Katatura and My Own Black Experience

While we were in Windhoek, we visited Katutura, a low-income neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. Needless to say, our perceptions of Windhoek were strongly challenged by our visit to Katutura.

Katutura, literally translated as “the place where people do not want to live”, was created during South West African apartheid for black inhabitants of Windhoek to segregate them from white inhabitants of Windhoek.  Upon independence and the end of apartheid, former residents of Katutura became government officials (even current president, Hage Geingob, lived in Katutura before leaving Namibia).  However, the challenges of poverty still exist for the exclusively black population in Katutura.

Image of Katutura (source: Exploring Namibia TV – Youtube)

Official unemployment in Katutura is high, particularly for youth (over 40%) though there is a large informal economy of butchers, street-side bars, gambling dens and street vendors.  The residents of Katutura are also a major part of the service economy in Windhoek; nearly all of the cab drivers in the city are from Katutura and all of the employees in our posh four-star hotel were from Katutura.  Though the government has started initiatives to ensure free primary education, many of the current residents I spoke with during my time in Windhoek felt left behind by the government.

Walking and riding through Katutura was a jarring experience that harkened some of the familiar imagery and stories of the same low-income neighborhoods created by racist policies in the United States.  As a black United States citizen from the South, the familiarity of the effects of apartheid we were seeing in this foreign country were shocking but not surprising.  From the discussion we had about “black taxes”, the generational wealth gap created by the fact that children feel the duty to take care of their parents, to the discussions of land resettlement and reparations, the conversations felt similar to the conversations I’ve had at my alma mater, a historically black college, about socio-economic challenges black Americans have faced since emancipation.

By visiting Katutura, we were the recipients of crucial information about the socio-economic structures in Namibia.  I hope, as the receivers of this, our study tour group looks to challenge the oppressive structures found in their own societies.  Also, I hope we all take the experiences and advocate for the people of Katutura as we gain political and economic power.

Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett is an MBA Candidate in the MIT Sloan Class of 2018. A former Research & Development engineer in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jonathan is interested in learning about sustainable development and innovation in large corporations. Outside of the classroom, Jonathan enjoys traveling, running and using his engineering background to improve family recipes.

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