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Editor: Elizabeth IKhaxas
This book examines the status of women's human rights in Namibia today through the lens of the everyday lived realities of women in our country. Written by women from across Namibia, many of them first-time writers, the stories and poems unravel the silences that allow the manifold daily violations of girls' and women's bodies, minds and souls to continue with impunity.
Marlene Mungunda, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare
Khin-Sandi Lwin, Representative of UNICEF in Namibia
Liz Frank, Director, Sister Namibia
Director: Namibia Library & Archives Service: Ministry of Education
When I was asked to write this preface, which was an honour for me, I had certain expectations. I was looking forward to reading about the achievements of my fellow women over the last 15 years, to hearing from women about how well they were doing. I was expecting to praise women for attaining more elevated positions in our society and thank them for stories of strength and courage which would inspire other women to follow in their footsteps. The first story I read was a tale of a little girl who was a victim of sexual abuse by her own father.
Then I read the story of a woman who narrowly escapes being evicted from her family by greedy relatives after the death of her husband. This was followed by a story in which a woman thinks she will be the laughing stock of her community if she leaves her marriage. As I read on, I became more and more shocked by the appalling situation of the suffering of our women at the hands of their men. It is 15 years since independence and Namibian women still find themselves in this pool of violence and oppression, in most cases perpetrated by the people they love most.
Over and over again the writing tells of how young girls see their fathers as their protectors, and in return are raped by them. How women are promised love and happiness at the time of marriage, but once married, things quickly change. How women are even held accountable for their husband's deaths. Few stories tell of women making conscious decisions to get out of abusive relationships. Through these writings we see that women are still suffering, are still victims.
It is clear that we urgently need to revisit the situation of women in our society, a society which, considering its past, should have zero tolerance for violence and oppression. What good are the laws that have been passed, the institutions and programmes that have been established to support women's empowerment? What has come of all the effort and money that has been spent on trying to educate women about their human rights?
This collection of writings shows us the real situation on the ground. It forces us to ask ourselves how we have misdirected our efforts. It shows us that a far more purposeful and deliberate effort is needed to get at the root of the violence, abuse, oppression and imbalance that is poisoning our society. I salute you, Namibian women. You may be suffering, you may be victims in your homes and in your communities, but you have courage. By bringing out your pains, by sharing your suffering, you can help other women in similar situations. Thank you for your stories and poems, please continue to write. And thank you to the women who have worked hard to publish this book - you have done a brilliant job by bringing out these women's voices. I look forward to the next book, may it contain far more success stories.
"Shouldn't we pull off and wait for the storm to pass?" I know I sounded panicky, but I couldn't help myself. It felt as if the rain and wind were going to throw us off the road. It was impossible to see anything but a grey curtain of rain in front of us.
"We can't stop now. It's getting late and we're still about 100 k's from Luderitz. Don't worry, I'm driving very carefully." I knew Jane was talking sense but the tension wasn't going away. Then, miraculously, the grey curtain was gone, as if it was pulled aside by a giant hand. Suddenly we were driving right into a sand storm. Everything went dark and there was an eerie howling sound around us. Then it was very quiet inside the car, with Jane concentrating hard on the road in front. When we were finally spewed out angrily by whatever had us in its power, we looked at each other and broke into nervous laughter. The late afternoon sun was shining warmly and brightly onto our faces and I felt a bit sheepish for having panicked like that.
"Well, now we've experienced everything on this trip, except the wild horses!" said Jane. When at last we passed the "Welcome to Luderitz" signpost, the sun was already setting. We only had enough time to find our guesthouse and settle in before going out to meet our contact at The Legends Restaurant & Pub. We were representatives of the only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisation in Namibia, and this was our first outreach trip to the far south. We were to meet our contact, whom we knew only as Simone, at 19h00 at the restaurant at which she worked. The only other thing we knew was that she was gay. She was supposed to put us in contact with the rest of the gay community in Luderitz. While driving around to find the place we had time to see a bit of the town. It was nothing like I expected. It was beautiful. It was as if the whole little town was built on a big piece of white rock next to the sea. The old German architecture and the fishing boats in the harbour quickly charmed me. Nothing at all like I expected!
Legends turned out to be another pleasant surprise. Though it had the potential to be just another "whites-only-though-we-can't-have-a-sign" establishment, all we got were curious looks, nothing hostile at all. The walls were covered with black-and-white framed posters of people considered to be Hollywood legends: Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole, the Beatles. We walked through to the bar, where a coloured woman sat behind the counter.
"Hi, we've just arrived from Windhoek. My name is Jane and this is my colleague, Helena. We are looking for Simone." The woman's smile faltered a bit and she immediately came out from behind the counter. "Hello, I'm Linda, a friend of Simone's. But...didn't you hear?" Jane asked a bit puzzled, "Hear what?" The woman took Jane's hand into her own and said softly, as if to lessen the impact of her words, "Simone passed away two day's ago, on Wednesday...I'm sorry. Did nobody tell you?" We looked at each other, totally thrown by the news.
