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In Namibia

By Helga H. Hampton [email protected]

German born Helga H. Hampton first came to the Algarve with her three children in 1972. After she and her husband retired, they became residents here and have been living in an old quinta in São Brás for 10 years. Helga has always been involved with music and was President of the Associação Amigos de  Música de São Lourenço for 10 years.

This huge country, having gained independence from South Africa as recently as 1990, was able to establish itself as a stable republic. The land hides many mineral and other riches, for example the world’s largest open-cast mine of uranium and famous diamond and gold mines.  

In a territory the size of France and Germany combined live an estimated mere 2.4 million people of very diverse ethnic groups.

About 50% are black, mainly of the San, Nama and Himba tribes; the other half are either coloured, i.e. of mixed race, or white Namibians of Afrikaner, German, English and Portuguese descent.

This is the result of a typically colonial history, starting in the mid 1800s with well-meaning missionaries.  German colonial rule (between 1883 and 1905) over “South West Africa” destroyed the war-making ability of the native nomadic tribes while consolidating prime grazing land to white control.  

For San groups – with a history of more than 20,000 years and regarded as the first inhabitants – land forms the basis of their lifestyle.

Uprooting them from their age-old habitat totally erased their identities and traditional organisation.  More San communities lost their ancestral lands when modern politics moved a lot of people from the interior to create the great nature reserves that are today the basis of Namibia’s tourist industry, i.e. safaris, so that today ca. 100,000 San population eke out a living mainly in the Namib and Kalahari Deserts.

While we indulged our safari passion in Erindi, Ongava and Etocha Nature Reserves, where an abundance of African wildlife in authentic hospitality style can be enjoyed, we had an experience of a life time by visiting a San Village.

On the dusty walk through the bush, our ranger, Nelson, told us that The San, or Bushmen, have lived as hunter-gatherers for thousands of years and are believed to be the direct relations of the early modern humans who first evolved, probably near what is today the South Africa-Namibia border. The genetic DNA of The San People is the most diverse, suggesting they have survived longer than any other ethnic group. Nearly ¾ of African Americans can trace their ancestry to West Africa.

The genetic DNA of The San People is the most diverse.
The genetic DNA of The San People is the most diverse.

A cluster of small straw huts around an open fire came alive as we approached. Out of every hut appeared almost naked and very small people, no taller than 140cm, light brown like the dust in which they sat, cuddling babies or working with tools.

Their skin is hairless and very smooth so the dust falls right off. Their buttocks are fleshy and firmly round. They are skinny and live in family groups with many children.

They smile and beckon me to watch how holes are made in ostrich eggshell pieces which will become a necklace.

My husband is shown how to snare small animals with a child-size bow and arrow device, and when we both are shown how water is being kept cool by filling an ostrich egg and then keeping the precious load in a hole under ground, I look at my husband and he looks at me and we discover in our faces shameful embarrassment. What are we doing, looking at these people like in a zoo?

After one of the gorgeous, nut-brown, naked babies is proffered to me to hold, I beg Larry in French – surely they don’t speak that foreign tongue – to give me some money so I can buy the necklace I watched being made in order to have a polite way of saying “Thank you and good bye!”

I want to get out of there, I want to relieve them of the indignity of performing like trained animals of the bush, for I am sure, absolutely sure, that this is all put on for us tourists.  And this is not the “safari” we came for!

On the way back, Nelson owns up and tells us that their real village lies much further into the bush where they protect their life hermetically from tourist intrusion; this “performance” is their way of making money and they love it when you buy their wares.

So off we went in our rental car to Swakopmund, hailed to be “like Germany”.  “Let’s go and stare at the German Namibians!”  I said with relief to my husband.  

In Swakopmund, a silted up harbour town on the Atlantic Ocean, the houses along a grid of organised, German-pretty streets, were indeed unlike any other we saw in Africa, and their pastel-coloured framework fronts gave them an aspect of gay, clean medievalness (a la Hollywood) – is this what people call “German”?

That question I had answered by the Swakopmund-born, blond receptionist in our hotel, who, looking at my German passport, addressed me in purer and more perfect German than my own Bavarian-inflected lingo.

I learned that German Junkers from the erstwhile provinces of East Prussia and the Baltic Coast had brought High German to Namibia in the 1880s which is still taught in schools. Naturally, everybody also speaks English and Afrikaans. The well-endowed museum on the promenade further illustrated history and culture. We enjoyed very Germanic hospitality and comfort and ate Schweinshax and Sauerkraut washed down with a good Riesling.

Germany in Africa?  To an extent, German colonisation here, much like the Dutch effect in South Africa, influenced architecture and language. I am not familiar with the British equivalent in other African countries, but what all ‘Europeanised’ urban centres in southern Africa share are vast and sprawling “exurbs”.

In Swakopmund we had to drive a few kilometers from the neat high street, past an equally neat industrial zone, to the local township, where most of the non-whites lived. Was it wishful thinking on my part or did this, in comparison with the one in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha, look more orderly – a bit more German?

In this otherwise very hospitable country, we encountered a pronounced reluctance to answer questions about contemporary politics. “We prefer not to discuss politics with our guests – just enjoy the beauty of our country.”

Caught unawares, however, we learned that the young white generation now has a tendency to emigrate to Germany, that there is scepticism about the political future, and did I detect at the bottom a strong regret about the end of Apartheid?

Let’s wish this young country a peaceful future.  


Namibia is known for her friendliness; here you can experience another aspect of Africa: the original African lifestyle. Get in touch with the many different cultures that live their own 21st century life, which is totally different from our organised western system.  

Namibia, with many miles of good tarred and gravel roads, is the ideal country for self-drive safaris and to visit the beautiful national parks, which are full of wildlife. Those who like big game, nature and splendid views will be surprised. But also for bird watching and hiking in the canyons, Namibia is the place to be.

Furthermore, you will enjoy the good kitchen, with delicious game specialties and the best South-African wines. And with an average of 300 sunny days a year, also relaxing on the beach at the Atlantic Coast is one of the possibilities.