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With over 2000 columns and more than forty books written, Doc Immelman is a prolific and successful Namibian author.

At the age of 84 years Doc Immelman is writing up his memoirs. (photo: Gondwana Collection)

His subject matter and titles are steeped in the land that he loves and Afrikaans-speakers countrywide have grown up with Doc’s books lining their school library shelves. With names like ‘Ruacana tot Rosh Pinah’, ‘Wind oor die Khomas Hochland’ and ‘Die wit hings van die Namib’, his writing is quintessentially Namibian. Boys and girls have been inspired by his books that accompanied them through high school years like good friends, capturing the mood of the time, and spurring them on their paths in later life. And Doc, at age 84, surrounded in his office by his collection of books, an old map of ‘Südwest Afrika’, elephant tusks, a buffalo skull and old hunting photographs, is still writing. Establishing major turning points in his life is not easily accomplished, as Doc, the true storyteller that he is, begins to tell story after story, so much so that eventually he realizes that if he continues, we’ll be there for supper and although a pot of ‘gemsbok sop’ (oryx soup) is simmering on the stove, there might not be enough to go around.

Peppering his account with humorous anecdotes, keeping everyone entertained with his quick wit, Doc recounts parts of his life. His story began in the Cape, where he was born as Daniel Ferdinand Immelman, only to be nicknamed Doc by colleagues later on. He attended Maitland High School and chose German as a subject, enraging his school principal for choosing the language of the enemy during wartime, and unknowingly preparing for his life in Namibia. His writing ability was realised when he was thirteen years old and a teacher encouraged him to write a poem for an Afrikaans weekly newspaper. This he did and posted it away, amazed at the end of the month to receive a letter with a post order for 7 shillings and 7 pennies. Doc didn’t realise he would be paid for the work!

After completing his schooling with a first class matric, receiving top marks in History and German, he worked as a telegraph operator in Cape Town where he specialised in Morse code. After a bout of pneumonia, he was advised by his doctor to move to drier climes and he moved to Beaufort West in the Karoo where he continued to work at the post office. A few years later, in 1950, he requested a transfer to South West Africa as a telegraph-operating clerk and radio operator in the South West African Administration, Post and Telecommunication – following his dream to travel  – and easily found a replacement, swapping positions with a colleague who couldn’t speak German and was eager to return to the Cape. In 1953, Doc moved to the Tsintsabis area for a year, hunting game for a farmer, where he learnt the language of the Hai//om people. It was his experience and knowledge gleaned there that formed the basis and material of many stories and books Doc would write in his lifetime and increased his love for the natural world.

Doc’s position at the post office in Windhoek was reserved for him and he returned the following year. It was here that he met his future wife, Rya. The couple were later married, had two daughters and like many Namibians, enjoyed numerous family holidays at Henties Bay.

Doc Immelman in younger years with his hunting rifle on a farm. (photo: collection Doc Immelman)

In 1954, Doc’s first short story ‘Ses Dooie Bees langs die Grensdraad’ (Six dead cattle next to the boundary fence) was printed in Huisgenoot magazine, beginning Doc’s career as a fiction writer. His first book, a compilation of short stories entitled ‘Verhale uit Suidwes’ (Tales from South West) was published in 1959. Although his writing career has spanned more than half a century, Doc continued to work at the post office for more than forty years until he retired in 1988. His weekly column appeared in the Republikein newspaper until 1993.

With an intense love for languages, Doc asks us, switching from language to language with lightning speed, if we can speak the various lingos and eventually gives up, disappointed that we are not conversant in the many languages he has learnt to master in his life. With a forest of pens and pencils in front of him, Doc is presently busy writing up his memoirs of a life and work that encapsulates South West.

His work was best described by Andre P Brink: “Through the years Doc Immelman built a reputation as a story teller, stories especially about South West Africa. Stories where passion and contrast are summonsed against a brute and raw contrast. Hunting stories and funny stories, mournful stories and woman stories, snake stories and scary stories, tales of love, hate, jealousy, fraud, resourcefulness, sacrifice and violence, whenever with underlying tension and mostly with a healthy and controlled sense of humour. In the domain of leisure fiction, outstanding!”

