Work and dreams fuel Namibia’s growth
Namibia is one of Africa’s wealthiest countries, but it is plagued by an unemployment rate so high that it sometimes makes us forget that most Namibians are working very hard. Located in southwest Africa, Namibia declared itself independent from the apartheid government of South Africa in 1989. Since then, this beautiful but bleak and barren land has been discovered by tourists who have helped make it one of the wealthiest countries on the continent.
Since Independence, the slogan for the country has been “One Namibia, One Nation” reflecting the nation’s motto of “Unity, Liberty, Justice”. By 2009 Namibia had risen to become a lower-middle income country on the international scale. Because of this rapid rise, Finland has been able to end development cooperation between the two countries and focus instead on trade and support for NGOs active in Namibia.
The other side of the coin is the world’s highest disparity in income between the richest and the poorest citizens. So, the hopeful slogans have not actually become the reality in Namibia. Unemployment has risen, too, and is now around 37 per cent – and even higher among young people looking for jobs.
Almost one-fifth of the registered labour force in Namibia earns its living from tourism, in one way or another.
In 2011, tourism and jobs related to tourism accounted for almost 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Most of the tourists who come to Namibia are drawn there by its ruggedly beautiful landscapes and awesome wildlife.
Junac Mutumburua welds old automobile motor parts at the Salvage Scrap metal yard in the industrial area in northern Windhoek. Although Namibia still lacks an industry for processing recycled materials into finished products, the growing scrap and recycling industries offer respected, useful work for many of the less well-educated members of society.
“Unfortunately I can’t even speak English,” Mr Mutumburua said.
Ms Karina Kandjo (left) and Ms Cornelia Shaurwa create very popular crib blankets and soft toys like the giraffe.
They also make purses from old vinyl sheets, which they sell in their shop in Katutura, a township in Windhoek. Both women went for routine medical examinations when they became pregnant - and only then discovered they were HIV-positive.
“I don’t know where I got infected. Now I go to the clinic three times a month to get the medications the State offers us.
"Sewing has become everything to me, because I have five children and I want to help them so they can go to school,” said Ms Kandjo.
Mr Lucas Shenene washes his feet while Mr Asko Sema washes his wheelbarrow. The men are helping construct a new library in the Nathaniel Maxuilili Centre, in the extremely poor district of Babylon on the outskirts of Windhoek. Under the yoke of South African apartheid rule, the majority of the population, the black people, were excluded from acquiring the knowledge available in libraries. Following Independence in 1989, a great many libraries were built as places to spend time and to study. These days, a library card is more important than skin colour.
The Greenwell Matongo Community Library is situated in the Greenwell Matongo area of Katutura, a township of Windhoek. It is not only important as a place to study, but also as a daycare centre for the children living in the area. Not everyone can afford a computer, and not everyone has electricity at home. Many of the children’s parents have to work very long days, and some of them have social problems that make it difficult for them to take care of their children. Four year-old Miss Dekula plays in the background while young Mr Roberto Gariseb prepares for his secondary school final examinations.
Mr Dean Martin drives a taxi. He is one of the relatively few on-call taxis in the city.
Taxis are a mode of transport favoured by the well-off. Because bus services exist in name only, the greater part of movement within the city takes place in shared taxis.
During his free time and when waiting for calls, Mr Martin reads books and studies history.
However, Dean doesn't always enjoy reading.
He said, “A lot of books make me feel bad, though - so bad I don’t even want to take them off the shelf and finish reading them.”
This picture was taken as he brought his passengers to the affluent Klein Windhoek suburb.
Namibia’s standard of living places it among the most developed countries of Africa. At the same time, the differences in standard of living between the rich and the poor also places it at the top of that list. Estimates of unemployment among young people vary between 40 per cent and 80 per cent, depending on the method of calculation. The most important reason for this distressing situation is a lack of occupational training. Mr Fernando Coetzee, 21, practices welding in the Etmo Youth Employment Project in Katutura Windhoek, a project supported by the Finnish NGO, Savitaipaleen Nuorison Tuki Ry (The Savitaipale Youth Support Association).
Ms Linda Mangudu studies needlework at the Etmo Youth Employment Project’s workshop in Windhoek’s Katutura suburb. The things the students make in the needlework course are sold, and many of the students hope to set up their own small business when they have completed the course.
In addition to needlework skills, students are also given sex education and civics courses, since in this very poor area many careers are cut short by an early and unplanned pregnancy.
At the Base FM radio station, broadcasting out of Windhoek Katutura, the popular DJ, ‘Em’ (also known as Mr Moricha Jobs) is preparing to interview the hiphop artist, Mr Steve Uahupirapi. The station was founded in the mid-1990s, but it has only been broadcasting continuously since 2004.
Although a good part of Namibia’s media is held tightly in the hands of the Government, the communications media enjoys a freedom of expression that is exceptionally modern for Africa.
For example, Base FM has a number of programmes that enable discussion of the problems of sexual minorities, and also broadcasts debate on issues affecting environmental protection.
“They shot me in the arms and legs. You can still see the scars,” the Director of the Library of the University of Namibia, Ms Ellen Namhila, told us.
At the age of twelve, she ran away from the South African Government and their army, to the protection of the independence movement SWAPO in neighbouring Angola.
Later she went to Tampere University in Finland, and returned at the beginning of the 1990s to an independent Namibia. The little girl who was a refugee has grown up to be one of the country’s cultural leaders, and one of the highest paid women in the country.
“A strong library means there is a strong society, because no matter what your profession or occupation is, you will always need information.”
Story and Photographs: Juho Paavola
Juho Paavola is a photo-journalist specialised in questions of international development