By Charles Tjatindi
In a quest to preserve part of Namibia’s eventful history, the Municipality of Walvis Bay has embarked on a project that would turn one of the two remaining pre-independence compounds into a so-called apartheid museum.
The compound at Kuisebmond, which housed factory workers under the then migrant labour system, will have a new life when it is turned into a museum depicting the politics, norms and lifestyle of that era. Although most such compounds in the country have been demolished, the one at Kuisebmond and another at Grootfontein are the only existing reminders of such establishments.
Although about 70 percent of the compounds at Kuisebmond have been demolished, the Walvis Bay Municipality is hard at work to preserve the remaining portions as an apartheid museum. The Finnish government has committed N$1.5 million to assist with the restoration of the old compound.
Jack Manale, a member of the project working committee, noted that the aim of the project is to preserve some documented history for later generations, who might not have access to such information elsewhere.
“Instead of demolishing the compounds, we thought it would be good if we preserve some of establishments and a museum was just the right way of doing it,” he said.
Unlike other museums, the proposed apartheid museum will host materials with specific reference to the history of the compounds under apartheid (segregation) rule, which include the operations of the contract labour system, Manale explained.
“We have materials such as old implements and objects which are typical reminders of that era. These are the materials we will exhibit here,” he noted.
According to Manale, the working committee has been in consultation with the Museum Association of Namibia for input and advice. Once construction of the museum is completed, stalls will be made available to other organisations with similar materials for exhibition. The committee is also looking at decentralising the management and operation of the museum to the community of Kuisebmond.
Under the contract labour system, workers were regarded as temporary sojourners at their workplaces. For this reason they were not allowed to bring along their families.
Workers lived in overcrowded and somewhat unhygienic dormitories, and were not allowed to leave the premises without proper documentation. Also, the employer was not required by law to pay them a wage to sustain their families. This resulted in starvation wages. Workers were forced to work irregular hours, and hardly found enough time to visit their families, let alone rest.