In exchange with the author Erika von Wietersheim

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In exchange with the Namibian author Erika von Wietersheim

"My great wish is that the young people in Namibia do not lose hope."

How did you come up with this book title, what inspired you to do it?​

Erica: The book ends in 1990, on Independence Day. This day was a new beginning, an early morning, the beginning of the new Namibia. All the course was set anew, the government, the laws, living together. Hence the title "Good morning, Namibia!"

Namibia is a country rich in cultures, natural beauty and raw materials. Namibia mines and exports uranium and diamonds, as well as large quantities of copper, gold, lead and tin. Namibia's democracy is considered stable and the country is popular with tourists. Nevertheless, the inequality is great. Even before the pandemic, 40% of the population was considered poor. Many people here in the west cannot understand that. Why is poverty still so prevalent in Namibia?

Erica: Namibia's population is growing very fast and there just aren't enough jobs. Especially since there is also a rapid influx into the cities. And the city administrations are completely overwhelmed to provide enough housing and services such as land, water and electricity.

So far, Namibia has not managed to achieve the goal of industrialization to attract enough investors - through favorable and transparent conditions and well-trained workers. Unfortunately, growing corruption also plays a role. Now many are hoping for the production of green hydrogen, which is increasingly in demand around the world. Unfortunately, the corona pandemic has contributed to greater poverty. Many people have lost their jobs. And currently the rising cost of living is also playing a major role. Unfortunately, rising inflation, also in Namibia, is always felt most terribly among the poorest of the population.

What is the state doing to reduce poverty?

Erica: Namibia does more than you think:

  • Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa that pays a state pension to all residents aged 60 and over (about 80 euros per month)
  • Likewise, the war veterans, disabled people and vulnerable children such as orphans
  • In 2015, an anti-poverty ministry was even set up, which has not changed much structurally, but has helped over 10.000 urban households with food banks over a long period of time.
  • Namibia has also had a National School Feeding Program in all regions since 1990; 370.000 students receive a hot meal every day during school hours.

Projects as important as Steps for Children are also part of the fight against poverty. As well as the many smaller private initiatives that exist within Namibia.

What about education in Namibia? Is the state doing enough for this? How important is education for Namibia's future? And what else should the country do in terms of education?

Erica: There is good news and bad news: Namibia spends a lot of money on the education sector and 98% of all children attend primary school. Girls are not disadvantaged; on the contrary, there are even more women at universities than men. On the other hand, the education itself is bad, the teachers are not well trained, the schools are poorly equipped, and there are not enough classrooms. Almost half of all school children cannot read, do arithmetic and write properly after the 5th grade. In addition, there is a high number of schoolgirls who become pregnant, which in turn is linked to poverty. The high spending on education does not seem to be bearing fruit. Poor education also contributes to the fact that 43% of young people remain unemployed.

In your opinion, what would be the most important steps for the country to take now? What would you wish for Namibia's future?

Erica: The consistent fight against corruption, to restore trust in the government. It is important that all Namibians work together again, as it was in 1990, for a better future. Authorities like politicians and chiefs still have a lot of influence here as role models and if they are or appear corrupt, it leads to the disintegration of society. 

Secondly, I wish: A radical one renewal of the education system, above all an investment in teacher training. Teachers have to learn that they shouldn't just teach children what they have learned by heart, but that they have to encourage them to think and ponder, to be creative and to have a sense of self and responsibility. But in order to do that, the teachers have to learn it themselves first, because they went through a school system that didn't teach them exactly that. 

And very important: we have to give the young people in our country work. Because they want to work. A few days ago, more than 800 people queued up because three jobs were advertised in a factory. 800! Unemployment also has a direct impact on crime, alcoholism, drug use and the very high suicide rate in Namibia. What I wish most is that people, especially young people, do not give up hope.

I know a young man who comes from the poorest of backgrounds and works in my garden from time to time. I help him get his driver's license so he has better chances of getting a job. Riaan is also a poet.

Here are a few lines from one of his many poems that he shows me or sends:

Welcome to my life

After the morning prayer

I am staring at the sunrise

I am from the darker side of the globe

Still holding on to this rope of hope

I live good days in a sad life

My face plays the friendly

But there are problems piling up

Behind that cute smile.

I came a long way together with famine

And my pen bleeds the ink

Tears run while I write this...

(After morning prayer, I stare at the sunrise / I live on the darker side of the globe but I hold tight to the rope of hope / In a sad life I have good days too, my face shows kindness but towers behind that nice smile the worries/ I've been living with hunger for a long time and the ink is bleeding from my pen and while I'm writing this my tears are flowing...)

It is my great wish that the young people in Namibia do not lose hope. That they won't let go of the rope of hope. But we, who are better off, must help strengthen that rope. You in Germany are definitely doing this for many children and young people with the help of Steps for Children.

What do you think we should take home with us? Finally, what message would you like to give us?

Erica: In Germany they do a lot for Namibia and that is extremely important. But there are also things that you can learn from Namibia in Germany:

Don't lose hope so quickly Solidarity in difficult times of the pandemic and great need. Dealing with disasters like Corona, lack of water, drought - you help each other, you tackle things, you save water and don't discuss washcloths. If there is not enough water, you just save water. Most of them don't have a shower anyway and wash themselves with washcloths every day. And are still sparkling clean. You don't wait for the state to fix everything, you help yourself, your family, your friends as best you can. There is less talking, accusation, waiting for help from outside or the state.

 

Thank you dear Erika! 

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