During the commemoration year of 2004, students at the Deutsche Höhere Privatschule in Windhoek investigated the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples in 1904. Departing from their family biographies, they looked into the history of their country and at the development of a multi-cultural society in today's Namibia.
In Germany, discussions about putting restrictions to a multi-cultural society are heated and controversial. In Namibia, the co-existence and living together of different traditions and cultures is a matter of course and a foundation of the state. Here, ethnic groups of different backgrounds and different languages live together. The development of peaceful co-existence has become possible since Namibia became an independent state in 1990. Until then, the history of the country had been determined by war, colonialism and Apartheid. Therefore, coming to terms with history is a necessity as well as a chance for the integration of society.
Today, students from all ethnic groups of Namibia learn and work together at the DHPS (Deutsche Höhere Privatschule; German higher private school), which was founded already in German colonial times. However, the majorities in this school are reversed to those in society in general: German-speaking students are in the majority; in each year, there are three German-language classes and one English-language class. As a "school of encounter", the DHPS wants to contribute towards a more natural understanding between young people of different colours of skin. In 2004, a project on Namibian history took a successful step into that direction.
The term "English-speaking" does not describe a homogenous group. Other than the German-speaking students, they are not white, but this common trait meets with a diversity of cultural backgrounds. The students' first languages are Afrikaans, Otjiherero, Oshivambo, Nama or Damara, and altogether they form a truly multi-cultural community.
The project planning included multiculturality as an issue and assumed that dealing with history in a concrete context facilitates the awareness of one's own importance in the process of history, thus also strengthening an interest in the past and in up-to-date political events. An important result was to create an interest in the history of "the others", which would then lead to discussions and situations of encounter.
Students of a 7th and an 8th grade English-language class had developed great interest in their own Namibian history – a history to be discovered more in living traditions and oral or written family traditions than in school text books, and this became the point of departure for a working group that led to a variety of expressions and work forms.
Visits to the Windhoek museum showed the children that familiar items of everyday use, like baskets, earthenware pots or traditional games, are part of their culture and well worth being shown in an exhibition. At the National Archives, they saw photographs, maps and documents that gave them ideas for more questions, investigations and creative work. For example, Toteya made houses from grass, woollen thread and cardboard to show the different ways San, Ovambo and European people construct their houses; Emily drew a picture showing her mother's way into exile, and other children brought photographs and documents of their families and showed them to the group. Already at this stage it became clear, how important these experiences were for the development of a more broadened historical awareness.
In face of the commemoration year of 2004 – 100 years after the battle between the German "Schutztruppe" and the Hereros at the Waterberg – the group developed a very special dynamic. We approached the history of colonialism through visiting, describing and analysing several historical monuments in Windhoek – in 2004 they were also very well covered by the daily press. Thirteen-year-old Winnie wrote a poem and drew a picture, confronting the situation as she experiences it today to that of 1904. "In our school, we experience that we can all learn and work together, whereas one hundred years ago, there was only discrimination and war," she said.
On this background, the students not only accepted an offer to participate in the commemoration ceremony at Ohamakari with great enthusiasm, but they also wanted their German-speaking fellow students to accompany them. Thus the group of students on stage at the Waterberg on August 14 represented not only the different African languages and cultures of Namibia, but also the former adversaries in the colonial war – a personification of the often invoked spirit of reconciliation. In their multilingual messages – e.g. Oshivambo-speaking Nangolo delivered it in German, and German-speaking Maren in Nama-Damara – they expressed their hopes and visions of a peaceful future for all Namibians. Among other things, they said, "We would like to preserve the different cultures and languages of Namibia – but we also wish for a common language for all of us!"
The press coverage of their contribution caused the young people once more to reflect on the importance of the commemoration ceremony and their own participation. "I had the feeling that people listened to me and that I was able to convince them," Namtago said later, and Sabine added, "We really were a part of history then!"
In a subsequent project to investigate their own family histories, the students worked in groups across classes. During a larger event for all 8th grades, they presented their families' biographies to each other in English and German. In this process, some quite emotional situations occurred, e.g. when Clementsia talked about her grandmother's hard life under the conditions of poverty and discrimination by the system of Apartheid, or when a German-speaking students talked about his grandfather coming to the country as a soldier of the "Schutztruppe". All students were amazed how many families had German and African ancestors – although this was only the case for families of English-speaking students.
The year's work in the different projects culminated in an exhibition at the end of the school year. Here again, students from different participating classes presented the results of their work. The members of the working group would like to continue their co-operation next year. "If I know more about the past, I can understand the present better!"
Deutsche Höhere Privatschule (DHPS)
Churchstreet/ P.O. Box 78
Mail: schulleitung [at] dhps [dot] edu [dot] na