"Oh my goodness!" said Jane. "I am so sorry! We didn't know! What happened, was she sick? Oh my goodness!" Apparently Simone had been sick for quite some time. It had something to do with her liver. We tried to find out if the woman knew any other gay people in Luderitz besides Simone. She did, and so we were put in touch with someone else. The next morning we met up with our new contact and managed to arrange a meeting with a group of people that evening. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be men only, no lesbians at all.
When we asked why this was so, the reply was that the bigger part of the gay community there was not willing to risk exposure by coming to such a gathering. Like everywhere in Namibia, it is the "queens" who are most visible. They're out there, unable to hide themselves, unable to blend in like most gay people. And they claim their space loudly, sometimes rudely, because that is how they survive. The shock of Simone's sudden death was still lingering. She was fourty-something and a role model to the "moffies" of Luderitz, both young and old. She taught the young ones how to dress smartly, what dresses to wear, how to be graceful.
"Simone could put together an outfit out of nothing, and she taught me how to do the same. How to mix and match. And how to be proud of myself. There was no one like her in the whole of Luderitz. Everybody respected her, even the straight people. No one messed with Simone. She was a lady." This was a young boy who was speaking quickly while he looked away, brushing tears from his face.
"So what was wrong with her?" I asked. "Let me tell you, Simone drank too much. It was her liver. That's why her stomach was so big. I know people are saying it was Aids, but it was not!" said the boy. Then he went on: "Simone was very lonely. Her family didn't want anything to do with her. That's why she drank so much. But she was always a lady, even when she was drunk. She never left her house without her make-up on. I was with her the night before she died. She told me, Mandy, always hold your head high. People can be very mean, they can take away everything, but they can never take your dignity. Your soul they can never take. And remember to dress sensibly!"
The boy then gave a little laugh and shook his head. "Oh, Simone...But I'm still learning, I'm still a young queen," he said. I started to feel as if I knew this Simone myself. I asked for photographs, but nobody had any nearby. We left Luderitz the next morning. Our next stop was Keetmanshoop. The group there was bigger and we managed to link up with a group of lesbians too. Of course the news of Simone's death had reached the community there already. Not surprisingly, the queens were very busy preparing to go to Luderitz for the funeral the following weekend. Accommodation was sorted out and transport arranged. Sally, the most respected and oldest "girl", offered to prepare food for the journey for everybody. Most important of all was what to wear.
"Remember girls, wear a dress that suits you, that flatters your figure. We don't want Simone to turn in her grave now, do we? I wonder what's going to happen to all her dresses and things? And oh yes, please be responsible at the after-party. Don't get too drunk; you don't know where you'll end up. Please, please girls, take your condoms. You know how these straight men are, be prepared. And remember, you are ladies at all times!"
Once again, I could find no photograph of Simone. We left Keetmanshoop the Monday morning and still we could not get rid of Simone's ghost. We couldn't stop talking about her. She had become our invisible companion on this trip, this Simone, who even the German owner of the guesthouse had called "a very nice lady". In Mariental that Monday night we went looking for Louwna who would organise a get-together for us the next evening. We found her at her favourite shebeen. I was happy to see Louwna again. She had softness, a gentle spirit that drew me to her the first time we met. She was only 23 years old and had a good job at a take-away in town. She was still a virgin and scared to death of men. She had never had a boyfriend.
I asked Louwna later that night, "Do you know Simone from Luderitz?" Her face lit up. "Of course I know her. She's my girlfriend, that one!" I was a bit confused. Did she or did she not know? "Louwna, do you know about Simone?" I couldn't go further.
"What about her?" she asked. And then I had to say it. "Simone passed away a few days ago." I saw the questioning look in her eyes turn to incomprehension, and then pain. She quickly turned her face away from me. There was a sharp intake of breath. "Simone, Simone...no, it cannot be!" She bent forward and clutched her stomach as if she had a terrible pain. When she pulled herself up there was a very sad smile on her face. "I'm sorry," she said, "But this thing...I don't know what to do with this now...".
"I'm so sorry, Louwna, that I had to tell you like this..." I said. "No, no, no! It's okay, I'll be okay, don't worry!" and she gave a little laugh. I steered her lightly towards a chair. "Let's sit down and have a drink." Louwna kept on shaking her head, giving a little laugh every now and then.
"Ai, ai, Simone! It was that boat! I told her to quit the boat. I spoke to her on the phone before Christmas and I told her, it's that boat or your life. She promised to stop. That's how she ended up at Legends. She could cook, that one. She could get a job anytime, anywhere, just like that!"
"Why do you say it was the boat?" I asked. "All those men! And all so selfish! I told Simone...girl, you'll regret it. And now look...She was my only real friend...the only one I could really talk to. She taught me things." I spent the night drinking with Louwna and talking about Simone. I left her there. "No, no, you go home. I'll stay a little while longer. I can't sleep now anyway. You go home." I said, "See you tomorrow, then." She said, "Bye, sleep softly...".
Foreword: Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare