Historic Photographic Overview of Cruel Labour System


By Minttu-Maaria Partanen


A long line of white barracks in Walvis Bay is a symbol of Namibian’s cruel history of apartheid and contract labour system. A unique photo exhibition was opened on Wednesday evening at Franco Namibian Culture Centre.

The exhibition portrays the working conditions of contract workers during the 70’s in Namibia. The exhibition was funded by the Finnish embassy in Namibia.

A member of Finnish Parliament, Dr Kimmo Kiljunen, took all the pictures during a visit in 1978. Officially, he was in Namibia to meet Finnish missionaries.

However, unofficially the journey’s purpose was to explore and document apartheid and the contract labour system in Namibia. The material was used to make the international community aware of Namibia’s situation.

“As a white man, I could take photographs of even military bases without anyone asking me questions,” Kiljunen said during the opening of the exhibition.

He was sure though that the number of photos would raise questions at the airport and customs so he hid away 50 spools of film inside an African drum and smuggled it to Finland. The majority of the photos have never been shown anywhere else before.

Kiljunen noted that not a lot of photos were taken during the height of apartheid.

“Those who had cameras at that time mostly took family pictures.” The photos present apartheid’s reality of black people: big fences and armed police, poverty and South Africa’s strong military presence, scenes painfully familiar to a lot of Namibians.

The exhibition was opened in much anticipation of the coming of an apartheid museum to be opened in Walvis Bay some time in the future. It was originally Kiljunen’s idea to place the Finnish-funded museum in Walvis Bay.

“What could be a better place for an apartheid museum than the barracks where 20?

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