Namibia: WUS Germany’s solidarity in and with Namibia

After Craig Williamson, then deputy director of the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF) in Holland was exposed as a South African agent, it shook the foundation of trust painstakingly built up by non-governmental organisations worldwide. The successful infiltration of the agent planted by South African intelligence and the years-long misuse of his access to covert operations in support of anti-colonial liberation struggles in Southern Africa, were celebrated with triumph by the apartheid regime. It was at the same time a disaster not only for IUEF but also for its co-operating partners. The work and programs of IUEF were transferred to World University Service (WUS) in agreement with the funding agencies and the organisations involved (including the liberation movements SWAPO for Namibia and ANC for South Africa), since International WUS had already successfully carried out and implemented numerous programs with funding from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Canada, among others, for the benefit of the victims of apartheid policies in Southern Africa and enjoyed the trust of all.

Solidarity work for Namibia

Due to the specific, historically based relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and imperial Germany’s colony “German Southwest Africa”, it was an almost logical consequence for the German Committee of WUS to put the focus of its solidarity work on Namibia. It was shaped and promoted in a context of mutual recognition and cooperation with similarly oriented initiatives in the Federal Republic. One of the partners was the Namibia Project at the University of Bremen, which in turn was closely linked to the commitment of Terre des Hommes (TdH). Both the Bremen project and TdH, as well as the committee “Education against Apartheid” initiated by the Federal Executive Board of the German Trade Union for Education and Science (GEW), together with WUS, the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAB), the Informationsstelle Südliches Afrika (ISSA) and other organisations, represented a broad panorama that during the 1980s decisively shaped solidarity work with Southern Africa and especially with Namibia in the West German society.

My SWAPO Membership

In the midst of all these reference points for orientation, I became involved in West German solidarity settings. As a German-born son of emigrants I came to Namibia in 1967, where in 1974 I joined the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) as the anti-colonial movement. As a consequence, while studying at the Freie Universität in West Berlin, I was banned from re-entering Namibia and South Africa since 1975. In the “waiting loop” I became engaged as a scholar activist until the longed-for Namibian sovereignty under international law and the return to the African homeland of my choice. Almost inevitably, the German Committee of WUS soon became a part of the network, which for many people in the diaspora (even if they actually originally came from it, as in my case, to which my Swabian dialect bears witness to this day) became a socially important environment in order to be able to maintain inner stability and future prospects through appropriate commitment.

After graduating and subsequent assignments at the Max-Planck-Institute for Educational Research in West Berlin and the Namibia Project at the University of Bremen, I became a Senior Lecturer at the Gesamthochschule Kassel. As board member in the ISSA and active in the GEW Committee Education against Apartheid, I also became involved in the German Committee of WUS. This collaboration became an integral part of my engagements during the decade before my return to Namibia. Not only relevant events remain in the memory, but also tangible documents (listed in the notes).

Educational work – practical and unconventional

WUS published the German translation of a critique of apartheid education in Namibia, to which as co-author of the introduction the then director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Prof. Dietrich Goldschmidt, contributed as a long-time WUS member. In the late 1980s, WUS also used other educational tools to raise and deepen public awareness of Namibia’s history. This was achieved rather unconventionally through a Namibia calendar, which combined a sophisticated and high-quality artistic design with a content-related political statement and became a collector’s item. A comprehensive audio-slide show with accompanying texts designed for school lessons and educational work – compiled by two German Namibians also associated with the Namibia project at the University of Bremen – completed the media diversity designed as suitable tools for practical solidarity work.

Furthermore, as a result of the visit of a delegation of WUS Germany to Namibia in the first year of independence, WUS managed to place a background report on the situation in the education system as a prestigious documentation in the Frankfurter Rundschau. This rounded off the engagement with a focus on education policy. My own cooperation with WUS was terminated by my return to Namibia soon thereafter, at least in a practical sense, even though the inner bond continues since then and fond memories remain alive.

WUS did not bask in its success, nor did it close its eyes to the sometimes-sobering realities of post-colonial limits to emancipation and policy changes. In its continuing work, WUS did not shy away from addressing the limits of liberation in critical solidarity. This has contributed significantly to the credibility of the work beyond the times when international solidarity has been relatively easy and en vogue. But this new chapter is another story, which adds to the credibility of WUS being committed to human rights and civil liberties.

Notes

Dietrich Goldschmidt and Henning Melber: Namibia – Herausforderung auch für uns. Ein einleitendes Plädoyer. In: Justin Ellis, Bildung, Repression und Befreiung: Namibia. Published by the World University Service/German Committee. Darmstadt: Verlag für wissenschaftliche Publikationen 1985.

Namibia Kalender 1988: Texts by Werner Hillebrecht and Henning Melber, artistic design by Eva Anderer and Rainer Kallhardt (Kunstkollektiv Kassel).

One Namibia-One Nation: The History of Namibia. A comprehensive audio-slide show with accompanying text designed for classroom and educational use, compiled by Hans-Christian and Steve Scholz.

Henning Melber: „… dass die Türen des Lernens für alle geöffnet werden“. Namibas mühsamer und langwieriger Prozeß zu einer Zivilgesellschaft und zu einem neuen Erziehungswesen. In: Frankfurter Rundschau, December 22, 1990 (FR documentation).

Author profile

Professor Dr. Henning Melber is the same age as WUS Germany. He grew up in Namibia and joined SWAPO in 1974 as the son of German immigrants. He taught, earned his doctorate and habilitation in Germany, and returned to Namibia ostensibly permanently in 1992 as director of the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (NEPRU). As a critic of post-colonial conditions, however, he was sidelined and in 2000 moved to the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, as research director. There, he has been executive director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation from 2006 to 2012. He remains affiliated to both institutions as senior advisor, is extraordinary professor at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria since 2012 and the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein since 2013, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Commonwealth Studies/University of London since 2015 and since 2017 president of the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI).