Writing Windhoek – multiple representations of the city

Tjirera, Ellison
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Resurrecting Windhoek from obscurity, I draw on a legion of evidence to conjure up what I call ‘an unusual city’. From a multiplicity of materials that form the basis on which I put together an image of an ‘unusual city’, what comes to the fore is an urban milieu least understood, just like the country whose capital city it is. As an object of study and not least as an idea, Windhoek has eluded a sustained scholarly reflection so much so that its near-total absence from the register of urban studies on the African continent is noticeable. In treating Windhoek as a historical object, I sieved through archival materials to reconstruct the genealogy of a city that has, for a long time, escaped continual research interest. Rendering Windhoek as an idea worthy of deconstruction and reflection, this thesis sought to access its particularities – and similarities with other cities – as encapsulated in multiple representations of the city. These representations find expression in history, cultural memory, municipal bureaucratic practices and legal regimes that continue to dictate what is permitted and what is proscribed. In terms of history, this thesis observes that the German colonial period (though underplayed in literature on urbanism in Namibia) laid a solid foundation for the comprehensive implementation of residential apartheid in most urban areas. To be sure, the principles of conquest and control of what was once a German garrison reverberate in contemporary Windhoek. From cultural economies of the city, evidence shows that Windhoek’s origin is immortalised erroneously – yet deliberately – in a statue of a former German commander. On the other hand, what the poems and songs as a collective surrender, are old questions/issues of urban dwelling. These include such issues as residential segregation, penury amidst opulence, differentiated built environment and spatial policing. From urban governance vantage point, this thesis demonstrates how Windhoek exemplifies a resolve to condemn informality to perpetual insecurity through constant harassment of street vendors. This harassment is combined with a reluctant accommodation of informal trading defined by some kind of invisibility in the precinct of the CBD. The thesis further expounds on how Windhoek is obsessed with cleanliness as an instrument of displaying order. The recent expansive rollout of surveillance technologies added ‘control’ as a new dimension. This thesis also shows that legal codes and regulations possess an afterlife more invincible than we are prepared to admit as witnessed by the stubborn imprint of colonial urban planning laws in contemporary Windhoek
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfillment of the requirements of degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Sociology)