The DRC Township of Swakopmund

In the outskirts of Swakopmund lies an area called the “DRC,” or Democratic Resettlement Community. Due to the lackluster conditions, some in the DRC mistakenly believe that the abbreviation stands for Democratic Republic of Congo.  The DRC is a settlement community of approximately 20,000 residents, comprising different ethnic Namibians, most of whom live without electricity, private toilets, or running water. The Herero community are among the inhabitants of the DRC.

I spent two days here, with a Herero woman named Erika, who showed me around her neighborhood.

A pop up store with a generator, used to charge mobile phones.

A market and bar located in the predominantly Herero part of the DRC.

Erika stands outside a communal toilet.

A communal toilet, used by Erika’s neighbors.

Erika, originally from Otjimbingwe, moved to Swakopmund several years prior in hopes of finding better employment opportunities.

The brilliant sunset belied the abject poverty faced by this community - yet at the same time, the vibrant hues served as a silver lining, highlighting Erika’s optimism. Despite the poverty, she expressed her deep love for her family and explained that she lives in a “happy home.”

Erika, who works as a cleaner in the more affluent areas of Swakopmund, dreams of one day opening her own take away, where she can make “chips and Russians” (Russians are a type of sandwich and are a popular street-food in Namibia and South Africa).  She enjoys cooking, and hopes to make that her livelihood one day. She currently makes minimal wages and struggles to support her children. 

Erika and her daughter cook lunch.

Erika slices potatoes for lunch.

Erika’s daughter adds Marathon Sugar, a Namibian sugar, to the potato salad.

Erika’s daughter helps her mother cook lunch.

The Namibian government established the DRC as a temporary low-income township in 2001 to accommodate those waiting to move into government-subsidized housing. Sixteen years later, the DRC township still exists today, as people often find it economically difficult to move once they’ve planted roots. With about 40,000 people living in the Swakopmund area, over half the population still lives in housing projects like the DRC.

Many of the houses here are built from reclaimed garbage from the city landfill. There are no services - such as public access to water and electricity - though some convenient stores and shebeens (bars) in the community have generators to provide services at their facilities. For example, you will find most people with cellular phones, which are charged at charging points throughout the DRC.

Erika, like other community members, must travel long distances to fetch water at communal water points, lacks proper sanitation facilities (such as toilets and showers), and has no access to electricity. But she, like those around her, is industrious - and uses a makeshift, gas-lit stove to cook her food. 

On a warm autumn evening in May, Erika cooks dinner by candlelight, with the help of her youngest daughter.

Erika cooks dinner by candlelight.

Erika uses the light of her cellular phone to light the pot she is cooking with.

Erika’s younger daughter helps her cook.

Despite her positive outlook, Erika, like other Herero community members in the DRC, feels disadvantaged - both by the current government and that of the past. She traces the Herero land issue - the loss of their ancestral lands to outside communities - back to the German colonial era.

Erika describes the pain she feels on behalf of her lost ancestors, who were killed during the genocide. Her great-grandfather, a feared Herero military commander, was captured and killed by the Germans during these times.

Erika holds up a picture of her great-grandfather, a feared Herero chief who fought the Germans during their colonial rule.

She explains the trauma her ancestors went through, describing horrifying accounts of brutality. After having severed the heads of their Herero enemy, German soldiers forced Herero women to remove the skin from those skulls for the skulls’ shipment to Germany for examination. Similar stories were recounted by other Herero I had spoken with (see Untold Stories from Germany’s First Genocide post, below).

“I am not happy with the way those people [colonial Germans] treated our ancestors in that time. They killed our ancestors - their blood was running for us. We lost everything [land, lives and cattle]…and we cannot get it back.” She says she will fight “until my death” to get back what her ancestors lost - including their land, their ancestral roots. 

She further explains that painful reminders of German colonial oppression are littered throughout Namibia, including the Swakopmund monument hailing German colonial triumph over the Herero. Like other Herero, she wants to see that monument removed. Ultimately, Erika, like others, wants to set roots back in her ancestral land. 

At the very least, and like others in the DRC, she wants development in the township, so they can be “like the other people.”

Erika holds her family’s ceremonial cup.

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