A visit with the Kavango 

After decades of turmoil, Namibia's northern peoples start again

The B8 road from the Caprivi Strip west to the Kavango town of Rundu follows the Okavango River, which for 400 km, forms the border between Namibia and Angola. Compared to the semi-desert that covers most of Namibia, the Kavango region is blessed with enough rainfall to sustain crops of millet, maize, and sorghum. Not surprisingly it is one of the country's most densely populated areas and the countryside is dotted with tiny rural villages, each with a cluster of traditional thatched mud and reed huts, and a kraal of vertical poles. Broad-crowned mopani and acacia trees provide shade for people gathered around smoky cooking fires, and as we get closer to Rundu, women in brightly coloured traditional dresses wait for tourists to stop at their roadside craft stalls. The Kavango are talented wood carvers, weavers, and potters and the stalls are filled with high quality works of authentic African art.

The small town of Rundu, once a base for South African military forces, is now the capital of Kavango. We stopped there just long enough to top up our fuel and buy supplies before moving on to nearby n'Kwazi Lodge, arriving just in time to watch the sunset from its comfortable open-sided lounge. We chose a table with a view overlooking the pool and beyond to the lush green floodplain of the Okavango River. Moses, a congenial black fellow who seemed to be in charge of the place, brought us a beer and took our order for dinner. It was a scene of peace, tranquility, and plenty that bore no hint of the strife and suffering that rocked the Kavango region of northern Namibia until only a few years ago.

"Namibians on the eastern Kavango border are living in terror as Angolan armed forces use the area as a springboard for attacks against Unita." (Dec. 1999, The Namibian)

The flare-up in Angola's civil war is only the most recent disruption in the lives of the Kavango people. Before Africa was carved into colonial chunks during the 1800s the fertile land along the Okavango River was their traditional home. But when the River was made the boundary between German and Portuguese colonies it doomed the Kavango homeland to decades of turmoil.

Angola's war of independence from Portugal began in 1961 and when independence was finally won in 1975 the country lapsed into a bloody civil war that repeatedly spilled across the border into Namibia. And Namibia (formerly German Southwest Africa), the last African country to throw off the yoke of colonialism, faced its own struggle for independence. When Germany was defeated in WW1 Namibia became a "trust territory" – part of South Africa's apartheid regime.


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