Namibia

What Herman Goering's father did on his holidays

The first surprise of Namibia is Windhoek. For a capital city, it is not exactly a big town. It has it’s centre, its suburbs, and even a sort of international airport where one walks up the runway to get on the plane… Look see, that’s me walking into the sunset at the airport… I love iPhones…. Well I love their camera. My wife uses a real camera so if you want real pictures of Namibia you should check out her blog. But, me, ever the professional, I just snap with my phone.

Windhoek also has a surprising modernish shopping mall with cafes and the air of a European town about it, in that you hear a lot of German spoken. To be cruel one could say the shopping mall was reminiscent of Croydon or Watford, remarkable for their un-remarkability, but somehow it was much cooler discovering this in Windhoek.

The government’s allegiances are displayed in the street names. Where Kaiser Wilhelm and Bismark once graced roadsigns, now Mandela and Robert Mugabe are immortalised. I’m not sure what Robert Mugabe did for the property prices on the street but I am sure it was buyer friendly. Revolutions do not have to be violent. If you can change the names of the streets, you can make sure your followers make a killing on the property market, which is what revolutions are all about in the end anyway. 

Another thing that revolutions do is move statues around. So where once stood The Rider, a statue commemorating the victory of the German settlers over the Herero and Nama tribes,  you find a monument to Dr Nujama, the founder of modern Namibia, a graduate of Robben Island, and sufficiently well in with the North Koreans for them to fund a heroic statue of the man. The Rider statue though has merely been moved inside the old German fort on the hill, which is now a museum. They could have melted it down but Colonialism is now history, and history is tourism and tourism is money and like South Africa, there seems to be a concerted effort to put history in its past, so to speak. And then make a bob or two out of it. So, as you can see I loved this place. There was everywhere a strong sense of good thinking.

Well, mostly. I think the North Korean style of Dr Nujama’s statue does give you pause for thought, or is it a pause of thought? A celebration of a man’s paunch is perhaps rather cruel, but maybe changing the hero from some sort of Indiana Jones clone to an overweight man in a bad suit, is perhaps conveying the underlying message of the cosmos that one only really begins to achieve anything like wisdom by the time one is fat and bald. 


Especially interesting is the Video being played on a large screen right up beside the statue. It portrays an animation of the revolutionary struggle, complete with Russian tanks and what looked like Zombies on a rampage. And there is nothing a Korean likes better than a good Zombie Apocalypse, though one did not expect the North to share in the gamer’s enthusiasm. Unfortunately I videoed it on my other camera and my sloth in editing means it’ll be a year or so by the time I post my video of the trip. 
Now I feel I have to tell people about the history of Namibia. History, as you know, is stuff that happens that we make up stories about later on to show that the way things are now are much better, or much worse, depending on who feels they’re getting screwed over on property deals and decent jobs. How much men make history or history makes men, is an interesting question that I trivialise by pointing out that termites make really big and complicated high rise nests with complex social structures and not a single one of them has a clue what they are doing. And yet there is always a queen, and she’s fat and inert and spends her time pumping out eggs. And she doesn’t know what she’s doing either. 

The revolution was a little hot and fraught but SWAPO and the South African forces did not actually get into zombie apocalypse. It was more of a nasty little guerrilla campaign with mostly ineffectual action on all sides, and plenty of incompetence, absurdity and propaganda posturing. You did not want to be there, but for most people in this vast empty land, nobody was. Which is my theory of the state of the world: for the most part wars writ large on TV news, are only taking place within a few square miles of territory among quite small numbers of people. So, lighten up. The world is a beautiful place with a lot of nice people, so long as they are not involved in the film industry, the experience of which tends to give one a low opinion of humanity. Hence my love of deserts, where I rediscover my innate optimism for the future of mankind. 

I  digress. To continue the history lesson: in the end, SWAPO sort of won and remarkably the constitution is liberal, and the democracy reasonably real, if of an African flavour where patronage and family ties bind together the body politic. Mineral wealth and diamonds pay the salaries of the government employees, of whom there are many and mostly working in Windhoek. And everyone else seems to get on with whatever they can with the German settlers in charge of the tourist industry. Seems fair.

Windhoek has a lot of nice parts. It is an understated place with a very attractive presidential palace that serves as the centre of government and an open park. See what a pretty picture it makes? It is no concrete bunker with barbed wire. No security guards crawl all over the place. All of which speaks volumes.

If there is crime, it was not mugging the tourists, unlike in Paris! And if Namibia is a dodgy police state, it must be one of the more laid back ones where the police stop you and apologise for the inconvenience and proceed to enquire how your day’s been and what sights you’ve been visiting. Considering that Herman Goerring’s father was the first colonial governor and General Von Trotha, military commander in 1904, issued an order to exterminate the Herero and Nama tribes, managing to exterminate fifty per cent of the population and enslave most of the rest, everyone seems to get along fine. Expectations regarding tin-pot African states are thoroughly thwarted.  

It was in Namibia that one first saw signs of policies and attitudes that fueled Nazi Germany. In fact the “brown shirts” of the Nazi party were South West African army surplus and many of the African military commanders of the time migrated to the Nazi cause. So one really should be catching a flavour of this horrendous history. In other places I’ve been to the reason why the people are so miserable and bad tempered has always been given by their tragic history… Russia, yes, I’m talking about you… and you cannot blame the cold weather because Namibia was freezing cold when we were there, despite the sunshine. But the people of Namibia despite it all are laid back and friendly.

And so we say farewell Windhoek and move on out of the big city, through the police roadblock, where the police, fags in hand, chatted, drank tea and casually sauntered over to see that we weren’t harbouring an Elephant Tusk or Rhino Horn on our back seat and then waved us off into the increasingly alien landscape.


This is what a tour of Mars would look like. I’ll let you check out a bunch of pics in one of the albums here illustrating my point. Or you can pop over to my wife’s web site at www.helengray.net where she puts all her photographs. They’re much better than mine. I just snap where she composes!


We did a circuit that was Windhoek to Swakopmund to Skeleton Coast and then round the scenic route to the Etosha Game reserve and back to Windhoek. We stopped at various Wilderness lodges on the way and ate Oryx Burgers and drank German wines and enjoyed sangria sundowners and rose at five in the morning and went to bed at eight in the evening. I wish I could say more! I wish I’d kept a diary, except I would not have had any time or inclination to write it up because the point of travel is to experience the travel and not really to go out there and report back to base. Which, does bring up a philosophical point here. Is it better to live without feeling one needs to make a report, or just to live and experience it all? Perhaps one can try relive it by making a report afterwards but unless one is cursed or gifted by some sort of total recall the attempt is doomed. It all becomes fiction and fiction recreates something different and of itself influenced by the experience but it is not the experience. Come to think of it, a lot of the fiction I write is about what happens when you dislocate yourself from reality and live in and by a fiction. The antidote to everything is to look and see for yourself and test all expectations and prejudices and misapprehensions. Nothing is as it is written. One always has to write it yourself.

Which is my ham fisted way of saying, you really have to go to this place! Definitely one of my favourite places and very hard to put into words.