Imagine you were taken away from your family as a child and brought to a foreign country with a bunch of other kids. Imagine you were brought up in that foreign country, adapted to the local culture, learnt the language and adjusted to the local lifestyle. And then you would be returned to your native country after ten years, to a country to which you had lost most ties in the meantime and whose culture was unfamiliar to you!
That’s exactly what happened to some 400 young Namibians in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During Namibia’s fight for independence from South Africa these kids were brought to the former German Democratic Republic and raised there to become leaders in postwar-Namibia. Yet, in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall Namibia became independent and these children, then already teenagers, were returned to their home country.
Back in Namibia, they hardly felt like coming back home but rather like being transfered to a foreign country once again. And the socialist leadership skills they were taught were not of much use in a country that decided to ground its future on capitalism.
Feeling at home it is hard when the black population of Namibia does not want to relate to you because you speak German and therefore seem to belong to the white elite (remember, Namibia was once a German colony). And the white elite does not want to relate to you either – although you speak the same language – because your skin has a different color.
Particularly with respect to language the situation holds a special explosiveness (you might also have a look at our post on linguistic genocide in that respect). When these kids returned home they partially went to schools of the German-speaking elite. And while the German of the whites had been influenced by Afrikaans over time and picked up a rather crude character, the German of the blacks was very refined leading to repression and hostility in school.
Today, the grown-ups they have become are scattered over Namibia and even worse: scattered socially. While a few of them found their way, far too many did not manage to get on track in this clash of cultural identities. One, an orphan, was adopted by a white family upon his return but today drowns his sorrows in alcohol in one of Namibia’s townships. Another one returned to Germany for vocational training and made a career as a respected business man in Namibia afterwards.
Being impressed by learning once more how painful it can be to interfere with people’s cultural identities we are currently trying to get in touch with them. We’d like to see whether teaching German online might be an attractive opportunity for them to earn some income on the side and reconcile their conflicting identities. In case you happen to know one of them, we’d be grateful if you introduced us to him or her (email@example.com).