Windhoek: family and old friends
After taking two days to travel to Windhoek, Namibia along the Trans-Kalahari Highway (which you can read about here and here), we spent our first couple of days (8 & 9 May) looking up old family in the archives, and seeing old friends.
We are staying with Val’s cousin Enid Ellis and her husband Justin in Klein Windhoek, not far from the house where I lived over 40 years ago.
We spent much of Wednesday 8 May in the archives, now housed in a new building a little out of the centre of town, looking for information on the Green, Stewardson and related families. We took a lunch break with Enid and Justin, and tried to unravel the mysteries of the Namibian cell phone system.We had bought SIM cards for our cell phones at the border, but were having difficulty in getting them to work.
Windhoek has grown a lot — I suppose that is only to be expected after 40 years. A lot of the old familiar landmarks are there (the city council seems to have good policy of preserving historic buildings, or at least their facades), but there were a lot of new tall buildings in the background in some places. Some scenes remained familiar though, like these:
Thursday was Western Ascension day, and a public holiday in Windhoek, so the archives were closed. It was also nice to have a public holiday where, unlike South Africa, many of the shops and places like the Archives are closed, and there is much less traffic on the streets. In South Africa public holidays tend to turn into a shopping frenzy.
We spent the early part of the morning with the Ellis family, where Justin was making bread, chatting and having a leisurely breakfast of pancakes.
Then we met two old friends, Assaria Kamburona and Kaire Mbuende, whom I hadn’t seen for forty years, and Val had never met them. Assaria Kamburon was now bishop of the Oruuano Church. Kaire Mbuende’s father Gabriel Mbuende had been secretary of the Oruuano Church when I lived in Windhoek, we sometimes travelled together to Gobabis, where Assaria Kamburona then lived.
Assaria told us something of his life story, which I won’t reproduce in full here, but he was born at Mosita near Mafeking in South Africa in 1932, and attended a school there run by the London Missionary Society. In 1942, when he was ten, his family returned to Namibias, and the lived inj Epukiro, north of Gobabis. He had difficulty at first, as he spoke only Tswana, Sotho and English, and in the school at Epukiro thjey used only Afrikasans and Otjiherero. He arranged with some of the teachers to teach them English, and in return they would teach him Otjiherero. One of his teachers was Gabriel Mbuende.
He left school after Standard 6 (Grade 8) and worked as a cleaner and mail sorter at the Gobabis post office, and three years later, when the Standard Bank opened a branch in Gobabis in 1954, he went to work there. As a young man he became involved in politics, and after the massacre of people protesting against the forced removal of the Windhoek old location in 1959, he was sacked as a potential trouble maker, and made his living selling bread, sweerts and liquor. The main politically active organisation in those days was the Herero chiefs council, but this was regarded by the United Nations as too tribal, and they would prefer to deal with wider political organisations. So the South West Africa National Union) SWANU and the Ovamboland Peoples Organisation (which later became Swapo) were formed, but they all worked together. In those days Assarias was quite active in smuggling political activists (including Sam Nujoma, who later became president of Namibia) across the border to Botswana. He himself wanted to go with them, but the Herero chief, Hosea Kutako, said that his work should be spiritual, and he should stay and be a minister in the Oruuano Church.
`When we arrived at Kaire Mbuende’s house on the outskirts of Windhoek, Assaria had what Val called a “Simeon moment” — “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”, because a black man like Kaire Mbuende could live in a nice house with a nice garden.
Kaire Mbuende also has a very biblical garden. He loves gardening and there are rows of vines and olive trees, and also clementines (which are related to naartjies).
When I met Kaire Mbuende 40 years ago he was a young student. Since then he has been active in academic and public life, and is also a historian. His life story is easily accessible on the web.