By Charles Tjatindi
Part of the remaining structures that housed former migrant labourers under the then migrant contract labour system under apartheid South Africa came down at Walvis Bay recently.
The compounds, as the housing units were known due to their notorious cramping of labourers in tiny rooms that were mostly overcrowded, were demolished to make way for new developments.
To preserve this part of Namibia’s eventful history however, one such structure has been left standing and will be transformed into a museum depicting the politics, norms and lifestyle of that era. The building will be known as the “Apartheid Museum”.
The aim of the project is to preserve some documented history for later generations, who might not have alternative access to such information.
Unlike other museums, the proposed apartheid museum will host material with specific reference to the history of the compounds under apartheid (segregation) rule, which include the operations of the contract labour system.
The Finnish government has committed N$1.5 million to assist with the restoration of the old compound. The project is led and administered by the Walvis Bay Municipality.
The demolition of the last compound buildings – except the one earmarked for an apartheid museum – forms part of the municipality’s phase five of the same project.
New and modern housing units will be constructed on the site of the demolished compounds over a period of three months, including March. Occupants of these new housing units are expected to move in on July 1 this year, at which time, the current phase of development will lapse.
Whereas most of the people who resided at the demolished compounds have temporarily moved to another structure, some fear that they might be left on the streets when these structures are also brought down in a week’s time.
Jack Manale, a member of the project working committee overseeing the new developments, however assured residents that the municipality will not put them out on the streets once their current dwellings are demolished.
“We will cater for them. They need not worry… we will never throw them out on the streets,” noted Manale.
When New Era visited the site of the old compounds, construction vehicles could be seen clearing the place for the envisaged new development. Most of the area is cleared while some old structures are still standing, albeit stripped to the core.
The new units will comprise an average-sized kitchen, living room and bedroom. This is a major shift from the old compound, which merely housed cement beds, cramped into a small room and meant to accommodate close to 10 people.
Following the demolition of the compound hostels at Kuisebmond, only Grootfontein will still have such structures standing after many such structures around the country have already been destroyed.