Windhoek – A City of Contrasts


By Bertha Madhomu Windhoek It was the brilliant reflections of the Namibian country that caught my eyes the moment I stepped into the capital, Windhoek. I could not resist comparing the buildings in the city centre with those in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo – where I come from. They looked a lot similar. So I was not lost after all. But well, I have to confess that language immediately proved to be problematic, as some of the Namibians are not conversant in the official language, English. Theirs was Afrikaans, the lingua franca and a host of other indigenous ones, which during my short stint in the country I could not master. A diverse country with a number of tribes – in total 13 different tribes I am informed. So I was taken to one of the city’s “middle-class” neighbourhoods, Rocky Crest where I was to stay. Oh my goodness, the beauty could not be over emphasised. I am not sure why, but the exquisiteness both in the city centre and my place of residence just made me believe there was elegance all over Windhoek. It never actually occurred to me that there could be someone somewhere living in pathetic conditions until I together with my colleagues visited an area called Katutura. The shanty section of the suburb, which is about 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre, was a clear revelation of poverty in the country. I was made to understand that the area used to be a white man’s farm and was annexed by government. And I did not believe it when I was told that some people in parts of this area had never been to the city centre. “It’s not surprising to find that there are people here who were born here and have never been in town. Some of the people here are so poor that they can’t afford any luxuries,” said the gentleman who was driving us around the area. I would have really wanted to talk to the residents there but again the language barrier became an impediment and there was no one to do translations. I however gathered from the gentleman driving us that the residents lived without electricity, water and proper sanitation facilities. And indeed I could see some of them fetching water from unprotected sources. I suddenly thought about the diseases such as cholera that these people could be prone to. I was however relieved to hear that the area had never really been hit by these diseases and that if in any case they were to be attacked, Namibia could deal with such situations within a short space of time. I quickly believed this because at the time of my arrival the government was fighting against polio, which had hit the country and had taken lives of a few people. It had launched campaigns and made sure that everyone in the country was vaccinated to prevent further attacks. My next worry was whether children from Katutura had access to education. “Oh yes, there are schools around. You see, the government in this country is trying to make sure that every child goes to school but it has been unfortunate that most of them have no interest in taking up science subjects. That has been a great setback on the country’s knowledge of the sciences,” said the gentleman. What remained striking to me was his mention of a unique scenario in the area of almost everyone running a shebeen as a way of raising money for a living. It was also a way of socializing, where people drank and ate a lot of meat. By the way, most Namibians like meat. To add to their ways of making money, the washing of cars also remained a brisk business. The young boys and men who normally do the washing charge a small amount just to make sure they get something to eat if not to enable them to buy beer. European beer is what they enjoy. And by the way, I was also perplexed by the number of commercial sex workers we met on our way to Katutura. Whether they were from this area or not it was difficult to say, but they were waiting right on the side of the road in very inviting positions to lure truckers driving from Namibia to Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They would be hooked at a charge of R200 or more. The money, I was told, helps them to bring up their children. What an adventurous life, especially in these days of the horrendous HIV/AIDS!

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