently removed and relocated to the Cape Flats. There was fierce resistance against emptying the school to make way for white children. This resulted in the schools remaining open, despite having to commute from the Cape Flats, political repression, and other challenges. At Trafalgar Tillie was surrounded by fellow students and teachers who went on to become activist leaders in politics, in teaching, in music, in law, journalism, sport, and writing. Some people who attended the school include: Abdullah Ibrahim, Cissie Gool, Judge Siraj Desai; Alex La Guma; Sedick Isaacs Bennie and Helen Kies, Dullah Omar, Richard Rive, and Fatima Seedat.
The original Society of Young Africa (SOYA) was formed in 1951 “as an intellectual vehicle to mobilise students at universities and high schools, as well as young workers. The slogan of SOYA – ‘We fight Ideas with Ideas’ – evidently reflected an organisation that emphasised the intellectual development of youth who would contribute to the struggle through debate.” It had its first conference in December 1951 and attracted a lot of ‘African’ students. It had a strong organisational presence in the Eastern Cape at universities, schools and in communities. SOYA branches worked with various peasant and worker organisations in their areas and participated in local struggles. SOYA was linked closely to the Non-European Unity Movement and it was led by IB Tabata. Tabata saw SOYA’s role as rethinking the role of ‘Non-Europeans’ in society. Their analysis of the situation was based on class exploitation and national oppression and they saw their role as educating people along those lines. Some key people associated with SOYA in the Cape were Phyllis Ntantala, Ottilie Abrahams, AC Jordan, and Dan Mokonye and Sobantu Mlonzi in Johannesburg. Another group called SOYA, Students of Young Azania, was started in the early 1980s around a similar time to Azanian Students Movement (AZASM).
Ottilie Abrahams: “The thing you must understand is that from a very young age we were actually involved in politics. You couldn’t be born at that time without being involved in politics. And as soon as we got to Cape Town, especially to Trafalgar, we got involved.” (Ottilie Abrahams 2017) Ottilie Abrahams: “For my standard nine and ten I went to Trafalgar High School, which was known as the school of politics. Our teachers were very radical politicians who vigorously opposed the Bantu Education System.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2004)
The South West African Progressive Association (SWAPA)
1959 Old Location Uprising
Harry Boesak writes: “In 1953, Ottilie was a member of a student organization called the South West African Student Body (SWASB), which eventually became South West African Progressive Association (SWAPA). She acted as the deputy secretary general of these organizations and was the only woman in their leadership. She also raised funds for the further studies of young Namibians and to help start the first black newspaper, South West News.” SWASB was a group of students from South West Africa who were studying in South African (SA) universities. Many of them were radicalised by their experience of apartheid in SA as well as exposure to and involvement with resistance movements such as SOYA, ANC and others. SWASB became SWAPA, a political party founded by the same members, in 1955. Uatja Kaukuetu was elected as the first chairperson. SWAPA initially had very little presence and support outside of universities. In Windhoek, 27 September 1959, SWAPA united with Ovamboland People’s Congress (later OPO) to form SWANU (South West African National Union), an umbrella organisation to unite various movements. Later that year SWANU and OPO together were important in organising the December 1959 Old Location Uprising.
Ottilie Abrahams grew up in the Old Location, where she lived until she moved to Cape Town to do standard 7 in 1951 at age 14. Her family was later moved to Khomasdal during forced removals of the 1960s. Old Location was on the western outskirts of the city, within walking distance to town. It had been growing since it was first established in 1912. In the 1950s, the municipality had put aside 1.2 million pounds for a plan to improve living conditions. At the same time the South African administration was working on the implementation of its Apartheid policies to segregate people into racialized group areas. Mixed neighbourhoods in towns were broken up and inhabitants resettled elsewhere. Local residents in Old Location protested and the police opened fire on crowds on 10 December 1959, killing 11 and wounding 44 others. This event is known as the Old Location uprising. The transfer of residents to the new suburb of Katatura, meaning “a place where we don’t want to stay,” took several years. In 1962, approximately 7,000 people had been moved. Eventually, most ‘coloured’ Namibians in Windhoek where settled in ‘Khomasdal’, five kilometres outside of Windhoek, divided by Katatura by a `buffer zone’ which was typical of apartheid racist social and geographical segregation. Until her death, Ottilie Abrahams stressed that the explosive urban housing issue was central to the land question.
Tigers Sports Club in Windhoek
1904/8 The Nama Herero Genocide
Tigers Sports Club was founded in 1927 as the United Africa Tigers Football Club. Their men’s soccer team currently plays in the Namibian Premier League and the teams nicknames are ‘Ingweinyama’ and ‘Donkerhoek Boys.’ Their home ground is the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Katutura. Harry Boesak, who used to work with Ottilie Abrahams, wrote that while Ottilie was at high school “during the early 1950s, she was a member of the Young Tigers Sports Club in Windhoek, a club that was a front for reading and discussion. The ideological leaning of the club was towards the Pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey, as espoused by Clemens Kapuuo inside the country at that juncture. In fact, the young former President Sam Nujoma participated in this club for a while.” The reading group was important for Tillie’s political and intellectual development. Boesak writes further that even after she moved to Cape Town, she maintained a connection with the club. “When Ottilie went to Trafalgar High School in Cape Town, her consciousness deepened there and she continued to provide literature from the Unity Movement and the South African Communist Party to the club.”
