22 February 2013

Namibia: Saturday At the NAGN


THERE'S nothing like waking up late on a Saturday morning knowing you have until 14h00 to view an exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN) which you assume will be so full of tumbleweeds whistling through a wanton wind you don't bother to brush your hair, clean your spectacles or make the slightest effort not to look like someone who sleeps in a box below the building's stairs.

Since the NAGN isn't exactly the brunch and beer Saturdays are made of, I was happy, and somewhat horrified, to walk into the downstairs gallery at around 10h30 to find the place packed with patrons who seemed to be foaming quite fantastically at the mouth about something that sounded dreadfully important.

As I'm quite aware of the fact that I'm supposed to look a little like someone who is serious about one or two things, yet finding myself resembling something the cat coughed up before chewing again for good measure, I quickly ducked into the structure that houses Philip Lühl and the Polytechnic of Namibia's 'Legacies of a Colonial Town'.

From here, hidden from view and able to peruse the exhibition while eavesdropping on the seated discussion taking place behind the structure's walls, I was able to make out that an articulate Afrikaans fellow really wants to have a neighbourhood braai in his street without the bore or buzzkill of City Police dropping in for a stukkie before issuing a greasy-fingered cease and desist.

While a world in which neighbours come from near and far to swap boerewors recipes before discussing the best ways to flip a pancake is a place no one would grumble to live in, I couldn't quite understand why this would get people out of bed on a Saturday morning.

However, after listening a little more and cunningly linking the discussion on the outside to the exhibition on the inside, I finally came to realise that the issue was bigger than braaivleis and had to do with the lack of public spaces in the city.

Indeed, while Swakopmunders frolic on the beach and Oranjemunders dangle their feet in the Orange River, Windhoekers must be content to be relieved of their items at Zoo Park or mugged rather menacingly at Avis Dam.

Given the underlying problem of urban migration to a jobless city that leaves people at a lack and desperately prowling public spaces, the amiable fellow was lamenting getting to know his countrymen because the places that would have fostered sociability have become hot spots for crime.

This brings us back to the braaivleis which would facilitate neighbourhood camaraderie which would in turn feed into quality of life and the feeling of community... I think.

I must admit that I had skipped breakfast and all this walking in half-way through a thing and then hearing about braaivleis had left me quite light-headed and perhaps a little prone to not understanding a word of things.

Nevertheless, the place was packed. And if a national art gallery is full of people while most of the world is washing up on the shores of rum-flavoured regret, it means, quite simply, that someone somewhere is doing something right.

As I am not totally useless and full of apocryphal stories, I managed to ascertain that the discussion was the second of three in a 'Legacies of a Colonial Town' expansion. The last discussion 'The Everyday Life in Informal Settlements: How does the majority live?' will be held at the NAGN tomorrow morning between 10h00 and 12h00 and last time they even served refreshments.

Not braaivleis, mind you, beverages... and something edible which was reduced to an indistinguishable crumb by the time I got to it.

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