Africa Today 47.1 (2000) 142-144
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In August 1994, the editors, all of whom were living in Windhoek, secured [End Page 142] funding for a conference of local Namibian historians, scholars and other interested people. The curious name for the conference was "Trees Never Meet," the name which the project adopted. The material included here grew out of that assembly. By limiting the time frame to the first thirty-one years of South African rule of the former German colony, they have managed, at the expense of some repetition, to include a large number of accounts of that period. In addition to collaborating on the introduction, each of the editors has one article, while an additional seven writers are included.
The underlying theme of the work is the attempt by the administering power to establish control, a different version of control, in the colony following the defeat of the Germans. The aims of the policy were the mobilization of male labor, maintenance of order, and the control of the social order for those ends.
The provision of labor for the various mines and farms, without altering the settlement pattern, is a continuing theme of many of the articles here. Men were needed for this work and were urged to travel to find it; women were needed to keep the homestead in place so that the worker would, after his period of labor, have a place to which to return, and to provide the next generation of workers.
The nature of the colony, an area larger than Germany but with a population of less than a million, along with an environment that included two deserts (the Namib and the Kalahari), with a widely dispersed population except in the north, where the boundary with Angola divided the ethnic groups, largely determined the nature of administration. Furthermore, the Union of South Africa had its own problems, so the colony was a "step-child" of Pretoria. The great depression of the 1930s, and regular droughts, added to the administrative problems. For example, the need for labor in the mines declined with the fall off in demand for mineral products in the world economy, yet the migrant laborers needed some source of income. Several of the articles address the social problems this produced.
The need for government aid during the periods of drought led to "make work" projects, either on the road network or, in the case of the north, the construction of dams. Patricia Hayes's article, "The 'Famine of the Dams'," discusses the employment of women and children in the dam construction, with the daily wages providing enough for the purchase of food for subsistence. Men were generally not employed on these projects, the point being to force them to seek employment on road building elsewhere.
Robert J. Gordon in his article on internal pacification emphasizes the use of the vagrancy laws in the control of the African population, primarily directed against male migrant workers. Marion Wallace addresses the colonial government's policy on venereal disease control. Related to the spread of this class of diseases is prostitution, but Wallace is primarily concerned with the hostile reaction of the women to compulsory examinations in Windhoek. She suggests that as a policy it was a "particularly [End Page 143] brutal and invasive exercise of colonial power on the bodies of its subjects" (p. 77), though there are other examples in Africa where neglect of some form of control led to near disaster. The modern example of attempts to control HIV and AIDS is pertinent.
The Ovambo communities on the northern frontier of Namibia are the subject of several articles. Meredith McKittrick notes that the western Ovambo had quite different lifestyles and systems of authority since they fell outside the normal trade routes. Also, they were the target of cattle raids from the eastern Ovambo. She also observes that...