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Global issue 20

Spotlight Namibia Sand, San and sacred lands In common with other African countries, Namibia’s indigenous tribes find their homelands and traditional ways threatened in the name of progress Andrew Mourant Namibia’s vibrant national flag is both a history and geography lesson. It contains yellow, symbolic of sunlight and desert; blue, reminiscent of rain and ocean; green, relating to crops; and red, marking blood shed in war. White bands surround the red, celebrating peace and reconciliation after oppressive colonial rule. In the peaceful climate, indigenous cultures have revived – cultural expression is invariably a casualty when conquerors march in. All too often in Africa, native tribes have been callously dispersed by occupiers, their traditions threatened. And yet, perverse as it may sound, even a wretched empire driven by greed can leave behind some good things. The charms of African capitals, and other towns, owe a debt to imported architectural traditions. Although created without a thought for the conquered, colonial buildings give substance and identity, creating treasures that now belong to independent states. From 1884 to 1915, the Germans trampled over Namibia; and yet, for all their brutality, embellished the country. Characterful relics of Germany endure in towns such as Luderitz and Swakopmund, where, incongruous amid arid surroundings, sit buildings with gables, towers, turrets and domes. Luderitz boomed following the discovery of diamond deposits in 1908 and troops further swelled the population as uprisings against German rule increased. Its railway station, built in 1914, has been described as the “emergence of modern architecture in Germany at the time”. Another landmark – Namibia remains predominantly Lutheran Christian – is Luderitz’s ‘Felsenkirche’ (church on the rocks), on which work began in 1911. The creator, Albert Bause, “more of a builder than architect”, was influenced by the English style that surrounded him in Cape Colony. A few miles away, there are more ghostly echoes of German rule and the diamond rush. Welcome to Kolmanskop, built from 1908 around the scramble for mineral wealth and yet, within little more than 40 years, abandoned to encroaching desert sands as the diamonds ran out and richer deposits were discovered elsewhere. Kolmanskop is a place of haunting emptiness, doors and windows open to drifts of wind-blown sand – the remains of a boom town that once had a hospital, ballroom, theatre and casino. Some German buildings were restored by the mining giant De Beers in 1980, with the company also creating a museum. The environment shouts ‘film set’: in 2000, Kolmanskop was the setting for The King is Alive; and, in 1993, used in Dust Devil. The faux-medieval Duwisib Castle in the Southern Namib region, built during the German colonial era by Hans Heinrich von Wolf www.global global f i rst quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 33 © Patrick Giraud / CC BY-SA 2.0


Global issue 20
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