The ‘GDR Children of Namibia'. Outsiders with a Problematic Sense of Belonging

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 16:24
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Yvonne NIEKRENZ, University of Rostock, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Matthias WITTE, University of Mainz, Germany
The term ‘GDR children of Namibia’ is used to describe a group of approximately 430 people. They were taken to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from refugee camps in Zambia and Angola in order to remove them from the threat posed to their lives in the camps during the war of independence which was fought by the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) against South Africa’s occupation of Namibia from 1979 onwards. As part of a solidarity project between the GDR and SWAPO, the children were cared for in Bellin, Mecklenburg, and in Staßfurt near Magdeburg. In this socialist environment, they were educated to be the elite of a future, independent Namibia. However, once Namibia had achieved independence and the GDR had ceased to exist, the children and adolescents were suddenly and without preparation flown to Namibia without completing their school education. Due to their socialisation in the GDR, they were now experiencing typically European problems in Namibia – it was too hot, they were shocked by the eating and lifestyle habits and experiencing problems with the language. Girls in particular were experiencing serious problems, especially with the highly patriarchal family structures in Ovamboland in northern Namibia. Some of the group were the first ‘black’ pupils in Namibian German Schools where they were feeling like ‘aliens’ and facing racism. The analysis of the biographies shows how the ‘GDR children’ figurate themselves as outsiders with a problematic sense of belonging. They label themselves as part of an outsider grouping. The study of the media discourse about the group offers that multiple cultural identities are attributed to the GDR children which mark them out as being different. This paper examines their problematic sense of belonging and their problems finding a place for themselves in society.