Ottilie Abrahams was a second generation survivor of the Nama Herero Genocide. This was the first genocide of the 20th century and a precursor to the Holocaust. In January 1904, the Herero people, led by Samuel Maharero and the Nama led by Captain Hendrik Witbooi rebelled against intensification of German colonial rule. In response, General Lothar von Trotha gave the explicit order to annihilate any Herero people found within ‘German territory’ whether armed or not. They were surrounded then driven into the desert where many died of dehydration or were killed in the retreat. Survivors were sent to extermination camps such as Shark Island. Between 25 000 and 100 000 Herero (50-75% of the population), and about 10 000 Nama people were murdered. With the closure of the concentration camps, all surviving Herero were ‘distributed’ as labourers for white settlers. All tribal and missionary lands were then expropriated and, uncultivated land tightly controlled. In 2011 the first 20 of the estimated 300 skulls stored in museums in Europe were returned to Namibia for burial. In 2015, Germany officially acknowledged the events a “genocide” and “part of a race war,” but has continued to refuse to consider reparations, despite ongoing law suits.
1956 Forced removals in Daan Viljoen
Cape Peninsula Students’ Union (CPSU)
In the 1920s, the South African government gained control of previous German ‘protectorate’ territories at the end of WWI. Then they appointed the Native Reserves Commission to report on land and labour. Their recommendation was that land be divided along racial lines. ‘Black Islands’ should be removed from what the Commission declared to be ‘essentially European areas.’ This paved the way for an accelerated program of settling mainly poor South African whites, as well as Angola Boer families on dispossessed Namibian land. Many OvaHerero pastoralists faced violent forced removals to marginal lands- including the maternal side of Ottilie Abraham’s family. Before 1914, the farms Fuirstenwalde and Aukeigas had been allocated to a Damara community by the German colonial government, and became known as the Aukeigas reserve. But in June 1956 the reserve was finally ‘deproclaimed’. 254 families (1,500 individuals in all) and thousands of livestock were forcibly removed to Soris-Soris in the arid north-western parts of the country. Aukeigas was then divided into two commercial farms and a resort - the present Daan Viljoen recreation resort.
The CPSU was established in the 1950s. It was affiliated to the Non European Unity Movement (NEUM) in South Africa. It aimed at overcoming racial divisions to forge unity and solidarity among students of different cultural backgrounds. In the 1950’s education had become one of the main terrains of struggle, due to the imposition of Bantu Education. Bantu Education attempted to submit all education to the ideology of apartheid – educating whites for privilege and Blacks for labour. University and high school students would engage in debates on issues from nationalism to armed struggle, liberation movement histories and political approaches to revolutionary struggle. It was at the CPSU that Tillie and Kenny first met people such as Neville Alexander, Dulcie September, Marcus Solomon and Fikile Bam- friends and comrades with whom they would work with in various formations and projects for the rest of their lives.
African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA)
South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) & Ovamboland People’s Organization (OPO)
APDUSA is the African Peoples’ Democratic Union of Southern Africa which was established in March 1961 in Duncan Village, near East London. “By DEMOCRATIC UNION is meant the Unity of all people who dedicate themselves to the achievement of nothing less than full democracy as contained in the Ten Point Programme of the Non European Unity Movement to which APDUSA is affiliated. By SOUTHERN AFRICA IS MEANT THE Southern portion of Africa which includes areas like the Protectorates and S.W. Africa. The boundaries separating South Africa from these areas were not decided by the will of the majority but were imposed on the people by the white invaders. APDUSA states that only a free people through brotherly consultation can settle the boundary question,” (APDUSA pamphlet 1963). While APDUSA had strong urban bases in the Cape, they were also focused on organising people who were living in the bantustans, one of the only movements to prioritise rural struggles. Many people who were involved in SOYA also became involved in APDUSA when APDUSA was established to replace SOYA. In 1962 Neville Alexander and Kenneth Abrahams were suspended from APDUSA over disagreements on the question of armed struggle.
Ottilie Abrahams: “In the Cape Peninsula Students’ Union we were taught to fight ideas with ideas. We always thought critically. If we agree with you, we do not care whether you are the President or not. If we disagreed, we would say so. We always felt that if people basically were loyal to the party, but had different ideas on how to get to the goal, it was an enrichment.” (Ottilie Abrahams 1995).
South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) is the current ruling party of Namibia which it has been since independence in 1990. SWAPO was an important, but not only, party in the Namibian liberation movement. It was founded in Windhoek on 19 April 1960, succeeding the Ovamboland People’s Organisation (OPO) which had been started in 1959, and Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC) which was founded in Cape Town in 1957 by a group of people including Ottilie and Kenneth Abrahams, Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo and Andreas Shipanga. One of OPC’s aims was to end the exploitation of the contract labour system. Ottilie Abrahams was SWAPO’s first secretary of education in exile in Tanzania. She had many critical views of the party. “Ottilie believed that the sole and authentic representative status of SWAPO led to a suffocating and stifling political climate in the Namibian liberation movement and that as a consequence no democratic ethos existed in it.” Since independence many stories have emerged about the horrors of the SWAPO camps in exile, including the ‘dungeons.’ SWAPO has also told a narrow nationalist narrative of the liberation struggle which over-emphasises their role and silences and erases other historically important people and movements. Are the beautiful ones still not born?
National Liberation Front
Isaac Bangani Tabata was one of the most important intellectuals in the South/ern African liberation movement and was a leading figure of the NonEuropean Unity Movement (NEUM), All African Convention (AAC), Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department), and the African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA). He was born in 1909 near Queenstown and passed away in Harare in 1990. Tabata was critical of the ANC and the CPSA (Communist Party of South Africa) and deeply committed to the rural struggles of peasants. He did a lot of work to connect the urban struggles to the rural - traveling and organising throughout the Transkei; publicising the NEUM’s Ten-Point Programme for revolution. His 1952 pamphlet Boycott as a weapon of struggle was translated into isiXhosa by teacher and writer Phyllis Ntantala. The Xhosa version, Ukwayo Isikrweqe nekhakha was widely distributed by SOYA activists in the Transkei. Tabata’s 1950 book The awakening of a people wanted to clarify “the real issues facing the Black masses of South Africa and serve as a guide to action.” And in 1959 he published Education for barbarism, an important and excellent analysis and critique of Bantu Education.
The NLF was a revolutionary group founded in the early 1960s in Cape Town. Because of the repressive political climate, most of their activities were underground. NLF grew out of the Yu Chi Chan Club (Chinese for guerrilla warfare) - a militant study group also founded in Cape Town. YCCC saw their “primary task [as] to do ALL that is necessary to prepare for, plan and carry through the military phase of the Revolution in South Africa.” YCCC disbanded and NLF was launched in 1963. YCCC had nine members, some of whom had been expelled from APDUSA in 1961 over disagreements on the question of armed struggle. NLF was started as a political organisation to prepare for revolutionary armed struggle. The group studied revolutionary thought and history from around the world – Algeria, Cuba, Russia, China, etc. They wrote on the politics and prospects of guerrilla warfare in South Africa at the time. NLF understood South West Africa (now Namibia) as part of South Africa and they understood the liberation struggle as linked. They sent a comrade in 1963 to meet and build relationships with liberation movements and learn about the struggle in SWAPO at the time.
Collective Protection at Rehoboth
Exile and International Solidarity: Zambia
When their underground cells were uncovered and Neville Alexander and Marcus Solomons were arrested, the Abrahams returned to South West Africa from SA. Together with other comrades, they established the Rehoboth branch of SWAPO. Hoping to melt into the background, Kenneth Abrahams began work as a doctor. Ottlie explains: “the Rehoboth Baster Council immediately declared my husband a citizen because I have a right to be a citizen, and he’s married to me. One morning about 10 trucks of soldiers came to arrest my husband…Those soldiers never reckoned with the people of Rehoboth, which was a semi autonomous ‘state’ where black people were allowed to own guns! There was actually a revolt, 400 people came with their guns and said ‘If you touch our doctor, blood will flow today!’ Oom Maans Beukes sent a telegram to the UN to ask them to intervene! It was very dramatic and the police were given the order to withdraw. But of course we knew that as soon as the people dispersed, they would come back for us.” Kenneth had to be snuck out of the country in the boot of a car, and Tilly had to travel separately from her babies, disguised as a young Herero girl who was expelled from Augustineum Secondary School for being pregnant.
The Abrahams spent five years in Zambia- where Ottilie taught at Kabulonga Girls in Lusaka, Chizongwe in Fort Jameson and then moved to the rural areas where she joined other teachers in opening a new school, Petauke Secondary School. Kenneth worked as a people’s doctor in Lusaka where he treated fighters from various national liberation movements in southern Africa. But their fortunes changed in 1968- Ottilie was imprisoned in Lusaka following the infamous meeting between South African President Vorster and Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, which led to attacks against political parties and the targeting of leaders of the liberation movement. “I was never told why I was arrested and eventually I was let out. With the help of a lawyer my husband was also released from Isoka prison and this time we found asylum in Sweden, where we lived for 9 years.”
Exile and International Solidarity: Sweden (1968-1978)
After the democratic rebellion of the Shipanga faction in SWAPO, Abrahams and others formed SWAPO Democrats (SWAPO-D) in June 1978 in Stockholm. Their time in Sweden was a combination of a place to organize, to write, and to reflect. Ottilie Abrahams recalls the generosity and space granted to herself and her children in these years, and the appreciation of how they were treated as refugees. At the same time, there were serious debates about the hypocrisy of Nordic solidarity. The Swedes promoted democratic practices in their own pre-schools. But at the same time, following OAU Liberation Committee practice, they anti-democratically only funded and supported particular parties of the liberation movement. This created problems in the movement as a whole. Tillie asked: ‘Why a one party approach when it comes to Africa?’ “One day when I am old I want to write a book on the birth of the concept of sole authenticity. This is where it started. It is important, because it boosted certain organizations to such an extent that they became little Hitlers. Already in those years we fought SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) and all those people, saying: ‘You are creating a problem for us which will cause the death of many, many people.”
SWAPO-Democrats (SWAPO-D) were a breakaway group from SWAPO. In the mid-1970s Shipanga and some others had complained about the corruption and misuse of funds by the SWAPO executive. And they had called for a change in leadership. This incident is known as the ‘Shipanga Affair’ or the ‘Shipanga Rebellion’: For their ‘dissent’ Shipangas group was imprisoned by the party for two years without trial. SWAPO-D was founded in Sweden in 1978 after their release. It was a small group of ex-SWAPO members who believed in the party’s vision and principles but were critical of its undemocratic practices. Shipanga expelled both the Abrahams in 1980 on the grounds that they had “betrayed their positions of trust by indulging in acts prejudicial to the interests of the party.” In 1983 SWAPO-D joined the “South African supported Multi-Party Conference and in 1985 [went] into the so called Transitional Government of National Unity.” For these reasons SWAPO-D were seen by many as collaborators with the apartheid regime. Ottilie, SWAPO-D’s first Secretary-General, later said that “The formation of SWAPO-D was a mistake. But the feeling behind it was not a mistake. We did not want to leave SWAPO but we wanted the accent to be on democracy.”
People of Rehoboth
Yu Chi Chan Club
In 1962 Kenneth Abrahams opened a medical practice in Rehoboth and was granted citizenship of the “Baster Gebied”. What did this mean? Basters make up the largest portion of Griqua people (people of European-slave, and European-Khoi, Khoi, San, and some BaSotho and BaTswana descent) who constituted their own community between the Cape Colony’s northwest frontier and the lower course of the Orange River at the end of the 1700s. With missionary influence, they developed written codes of regulation, many adopted from Khoi people- including the offices of the Chief, aka Kaptein, and Sub-Chief, Onderkaptein, that met at annual gatherings and developed their own constitution. They also elected Council- Raad members, responsible for the governing public life. In the 1870s Rehoboth Basters moved into an area south of Windhoek, where they joined a sub clan of the ǀGowanîn (Dune Damaras/ Damaras) who had settled in Rehoboth in the 16th century. The German colonial administration concluded a Treaty of Protection and Friendship with the Rehoboth Basters in 1885 where they recognized their right to self-governance. This self-governance was challenged and resisted in various ways over time, with ongoing calls for independence from the state of Namibia, and the return of ancestral lands.
The Yu Chi Chan Club (YCCC) was a militant study group of nine members founded in Cape Town in 1962 by expelled members of the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA): including Ottilie and Kenneth Abrahams, Dulcie September, Neville Alexander, Fikile Bam, Andreas Shipinga, Marcus Solomon, Xenophon Pitt. Amongst other things, the group studies and wrote on the politics and prospects of guerrilla warfare in South Africa at the time. Later in 1962 the YCCC was replaced by the National Liberation Front (NLF). After exile and imprisonments, YCCC members were central to SACHED’s education work in South Africa and Namibia in the 1980s.
The People’s Primary School and Creche
Exile and International Solidarity: Botswana & Tanzania
The People’s Primary School and Creche (PPS) is located in Katutura in Windhoek. It was started in 1986, a year after Jakob Marengo high school. PPS’s slogans are ‘Unity, Study, Work,’ and ‘Education for progress.’ These ideas reflect Ottilie’s approach to education. Education was not supposed to be just about individuals. Instead, it was about learning to work for collective progress. PPS was part of a whole education plan: Students could start there, at crèche and primary level, before going to Jakob Marengo for secondary, and Khanya College for tertiary education. The idea was that students would attend radical education institutions all the way through their schooling and, through that, learn about and participate in building democratic practices in their society.
After the failed attempt at arresting the Abrahams in Rehoboth, Kenneth hid in the mountains for a few days. Then he, Andreas Shipanga, Hermanus Beukes and Paul Smit had to march across the border into Botswana in August 1963. However, they were abducted - with a gun held to Abrahams’ head - inside Botswana by apartheid police in plain clothes, and taken to prison. This was at the same time that the escapees from the Rivonia Trial were also in hiding in Francistown- an environment Aunt Tilly describes as ‘electric.’ Kenneth was then flown to Cape Town and charged with sabotage. Following an international outcry, he was released and went into exile to Tanzania in 1963. The Abrahams met as members of the SWAPO Central Committee in Dar es Salaam to discuss a strategy for guerrilla warfare and to form the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). At this point Ottilie was the SWAPO secretary for Education. During a brief mission to Kenya in 1964, the Abrahams’ returned to Tanzania to find that they were suspended from SWAPO for ‘disrespecting leadership’ through enquiring about how funding was being used in the organisation.
Ayi Kwei Armah
The Namibian Review
“Where I come from revolution is the only creation, and the revolutionary the only artist” -Ayi Kwei Armah
The Namibian Review: A Journal of Contemporary Namibian Affairs was first published in 1976. Initially it was produced by the Namibian Review Group (known as the Swedish Namibian Association) and 14 editions were printed by the end of 1978. Each edition had articles from a broad a political, economic, cultural, social and literary spectrum. In 1979 the journal was moved from Stockholm to Windhoek. The goal was to provide a forum for the discussion of all aspects of life in Namibia with particular emphasis on the long hard struggle towards independence. The journal encouraged a free flow of ideas so that the leaders of tomorrow can prepare themselves, intellectually, for the tasks which will face them when they eventually take over power. The Namibian Review also tried to fosters a spirit of national unity – which Ottlie argued should transcend political party boundaries. Some of the articles by Ottilie Abrahams, included ‘Strategic Options in the Namibian Independence Dispute’ (Aug 1982), and “Present Political Groupings and Prospects for Coalition,” (Jan 1983). The journal was also used as a place to campaign for democracy, and publishing for example letters snuck out of the prison holes in Angola.
