The beautiful people of Namibia's slums

Photos and text by Jacob Holdt
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Introduction to the slums

To really appreciate the colors and the beauty of Namibia's friendly and unusually hospitable poor, you have to see the extremely harsh and oppressive surroundings, they are forced to live in. They moved me deeply as they stood in utter contrast to the unfriendliness of the white Boers and Germans in their barbed-wire-fenced fortresses and luxury homes in which they continue the arrogant and racist life styles of the apartheid years. 

       
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One step from
the dessert
Typical slum dwelling
in Windhoek
Typical slum dwelling
in Owamboland
Woman cooking in
front of her home
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Single woman outside her shack in Katutura Woman in Big Ben - a slum around Windhook    
       

Background for my Namibia trip

American Pictures was set up to give financial aid to the struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa. In 1983 we held meetings with the president of the guerrilla group SWAPO, Sam Nujorma, in order to support Namibia's independence struggle. We decided to give the money through IBIS with matching funds from the EF/EU and helped finance the school for training nurses headed by
Libertina Amathila (Free Namibia's first Minister of Health)  set up in Kwanzu Zul in Angola by SWAPO.
Our foundation was set up to give humanitarian aid. So like IBIS we were afraid of supporting the military wing of SWAPO - also because we were starting up in president Reagan's America at that time. Reagan supported South Africa's bloody apartheid regime and called the freedom fighters for "terrorists".

Most of the money came from our slide shows around Europe. Or rather from the fact that we usually slept in ice-cold cars rather than wasting money on hotels and only had a personal salary of 40$ per show. With such idealism we generated a lot of support and small cash donations from volunteers. 

When I many years after met some of the people (see below) who told me that without Kwanzu Zul they would not have been alive today, I am glad that we did it.
I had previously been invited to the independence celebrations of Namibia in 1990 by the country's first elected president, Sam Nujorma, but couldn't go then because I had lectures in Hawaii that week. During my 18 years of lecturing in the USA I forgot all about this, but was then invited by IBIS to see and photograph the outcome of our joint efforts in the past. Unfortunately I ended up there during 9/11 and described that event seen from a Namibian perspective
.

       
The American Pictures collective 1976-83 Giving a hand to the struggle against apartheid Namibia-014  
The American Pictures
collective 1976-83
Giving a hand to the
struggle against apartheid
Survivors of Kwanzu Zul
and American Pictures
 

Copyright 2002; All rights reserved

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