By Charles Tjatindi
At a house in Walvis Bay’s Kuisebmond residential area lives one of the town’s most popular residents – Paulina Kamenje.
At first glance, you will not immediately see why she holds such a special place in the hearts of many residents here. Oblivious to strangers to Walvis Bay, however, Kamenje has an interesting story to tell. After all, at 100 years, she has seen and done it all. This is her story, as told by one of her daughters, Alma! Gontes
Kamenje was born in 1907 in Karibib’s old location, at the height of colonial rule in Namibia. There she lived and played with others, most of who are now deceased. She later worked at the local school, where she was responsible for the laundry of school children – most of them being the children of white commercial farmers and mine managers in the area. She later married Ludwig !Nouiseb, a labourer at the same school. Although information on the year of marriage is not clear to Alma, she confirmed that the marriage did not last long. Ouma, as Kamenje is affectionately referred to by her children, re-married in 1945 – this time to Alma’s father, Mathias Kamenje.
The couple continued to live on farms with their employers around Karibib for some time. Alma fondly remembers some of those moments that they would visit their parents on the farm.
“Ouma was so good with farming. She knew exactly when a goat was about to deliver and made milking seem so easy,” she said. Ouma’s love for farming made her so comfortable when she went about her daily chores at the farm, Alma recalled. And that is exactly what her husband loved about her, “Our father would praise himself for having a wife who could do everything at the house. He loved her a lot, although he never admitted it. Every time Ouma visited a friend, he would ask us every second minute if she was back,” said Alma.
Ouma’s husband died in 1977 after 32 years of marriage. The couple had four children. Alma recalls that it was a difficult time for the whole family – especially on the children – as the void left by their father seemed too much to handle. To get through the difficult time, Alma recalls that her mother would encourage them to rather think and dwell on memories of the good times they had spent with him. A devoted Christian to the present day, Kamenje always reminded her children that God was always with them,and that they should never fear any situation they might find themselves in.
Even in the difficult years preceding Namibia’s independence, Alma remembers how her mother would be angry if her children expressed hatred or vengeance against white children.
“Sometimes we would be coming from school and these kids would just start throwing stones at us and insulting us for no reason. We wouldn’t dare retaliate, as we knew there would be hell at home with Ouma if we did,” noted Alma.
“She firmly believes in turning the other cheek,” Alma adds.
With Kamenje’s strong Christian convictions, her marriage often contained comical scenarios, Alma told us. Kamenje’s husband was a staunch Swapo supporter and would often be instrumental in leading demonstrations against the colonial occupants of that era. As Alma related, this used to annoy her mother and we would sometime beg him not to travel around the country with other Swapo members. He would always resort to jokes and promised his wife that he would bring a lot of meat on his return.
“Our father was a fun-loving person who would always go out of his way to make us loved and feel appreciated. This, however, annoyed Ouma – especially when she was trying to express important issues,” said Alma.
Alma related an incident where her father once told her mother that if he does not return and is killed on his mission, he would ‘send’ his hand to deliver the money he promised his wife.
“Such a person was our father – never a dull moment when around him,” recalls Alma.
Besides having hearing and minor sight problems, Kamenje remains healthy and does not suffer from any of the ailments usually associated with old age. She is fit, both physically and mentally.
When New Era arrived at her place, she was seated on a chair in the living room, patiently awaiting this reporter who had made an appointment with her through her daughter. Apart from a few glances that she would throw the reporter’s way, she remained quiet throughout the whole interview and rather opted for her daughter to tell her story.
“Ouma has her days … she can be stubborn sometimes,” laughs Alma.
When asked on how Kamenje had managed to sustain such good health, Alma noted that her mother had an active lifestyle and would often be seen wandering alone in the fields collecting veldt foods, even on the hottest days.
“Ouma never rested. When she was home she would grab this and shouted for that – that was just how she was,” said Alma.
Being a devoted Christian, Kamenje also never drank or smoked in her life, which according to Alma must have helped to keep her healthy.
Kamenje has eight children, 37 grandchildren, 81 great grandchildren, and about 10 great great grandchildren, of which the youngest is seven months old. Her youngest child in 55 years old.
Alma Gontes is the mother of one of the Walvis Bay Municipality Councillors, Jeffrey //Naobeb, and is Kamenje’s sixth born. According to Alma, they do not know much about her father’s family, as her father never introduced them to each other. She notes that although they would like to get to know their father’s family, they have so far been searching in vain.
“Anyone that knew a Mathias Kamenje, please come forward so we can know one another. Who knows, we might be related,” she pleaded.
As this reporter left Alma’s premises, Ouma waved goodbye, with a smile on her face, assurance perhaps that she had followed every bit as her life was being retold and that she was seemingly satisfied …