Tuesday 18 May 2021
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Wisdom from the builders of Katutura

It’s a given that the soul of Windhoek lies in Katutura and while the stories of the township have been recounted by many, the true history is best narrated by those who put brick to brick to shape the place they call ‘The place where we refuse to settle.’

On a Tuesday afternoon, we sat down with the 84-year old Simon Mogane. Fifty nine years ago, Oom Simon was one of the 12 builders sent from South Africa. Just as we settle in the veteran starts by expressing his pain on the loss of the lives of the younger generation. “The young people are dying almost every day. So if we the old people are the only ones remaining, who is going to bury us?”

The year was 1958, 12 builders, 3 carpenters and 3 plumbers were sent off to go and teach the Bantu people of South West Africa to build their own township. It took them 5 days by train to reach the promised land.

He says they were told that they are going to the capital city. How disappointed they were upon their arrival in Windhoek, a city made up almost entirely of bushes. He laughs loudly and says, “It was all bush and not the big town we expected to see. In fact, Katutura was nothing but bushes. They were supposed to say we were coming to a village.”

Village Katutura
The current NHE offices in Katutura was where they settled first, setting up a shack structure while awaiting for building assignments from the white masters on the other side of the Old Location.
“Locations like Khomasdal came yesterday, it was all just bush. The only houses that existed were those in Windhoek North and they belonged to the whites. There was nothing such as Central Hospital or Katutura Hospital. Katutura Hospital used to be at the venue where they are currently constructing the new Home Affairs ministry offices today. It used to be called the Red Cross hospital. The only shops we had were the railway shops.

Where we now have Katutura Shoprite was all bushes. Since we did not have water, they built a dam for us there. We used to chase kudus there. The only tarred roads was the Kaiser and Tal Streets that went till the now Ausspannplatz. Kaiser Street was the main road to South Africa,” said a jolly Mogane.

“The other road was from turn off to Ausspannplatz, that’s it. All these buildings we see today came yesterday.”

Joined by about 300 to 400 Ovambcame from Northern South West Africa to help them with building.

“ Joined by about 300 builders from the north, our communication was severely challenged but thankfully because a few of them worked in the mines in South Africa, so we were able to speak what people came to know as Fanakalo.”

“Windhoek was very small. We all knew each other and life was fun. Bread was 5 cents and we were really just fine with everything. The Old Location then was also not so full. There were shacks and only a few people had proper brick houses,” he says as he reminisces.

The night of Old Location happened and so many people were shot fatally and injured. The few who were at Katutura and the Compound were spared the bullets.

“When the riot at Old Location happened, we were busy building at the current St Barnabas Primary School. In the morning, we saw Herero women coming from the bush. Little did we know that they were shooting people in the Old Location.”

From there we built the municipality offices at the sa,e place  now Katutura Multipurpose Youth Centre  so the numbers that were moved from Old Location had to come and register at those offices. We then started building Damara 1, 2 and 3. We continued to build the houses of the Herero location with the help of Oupa Kamberipa because he was the only one who could understand the language. He used to work at the Post Office then. The locations were built to segregate tribes under strict instructions of the whites.”

Speaking of the many buildings that he has laid brick to, “in 1959, I started building Mandume Primary School and the houses of Ovambo Location. We then continued to build the Goreangab School and Herero Location. We also build the then Akedemie, ( former Polytechnic ) and now NUST.”

At the age of 84, Mogane vividly remembers the building of Windhoek how and when everything evolved. He says the oldest hotels they had were the Continental Hotel. It is currently being used as support offices for Home Affairs offices in town.

“There was no such a thing as entertainment. There was a municipality hall and the Central Shops which still stands to this date- otherwise, nothing.”

We found Black Africa
A young and vibrant builder, Mogane and other footballers founded Eleven Kangaroos that  came to be known as Black Africa Football Club today. They decided to change the name later, a move that was not in the good books of the whites, he said.

The area where the fuel station in Pioneerspark behind the cemetery is situated used to be a sport field where big teams like Tigers, African, Orlando Pirates and Eleven Kangaroos used to compete.

Almost sixty years later, Mogane says things have changed for the best but others for the bad. What is evident is that the place has now earned its status as a city. Sadly, what used to be a place of peace has become a prison, according to Mogane.

Katutura today
It takes wisdom and the practical scope of events to be able to say almost every building we celebrate today came yesterday. And from a political landscape, Mogane says we are soon to experience what South Africa is going through with Jacob Zuma ruining South Africa.

“We are too free because we took democracy in a wrong way. Democracy is by the people, for the people. It does not say some must dominate the others.
We must work for ourselves like the porcupines do.  Don’t be like the snake that has never built a house but drives others out of their homes.
Today things have changed. People have misunderstood freedom and as a result Katutura has become a prison. You are in fear even when you are in your own house. You have burglar bars at your windows, something we did not have in our days. The Police are moving all around protecting us from our own kind.

Today’s young people
With independence came freedom and rights, something Mogane says has taken today’s young people from Katutura astray. Exacerbated by the social and cultural change from analogue to digital, Mogane believes that if the young people are to follow their ancestors’ way of living, things will be better.

“Today, every mother has high blood pressure. As long as they are a mother, they have high blood pressure. You as the mother must cook for the young adults. If you tell them there is no food, the elder is in trouble.

“The commandment that says ‘respect your mother and father so that your life can be extended’ has been changed to ‘Respect your children so that you can live longer.’ If you don’t respect them, they will not give you food.

The bustling township Katutura wears its history on its sleeve and can only be best eplained by those who discovered it in the first place. The buildings, monuments and neighbourhoods contribute to the rich mix of local cultures and our history, making it a fascinating place to visit. Mogane and a few others know it best and have lived to see the genesis and what has now come of the grown child called – Katutura.

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