African Landscapes

Volume 4 of the series Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation pp 275-294


Landscape and Nostalgia

Angolan Refugees in Namibia Remembering Home and Forced Removals
  • Inge BrinkmanAffiliated withAfrican Studies Center, Leiden University

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In the 1970s the land along the Kavango River in Northern Namibia was entirely cleared of its inhabitants. The people of Mangarangandja and Sarasungu, east of the small town of Rundu, were all taken to Kaisosi and Kehemu, two locations that later grew into sprawling communities. Quite a few of those removed were immigrants from southeast Angola in the region collectively known as ‘Nyemba’. This chapter deals with the ways in which Angolan immigrants remember their home country, their former Namibian home near the river, and their assessment of the landscape in their current abode. It is argued that it is impossible to assume landscape as being outside of politics, culture, and history. Instead, it is proposed to view landscape as a feature firmly embedded in the context in which it is spoken about.

Although the forced removals were greatly resented at the time, Angolan immigrants hardly referred to their former abode in Namibia. In the memories of their former homes, they focus on their homeland Angola rather than on Mangarangandja or Sarasungu. Their homeland is recalled as an area of agricultural bounty, a land with fertile soil and many rivers. Invariably they complain about Namibia’s infertile dry soils and compare them negatively to their well-watered fields in Angola. In this nostalgic framework, their former Namibian abode, although situated near the Kavango River hardly features: only Angolan rivers are remembered well.

When speaking about the history of Kaisosi and Kehemu, many immigrants stress that they were the ones who had actually built the locations. It is emphasised that the area was formerly bush and that all the houses were built by Angolan immigrants. Such statements establish the Angolan immigrants as agents in the transformation of a ‘landscape of suffering’ to human settlement and challenge the opposition between immigrants and owners, which the Angolans feel is used against them by Namibian inhabitants of the region.