Awards 1994 Worldaware Award for Social Progress

Worldaware Award for Social Progress

Rössing Uranium Ltd.

The South is the less favoured half of Namibia. It is drier than the North and, having a smaller, scattered population, it attracts less government attention. But it is the main scene of two endeavours by the Rössing Foundation (the social development arm of Rössing Uranium) which have together won the Worldaware Award for Social Progress. These are the Maritime Training Centre at Lüderitz and the crafts development programme focused on Gibeon in the South and on Okashana and Shankara in the North.

The village of Gibeon, deep in a stony waste by the dry Fish river, is a strange relic of South African rule. Founded by the Witbooi clan who resisted German colonisers, it also became home under the apartheid system for Nama people from elsewhere. It offers little opportunity for its 5,000 population to make a living.

But Gibeon Folk Art has enabled 26 women to earn 700 Namibian dollars ($130) each per month. (The average income of other women in the south of Namibia is N$O-200 a year.)

With the help of Karin le Roux from the Rössing Foundation, the folk artists have developed a style of appliqué work and embroidery, using Nama imagery and humour, which can be exhibited and sold - through the foundation - at home and abroad.

Ingrid Gamathan, who chairs the group, was invited to join artists from all over the world at a workshop early in 1994. With a basketmaker from the Oshana region, she also attended the German Namibian Cultural Festival in Bremen in June. She had never been out of Namibia before and says the experience was fantastic.

In Northern Namibia, where the makalani palm is common and women weave baskets from palmstrands, about 20 people sell their work through the Rössing Foundation's Okashana centre (and also direct to the public). About 30 sell through the Shankara centre on the Angolan border where new beadwork has appeared, using traditional skills. In all, these foundation projects have involved over 300 craftspeople while over 400 have taken part in basket competitions and workshops.

The foundation says it realised, after Namibia became independent in 1990, that it needed to help rural people earn income. Men commonly leave home for work, and so women have to provide for their families and pay school fees. One way to help was to promote craft skills, which had received little attention. This could also help promote Namibia's cultural heritage.

The foundation is also engaged in trials for propagating makalani palms, to ensure that basketmaking does not denude the landscape. It is surveying the crafts of Namibia, with funds from USAID. It took an exhibition, Rural Art in Namibia, to Norway, Denmark and Finland and will be taking a similar exhibition round Namibia's schools and training colleges.

The Rössing Foundation runs several adult education centres, and the Maritime Training Centre at Lüderitz was initially one of them. However, almost everyone working in the port's main industry, crayfish, was South African. In 1986, the foundation and two local employers offered a course for local people to acquire the skills to work on fishing boats. This, with a motorman's course for seagoing engineers, has enabled 250 Lüderitz people to get fishing jobs.

Then a major fishery company, Irvin and Johnson, and other organisations including two fish factories offered help and gave valuable equipment. After a visit by the Norwegian ambassador, Norway provided aid to the Namibian government for the Lüderitz centre, which gave up its other courses and reopened as a maritime training centre in January 1993.

It now offers courses for fishing-boat skippers, fisheries inspectors and motormen and in firefighting, first aid, radio and electronic navigation. Over 180 people took part in courses in 1994.

In 1990, Jonas Titus, trained at Lüderitz, was the first Ovambo-speaking Namibian to become skipper of a fishing boat. Elie Elia first joined a literacy class. He got a job on a fishing vessel through the centre and is now mate on a lobster boat. Demtara William is one of very few Namibians to pass as a motorman grade I. He now works on a trawler at Walvis Bay.

The Lüderitz centre plays an important role in the fishing industry, one of Namibia's success stories. The cold Benguela current encourages fish, and independent Namibia has managed to reclaim this resource from foreign boats and rebuild it after a pre-independence free-for-all.

The foundation says that the Lüderitz centre's ability to give skills to Namibians promotes prosperity and raises the standard of living for many people.

Meanwhile, the non-maritime courses started at Lüderitz continue. The sewing teacher continues to run sewing classes, with machines on permanent loan. The national literacy programme has taken over literacy. A former foundation employee employs several women on screenprinting, with foundation-donated equipment, and a crafts project also helps several people earn an income.