In Sweden, Ottilie Abrahams finished her master’s degree and was writing a PhD thesis on the works of Ayi Kwei Armah, a writer from Ghana. Ayi Kwei Armah, was born in 1939 in Takoradi, Gold Coast, now Ghana. His novels deal with corruption and materialism in ‘post colonial’ Africa. He was educated in local mission schools in Ghana before going to the United States in 1959 to complete high school and then did a bachelors degree at Harvard University and a Master’s in Fine Arts at Columbia University. He worked as a scriptwriter, translator, and English teacher in France, Tanzania, Lesotho, Senegal, and the USA. Ottilie Abraham’s thesis focused on his first novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968). She was looking at the kinds of coups taking place across Africa immediately after independence and asking “if we all fought for independence why is it that people are regressing?” Studying Armah’s writing and drawing on her own experiences of cultures of democracy in political movements in her youth, she consolidated her thoughts on self reliance and participatory democracy which she implemented upon return to Namibia after exile.
Ottilie Abrahams: “I also belonged to an underground organisation known as the Yu Chi Chan or Y3 Club, which is Chinese for guerrilla warfare. This was a secret organisation operating cells in South Africa to prepare for the armed struggle against the South African Government. For us, at the time, South West Africa was not really regarded as a separate country in the sense that the oppressive ruler in both countries was the South African government.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2004)
Ottilie Abrahams: “I finished all my exams; all I had to do was just to complete my thesis. Then one day in 1978, we were informed that we were granted political amnesty. Within 27 hours my husband and I were on the plane from Stockholm to Windhoek. For 16 years in exile, I had lived for the day when I would set foot again in Windhoek! My thesis was locked in a cupboard and since that day I have been involved in implementing the ideas discussed in that document!” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2004)
SWAPO-Democrats (SWAPO-D) were a breakaway group from SWAPO. In the mid-1970s Shipanga and some others had complained about the corruption and misuse of funds by the SWAPO executive. And they had called for a change in leadership. This incident is known as the ‘Shipanga Affair’ or the ‘Shipanga Rebellion’: For their ‘dissent’ Shipangas group was imprisoned by the party for two years without trial. SWAPO-D was founded in Sweden in 1978 after their release. It was a small group of ex-SWAPO members who believed in the party’s vision and principles but were critical of its undemocratic practices. Shipanga expelled both the Abrahams in 1980 on the grounds that they had “betrayed their positions of trust by indulging in acts prejudicial to the interests of the party.” In 1983 SWAPO-D joined the “South African supported Multi-Party Conference and in 1985 [went] into the so called Transitional Government of National Unity.” For these reasons SWAPO-D were seen by many as collaborators with the apartheid regime. Ottilie, SWAPO-D’s first Secretary-General, later said that “The formation of SWAPO-D was a mistake. But the feeling behind it was not a mistake. We did not want to leave SWAPO but we wanted the accent to be on democracy.”
From 1920, after WWI, South-West Africa (now Namibia) was occupied and ruled by South Africa. Namibia achieved independence from South Africa in 1990. Part of the long struggle for independence involved, starting in the 1950s, putting pressure on the United Nations (UN) to force South Africa to withdraw and allow the Namibian people to determine their own political future. After over twenty years of sending petitions and delegations to the UN, finally Resolution 45 was passed. The UN Security Council Resolution 435 (1978) on Namibia goes as follows: “This Security Council resolution calls for the withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia and for the transfer of power to the people of Namibia. This resolution also establishes a United Nations Transition Assistance Group for a period of up to 12 months in order to ensure the independence of Namibia through free elections under the supervision and control of the United Nations.” This was an important step in Namibia’s independence struggle.
End Conscription Campaign
SACHED (South African Committee for Higher Education)
The ‘End Conscription Campaign’ was a part of the Namibian independence struggle which reached its height in the 1980s. It was one of the many ways that people resisted the illegal military occupation of South West Africa (SWA). The apartheid government justified the occupation through propaganda that said SA was under ‘total onslaught’ and required a ‘total strategy’ military response. Namibian activists had been organising against South Africa’s illegal occupation for decades. One of the victories in that long battle was the UN Resolution 435. ‘End Conscription’ - the call to end white men’s compulsory conscription into the SADF (South African Defence Force) – was another part of the broader struggle against the apartheid governments’ military activities throughout the region – in Botswana, Namibia, inside South Africa and in other neighbouring countries. The campaign was supported internationally. Harry Boesak writes: “Ottilie and four others hastily returned from exile in 1978… In the same year, she was at the forefront of the end conscription campaign in South West Africa, and assisted in the production of pamphlets on the Photostat machine.” One of the campaign’s slogans was ‘NOWIN’ – no war in Namibia!
The South African Committee for Higher Education was founded in 1959 by a group of academics, church people and educationists. It was established as a response to the 1959 Extension of Universities Act which segregated universities based on ‘ethnic’ identity and race. Some of SACHED’s foundational impulses were to mitigate against “ethnic education” and the associated stigma of inferiority, and to plug the gap of lack of Black tertiary educational opportunity since Black students could no longer study at the white universities. Some of SACHED’s projects included a bursary programs, the establishment of various colleges, curriculums, training materials, newspaper, labour, and community projects. In the 1980s, SACHED sent materials and teachers as well as funds for the initiation of the Jacob Marengo school in Windhoek.
Education for Liberation
Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995
Education for Liberation was the motto of the Jacob Marengo School. It was a decisive shift of strategy from Liberation Before Education which was key to the schools boycotts and mass insurrection in the first half of the 1980s. The strategy of Education For Liberation used schools as a place of organizing and developing a vision, plans, and materials for People’s Education. The radical content, visions, and principles of the People’s Education movement were blunted when incorporated into the new Department of Education in South Africa in the 1990s.
In 1995 the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held its fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. The previous conferences were in Mexico (1975), Denmark (1980) and Kenya (1985). The Beijing conference had 30 000 attendants from NGOs, movements and governments from all over the world. Among the goals of the conference was to “look at recent trends affecting the status of women, with an eye to the future. They will review how women have fared in the areas of health, education, employment, family life, politics and human rights.” Importantly, the conference made a renewed commitment to action fighting for women’s rights, education, and to eliminate “all forms of discrimination against women.” This was crystallised in the Beijing Platform for Action which was understood as “an agenda for women’s empowerment.” Ottilie Abrahams represented Namibian Women’s Association (NAWA) at the Beijing conference. In line with the commitments to action taken at the conference: “Upon her return from China, she started the Namibian Girl Child Movement (GCM), believing that decolonisation of the mind and freedom from mental slavery has to begin at an early age.”
Ottilie Abrahams: “I had a marvellous teacher from standard four to standard six in Windhoek. His name was Martinus Olivier. One thing that made me love history and fervent debate is the way he taught us. He would always introduce his lesson by saying: “Now I will teach you what you must write in the examination,” and after that he would say: “Now I will teach you the truth.” It is impossible to come from that background and not be consumed by politics. So already from the age of twelve I can clearly remember that I took an active interest.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2004)
Namibian Nationhood Programme & Participatory Democracy
Ayi Kwei Armah
The Abrahams returned from fifteen years of exile in 1978 after the passing of Resolution 435, and immediately formed the Namibian National Nationhood Programme. The motto of the program was: “We Liberate Ourselves.” They worked with various NGOs to support people to grow food and to provide education on methods of agro-ecology. Ottilie assisted in setting up four community gardens in the arid regions of Namibia (Wortel, Snyfontein, Abrahampos and Aroab) under the slogan ‘let us make the desert bloom’. She drove long distances to these projects, which aimed to tackle hunger and ‘restore dignity.’ As Aunt Tillie told us: We had formed different associations and organisations because we said ‘we can never wait for the South African government to do things for us, we will do it ourselves.’ They supported a number of projects based on participatory democracy where people determined the agenda and controlled the projects themselves.
“Where I come from revolution is the only creation, and the revolutionary the only artist” -Ayi Kwei Armah
Ottilie Abrahams: “We felt very strongly that that was the only thing that one could do to liberate Africa. We started with agricultural projects in the South where the people would say what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it and they would accept responsibility for it.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2017).
In Sweden, Ottilie Abrahams finished her master’s degree and was writing a PhD thesis on the works of Ayi Kwei Armah, a writer from Ghana. Ayi Kwei Armah, was born in 1939 in Takoradi, Gold Coast, now Ghana. His novels deal with corruption and materialism in ‘post colonial’ Africa. He was educated in local mission schools in Ghana before going to the United States in 1959 to complete high school and then did a bachelors degree at Harvard University and a Master’s in Fine Arts at Columbia University. He worked as a scriptwriter, translator, and English teacher in France, Tanzania, Lesotho, Senegal, and the USA. Ottilie Abraham’s thesis focused on his first novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968). She was looking at the kinds of coups taking place across Africa immediately after independence and asking “if we all fought for independence why is it that people are regressing?” Studying Armah’s writing and drawing on her own experiences of cultures of democracy in political movements in her youth, she consolidated her thoughts on self reliance and participatory democracy which she implemented upon return to Namibia after exile. Ottilie Abrahams: “I finished all my exams; all I had to do was just to complete my thesis. Then one day in 1978, we were informed that we were granted political amnesty. Within 27 hours my husband and I were on the plane from Stockholm to Windhoek. For 16 years in exile, I had lived for the day when I would set foot again in Windhoek! My thesis was locked in a cupboard and since that day I have been involved in implementing the ideas discussed in that document!” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2004)
Jacob Marengo Secondary School
Neville Alexander was a revolutionary and an intellectual with a deep commitment to education in the service of struggle. He was involved in many different organisations and movements throughout his life, including Yu Chi Chan Club, National Liberation Front, APDUSA, SACHED, and was an important figure in the drafting of the Azanian Manifesto. Neville was interested in, and wrote on African history, international histories of revolution, guerrilla warfare, multi-lingualism, the national question, and education. He studied for a PhD in Germany in the 1950s where he built relationships with German communists, trade unionists and learnt about the Algerian revolution. He did some historical work on Namibian anti-colonial struggles and wrote about Jacob Marengo and other important figures. He had close working relationships with Ottilie and Kenneth Abrahams, since the late 1950s in Cape Town. These relationships were important in setting up the connections between Jacob Marengo school in Windhoek and Khanya College. Khanya sent teachers to Jacob Marengo on recruitment missions and also encouraged graduates to teach there. Some of Neville’s important works are One Azania, One Nation which was written under the name NoSizwe, and his lesser known work on African history which he produced for the ‘Know Your Continent’ education series.
“The school was founded on three principles: participatory democracy, critical thinking, and non-sexism.” -Ottilie Abrahams, 2016
The Namibian Women’s Association (NAWA)
Upington 14/ Upington 26
NAWA was formed in 1979 as the first women’s organisation that was not party political or a religious body, but an autonomous organisation of women for women. Beside all her educational projects, Ottilie Abrahams has been a stalwart of the women’s movement, speaking out on almost every issue and running NAWA. She represented NAWA in 1995 at the Fourth UN Conference on Women held in Beijing, China. NAWA built the Girl Child Movement and pushed for collaboration between organizations across the women’s movement. In a 2004 interview with Sister Namibia, Aunt Tilly explained: “I think women need to learn that when there are issues concerning women and children, and the development of the country is discussed, having a tidy house is not the most important thing on earth. If women came to a point and said ‘the future of our children and the status of women are the most important things for us,’ then we would really get somewhere, because once women commit themselves to a goal, they will be able to move mountains. Women must also stop insisting that they should always speak better English or have higher qualifications than men before accepting leadership positions. This country also belongs to us and we demand to play a full and equal role in its development!”
The Upington 26 was the largest group of people ever collectively charged for murder in a single South African trial. On 26 May 1989, “Justice J. Basson handed down death sentences on fourteen Blacks (Upington 14) for the murder of Lucas Tshenolo Sethwala, a Black police constable who fired at demonstrators attacking his home with stones on 13 November 1985. The rest of the twenty-five accused...received sentences ranging from six to eight years imprisonment and another six defendants were sentenced to community service.” The incident was framed by the government as part of the strategy to make the country ungovernable and the group was convicted on the basis of ‘common purpose’. The trial attracted international support for the prisoners, who had been sentenced for political reasons. In 1990 the death row sentences were overturned and in 1992 the Upington 26 were released in acknowledgement of them being political prisoners. Ottilie Abrahams said in an interview that some of the Upington 26 had been at school at Jacob Marengo. In May 2017 the Southern Africa Youth Network visited both Upington and Windhoek to learn about these histories.
In 1985 Ottilie Abrahams founded the Jacob Marengo Tutorial College, a school for liberation run on the principles of Paolo Freire, which she continued to manage as principal until two weeks before her death at age 80. Named after the leader of a Nama and Herero alliance against German colonists between 1904-1908, this school was founded in opposition to Bantu Education in Namibia. Aunt Tilly recalled: “When we started Jacob Marengo, a quarter of our students were from South Africa where schools were burned down--highly politicized children; and the other group came from northern Namibia, where the secondary schools had to operate under the watchful eyes of the occupying forces. So we saw our job as preparing children for an independent state, for the development of the country.” To actualize the school’s motto: ‘Education for Liberation’ they decided not to have a system of students representative councils. Instead, they had a system of self management groups called Turmas, where every child in the school has a specific task to perform. From 25 students in 1985, by 2016 the school last year had over 1000 children with about half the students come from Angola, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ottilie Abrahams: “In 1975 when we returned from exile, we established an organization after a few months called the Namibian Women’s Association because there were many women in the political organizations. But the women’s wing of political organizations was really called upon during conferences to make tea and give people food and all that. We said we aren’t really interested in that, we want to establish an organization of women for women by women and that is why we established NAWA.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2017)
The Children’s Movement (CM)
Youth Without Borders
The Children’s Movement (CM) was started in South Africa in 1983 to help children organise themselves into a community group based movement. By adopting the ‘Child to Child’ concept, the movement aims to empower children to change society from a ‘dog-eat dog’ society into a caring society. This was an initiative of Marcus Solomon, a fellow YCCC club member who at age 24 was sentenced to 15 years on Robben Island where, amongst other things he spent time reading philosophies of child psychology and its relationship to social change. The movement is based on the idea that adults must create the conditions for the growth of a united national children’s organisation and social movement for children and that children can teach other children whatever they need to know in order to change the world. Ottilie Abrahams explained the 5 principles: respect yourself, respect your neighbour, respect the environment, critical thinking, and participatory democracy. The current goal is to expand and to build an African Children’s Movement.
Youth Without Borders is an activist group based in Cape Town which has members from different parts of Africa including Zimbabwe, Congo, South Africa and Malawi. They envision a future Africa without borders, where African people are free to move, live and work wherever they choose. They organise against xenophobia and afrophobia in Cape Town and are involved in various youth educational and cultural programs with groups from different parts of the city. They are not just talking and thinking about youth, Cape Town, South Africa and Africa without borders, they are living it. Some of the members of Youth Without Borders were part of a Southern African Youth Study Exchange in May 2017 which went from Upington to Windhoek. The trip also included activists from across South Africa and a group from Botswana. The group learned about various struggle histories from Southern Africa. Ottilie Abrahams spoke to the whole study group when they were in Windhoek where she shared some history of some of the revolutionary movements she had been involved in. That speech is the basis of this history workshop.
Ottilie Abrahams: “The Children’s Movement is based on the concept that children can do a lot, provided that they have the assistance of adults. And our motto is actually ‘We shall change the world.’ We want children to understand that their opinions are important, that their ideas are important, and they can actually achieve this if they sat together and they worked together, if they unite.” (Ottilie Abrahams 2016)
Schimming family “I remember when black people came from abroad and landed at the airport, not realising that hotels were not open to them under the apartheid system, the police would bring them to our house. It was a house in which discussion and critical debate was encouraged. I grew up in the shadow of relatives and friends like Hosea Kutako, Clemens Kapuuo, Bethold Himumuine, Mbuende and Theo Katjimuine, who were the politicians of the time.” (Ottilie Abrahams 2004) Otillie’s maiden surname was Schimming. The Schimming family is known for its anti-colonial and feminist activism both before and after independence. Otillie’s younger sister Norah Schimming-Chase was a member of SWAPO and later appointed as the Ambassador to Germany shortly after independence. Later, she joined parliament as part of the CoD political party where she played an important role of advocating for the rights of marginalized communities. Otillie and Norah were raised together with their siblings in a way that gender roles were challenged. Otillie’s daughter, Yvette who is also an activist and educator, studied her PhD on the resistance of Sarah Baartman. She heard her cousin Esi Schimming-Chase talking about Sarah Baartman and this prompted the struggle for return of her remains from Europe.
KCAC (Katutura Community Art Centre)
The Namibian Girl Child Organization
Katutura Community Art Centre used to be a part of the larger old compound known as Okomboni or Ovambohostel where men from the north passed through before they were designated to their posts of contract labour. The building was constructed in 1970 by the South African administration. The original function of the main building where KCAC is currently housed was the kitchen and mass hall. These men were classified according to their physical strength and put to work for criminally low wages. They lived far away from their families and were easily abused and mistreated by their employees. Today, KCAC also hosts College of the Arts, several community arts initiatives and occasional workshops. For example, the youth without borders workshop in 2017 which Ottilie was a part of.
In a 2004 interview with Sister Namibia, Ottilie Abrahams said that she views her own educational path and the establishment of the Namibian Girl Child Organization as the two major achievements of her life. She developed the Affirmative Action for the Girl Child Project in 1993, which she showcased at the NGO Forum at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Over a hundred girls from all parts of the country are now enrolled in this project, and every term holiday they come together for training in project development and leadership. Parallel to this came the establishment of the Namibian Girl Child Organization, which now has 186 girls’ clubs across the country. “The whole idea is to unite girls throughout Namibia, beyond tribalism and party politics, and to get girls involved in the solution of their own problems so that they don’t sit and wait for somebody to come and solve their problems for them. We are preparing for the launch of the African Girl Child Movement together with the SADC Girl Child Movement. In 2000 the Girl Child Movement spread to South Africa, and it continues its activities in both countries. Since that time, they have expanded to include early training for boys in gender equality and set up the Children’s Resource Centre, again in collaboration with their South African partners. Ottilie Abrahams: “Getting a degree, at the time when I got it, was something exceptional for people living on this side of the railway. One of the reasons I went to university was to show people that black people can achieve things, and also that a woman can achieve anything she really wants to achieve. And of course I wanted to show my parents that they did not waste their money by putting a girl through university.” (Ottilie Abrahams, 2004)
MARKS ON THE MAP: FACILITATORS’ ROAD MAP Distribute the text cards to groups of 2-3 people. Depending how big the group is and the reading capabilities, give one, two or three cards to each group. The groups should all read and discuss the cards amongst themselves. After giving everyone time to look over their text cards, the facilitators then ask people to share with the rest the group what they learnt from their card/s - various moments and movements in the life journey of Ottilie Abrahams. If you have a map of the African continent or can make one, after presenting, people then choose where to place their text card on the map and they say why they chose that place. The text cards are mini-histories, conversation-starters. Discussions, questions and comments on what people present is very important. How you choose to order the text cards and put them on the map is up to the facilitator and the group. Below is one possible chronology for unfolding these histories together:
• Land Dispossession 1904/8 The Nama Herero Genocide • Jacob Marengo (1875-1907) • Young Tigers Sports Club in Windhoek • Trafalger High School • Cape Peninsula Students’ Union (CPSU) • Society of Young Africa/Azania (SOYA) • 1956 Forced removals in Daan Viljoen • The South West Africa Progressive Association (SWAPA) • SWAPO and Ovamboland People’s Organization • 1959 Old Location Uprising • African Peoples Democratic Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA) • IB Tabata • Yu Chi Chan Club • National Liberation Front • People of Rehoboth • Collective Protection at Rehoboth • Exile and International Solidarity: Botswana & Tanzania • Exile and International Solidarity: Zambia • The People’s Primary School and Creche
Exile and International Solidarity: Sweden (1968-1978) • The Namibian Review • SWAPO-Democrats • Ayi Kwei Armah • Resolution 435 Namibian National Nationhood Programme & Participatory Democracy • End Conscription Campaign • Jacob Marengo Secondary School • SACHED • Neville Alexander • Education for Liberation • Upington 14/Upington 26 • Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995 • The Namibian Women’s Association (NAWA) • The Children’s Movement • The Namibian Girl Child Organization • Youth Without Borders • KCAC • Schimming family
T he Fut ur e o f Wo r k
Artwork by JuliArt as part of the article â€˜The Body as Subject for Queer Interventionâ€™
OWELA - the future of work invites artists, writers and scholars to submit work for consideration for Volume 2 to be published on 1st May 2020. All forms of contributions are welcome. Owela will accept radical contributions that critically engage with issues of decoloniality, labor and worker struggles, artistic and curatorial praxis, radical education, queer and feminist praxis, applied and community-based arts as well as creative research. The deadline for submissions is 31st January 2020. Kindly email: Festivalowela@gmail.com
Owela - The Future of Work, a publication curated to critically & creatively reflect on labour & worker struggles. This is a special and rad...
Published on May 2, 2019
Owela - The Future of Work, a publication curated to critically & creatively reflect on labour & worker struggles. This is a special and rad...