Namibia: Resilience and Adaptation to Change

26 November 2020

CHARLES DARWIN, the English naturalist and geologist known for his contribution to the theory of evolution, said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

Against all odds humans and animals have adapted to living in places in which one would never expect man or beast to survive for any length of time.

Sometimes in regions covered in snow and darkness for most of the year.

At the other end of the climate spectrum, in deserts and arid regions with extreme temperature fluctuations.

Lüderitz, where rain is a rarity, the scorching sun turns a person's skin to hardy leather and wind can sweep you off your feet, is one of those places where people and creatures live - even thrive.

Animals make other harsh geographical regions of this country their home. Elephants, lions, other big cats, jackals, and wild dogs have adapted to living in arid parts of the Kunene region.

Then there are those rare feral horses on the fringe of the Namib Desert around Garub near Aus - a strange place to find horses that are not even native to sub-Saharan Africa.

Lüderitz is situated along one of the least hospitable coastlines of the continent, and in that faraway corner of Namibia people go about their daily business, and have done so for over a century.

Decades ago some predicted Lüderitz would become a ghost town - yet the town keeps going.

Having experienced the extreme weather conditions at Lüderitz first-hand over the years during visits, I have been reminded of how important it is for enterprises to adapt to operating in a changing business environment.

It's either that or the risk of ending up in the dustbin of business oblivion.

Post Covid-19 many enterprises across the globe, including here in Namibia, will have to demonstrate resilience and will have to adapt to change or they will go out of business.

Business resilience, adaptation, and migration to other sectors is not new in Namibia.

The firm Metje and Ziegler, more widely known as M&Z, is a good example. It was founded at Lüderitz in 1907 by Hermann Metje, an immigrant German joiner and carpenter.

Being in the wood business close to ship owners requiring new vessels or repairs to their boats made sense and ushered in wonderful business opportunities for Metje.

However, over time the use of timber for boat building and repairing was discarded, replaced by steel, and later by fibreglass, aluminium and alloys.

No longer in the timber business, M&Z survives to this very day as a motor dealership.

Successors of the founder had the foresight to adapt rather than face closure. They expanded operations beyond Lüderitz to other parts of the country, and entered new business sectors.

Another local firm that adapted and thereby demonstrated resilience and responsiveness to continuation in a changing environment is Woermann Brock & Co.

Founded on 1 October 1894, the business initially transported cargo from Germany to German South West Africa.

Today the firm operates a chain of supermarkets countrywide and other enterprises that are in no way connected to shipping.

Entrepreneurs, irrespective of the size of their enterprise or the sector in which they operate, must learn to be resilient, responsive to challenges and change, and adapt or face business extinction.

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