The women and men depicted in these photographs wear a doek, a hat, a cap, and a hair circlet. Dressing up for what was then called the Old Location’s Coon Carnival in early 1960, or for the dance evenings in the Sybil Bowker Hall, was an opportunity to wear expensive and fancy doek (a term which also encompasses headscarves but also fabric).
In these images the rich fabrics worn and displayed seem to mirror the rich social life of the Location—this at a time when its demolition by the Apartheid-motivated municipality was imminent and resistance politics were gaining momentum in Namibia.
As Zed Ngavirue, the only social worker in the Old Location at the time, remarked: our “houses … had no electricity and no running water. Yet the morale and aspirations of the [people] were at their highest. It was, indeed, when we owned little that we were prepared to make the greatest sacrifices.”¹
The shooting of more than 12 people in the Old Location on 10 December 1959 by the Apartheid police remains a stark reminder of the resilience and creativity of Namibians at the time.
As numerous social justice protests around the world tackle issues such as police brutality, economic and social disenfranchisement, and marginalised communities call for radical measures to address them, these images from Namibia’s past are reminders that injustice of any kind is not new. And as the Namibian youth bravely march and protest against issues such as gender-based violence, these archived memories reveal a world before this one and motivate for the creation of another more equal and just one for the world that is to come.
¹A Glance At Our Africa (Henrichsen, 1997) p.11
Dieter Hinrichs, a German photographer, was born in West Germany in 1932. In 1959 he was engaged by Nitzsche-Reiter, a well-known photography studio in the then South West Africa. During his two-year stay, he moved with his camera beyond the Apartheid divide and documented life in the Old Location and the beginnings of the first families who were forcibly relocated to Katutura in the 1960s. Hinrichs’ photographs have been previously exhibited at the National Archives of Namibia and resonate with the richness and loss of a bygone space and time.
Dag Henrichsen is a Namibian historian at the Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB)—Namibia Resource Centre & Southern Africa Library in Switzerland. BAB is the largest Namibia documentation centre outside Namibia. Its vast library and archive holdings are mainly used by scholars working on Namibian historical topics with its website providing information ranging from catalogues, books, comics, posters, photographs, and audio-visual recordings from Namibia.