Windhoek in detail

Other Features

Katutura – a Permanent Place?

In 1912, during the days of the South African mandate – and apartheid – the Windhoek town council set aside two ‘locations’, which were open to settlement by black Africans working in the city: the Main Location, which was west of the city centre, and Klein Windhoek, to the east. The following year, people were forcibly relocated to these areas, which effectively became haphazard settlements. In the early 1930s, streets were laid out in the Main Location and the area was divided into regions. Each subdivision within these regions was assigned to an ethnic group and referred to by that name (eg Herero, Nama, Owambo, Damara), followed by a soulless numerical reference.

In the 1950s the Windhoek municipal council, with encouragement from the South African government (which regarded Namibia as a province of South Africa), decided to ‘take back’ Klein Windhoek and consolidate all ‘location’ residents into a single settlement northwest of the main city. There was strong opposition to the move, and in early December 1959 a group of Herero women launched a protest march and boycott against the city government. On 10 December unrest escalated into a confrontation with the police, resulting in 11 deaths and 44 serious injuries. Frightened, the roughly 4000 residents of the Main Location submitted and moved to the new settlement, which was ultimately named ‘Katutura’. In Herero the name means ‘we have no permanent place’, though it can also be translated as ‘the place we do not want to settle’.

Today in independent Namibia, Katutura is a vibrant Windhoek suburb – Namibia’s Soweto – where poverty and affluence brush elbows. The town council has extended municipal water, power and telephone services to most areas of Katutura, and has also established the colourful and perpetually busy Soweto Market, where traders sell just about anything imaginable. Unlike its South African counterparts, Katutura is relatively safe by day, assuming you can find a trustworthy local who can act as a guide.

The tourist office can book township tours but even better is Katu Tours, which offers guided tours by bike. You get a good taste of township life and the chance to meet plenty of locals; it also includes dropping into Penduka, where local women produce a range of handicrafts and textiles. Tours depart at 8am from Katutura and take 3½ hours.

Rare Gems

The former owner of House of Gems, Sid Pieters, who died in 2003, was once Namibia’s foremost gem expert. In 1974, along the Namib coast, Pieters uncovered 45 crystals of jeremejevite, a sea-blue tourmaline containing boron – the rarest gem on earth. His discovery was only the second ever; the first was in Siberia in the mid-19th century. Another of his finds was the marvellously streaky ‘crocidolite pietersite’ (named for Pieters himself), from near Outjo in North-Central Namibia. Pietersite, a beautiful form of jasper shot through with asbestos fibres, is certainly one of the world’s most beautiful and unusual minerals, and some believe that it has special energy and consciousness-promoting qualities. Other New Age practitioners maintain that it holds the ‘keys to the kingdom of heaven’; stare at it long enough and perhaps you’ll agree.