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Gondwana Supports Katutura Soap Project

Lacally sourced, ethical, handmade and eco friendly soaps

Katutura Soap Project is a community-based non-profit project that focuses on helping HIV positive women and their children. It started in Windhoek, Namibia, in November 2009. The project produces 100% hand-made soap of Namibian olive oil.

http://katuturaproject.blogspot.com/

 

In the beginning the purpose of the project was to train these women everyday skills, generate income and employ women whom are stigmatized in their lives. Today the Katutura Soap Project focuses also on empowerment of the community through different HIV related events, such as Support Group for HIV positive ladies. continue reading

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The peculiar Tower of Tiras

The designer’s and builder’s name is Siegfried Schnebel. “This is a windmill which I designed and built myself”, he explains in an interview in his house near Brakwater north of Windhoek. “There is an unusually strong supply of water there, just 30 m below the surface. I wanted to utilize it for irrigating orchards and fodder plants.”

There is farm Neiseb which Siegfried Schnebel took over from his father, Wilhelm, in 1985. The fact that Neiseb has a lavish supply of water was already known during colonial times. “Wells for ox-wagon transports were sunk in this area in those days. The lower one of the two cisterns on my tower was part of the former drinking trough for the oxen. It is made of 5 mm steel plates.” While his father owned the farm, 60 cubic metres of water could easily be pumped per hour without any noticeable effect on the water table. It seemed obvious that this abundance of water should be put to good use. Wilhelm Schnebel had already planted 400 citrus trees, 50 sultana vines, 700 prickly pears (ideal fodder) and a little lucerne. “Date palms also thrived like weeds”, Siegfried Schnebel recalls.

Gigantic windmill on a massive tower

“The problem is that you need a powerful engine for pumping the water to the surface, and it wouldn’t have been worth it to install smaller windmills at several smaller boreholes.” The largest windmills on the market, however, weren’t sturdy enough to hold out against the high winds in the area, he says. “So I came up with a construction of my own, specially designed for the requirements of my farm.”

A large wheel was necessary for the high output of the pump. “But the larger the wheel the bigger the problems in very windy conditions”, Siegfried Schnebel explains. A standard wheel with metal blades was not an option. Too rigid, says Schnebel. “All is well as long as there is just a light wind. But in order to cope with high winds one needs to be able to adjust the angle of the blades to the direction of the wind, to reduce the pressure on the tower.” What is more, metal blades would have made the large wheel too heavy. “Therefore I used steel tubes for the wheel’s rim and axle only; the spokes are made from light wire rope and canvas is attached to the rope. This reduced the wheel’s weight to about 100 kg only, despite its diameter of 9.5 metres”, Schnebel points out with a hint of pride in his voice.

Resourceful handyman: Siegfried Schnebel

To make the sails equally suitable for strong and light wind they were arranged in two circles. In the inner circle their angle to the wind direction is 10 degrees, in the outer circle it is 45 degrees. Siegfried Schnebel explains: “Due to the higher leverage of the sails in the inner circle they push the wheel when the wind is blowing strongly, while the outer circle keeps it moving when the wind is light.” The blades of customary windmills are set at a 10 degree angle, Schnebel says, and turn out of the wind when it becomes too strong. The unusually long axle of his construction also serves a purpose: joined to the rim at the top with wire rope, it maintains stability and prevents the sail-covered wheel from turning inside out like an umbrella in heavy gusts of wind.

As for the rest of the construction, stability is the most important criterion as well. “The foundation is 10 m square and 2 m deep, made of carefully packed stones and diagonal iron struts which support the vertical steel pillars”, says Schnebel. “After all, the whole tower has a total weight of some 50 tons when both cisterns are full.” According to his estimate the total height of his windmill is a little less than 25 m: “The wheel’s axle is about 20 m above ground.”

Axle and rim are linked by a mesh of wire rope

Costs were also an important consideration when building the windmill. “Since the farm didn’t yield much I tried to get hold of construction material as cheaply as possible”, Schnebel recalls. “I got most of it from my brother’s scrapyard; Fritz ran a locksmith’s workshop in Lüderitz and later in Windhoek.” Building and constructing, by the way, was done without drawings or model calculations. “I simply experimented a bit, trial and error”, Schnebel says. But the experimenting wasn’t altogether by chance. Schnebel studied mathematics at the University of Stellenbosch and completed a Master of Science degree. He taught mathematics, physics and chemistry at the German School in Lüderitz for years.

In 1997 the work was almost complete. Only the irrigation system had to be installed. But at that point Siegfried Schnebel felt compelled to sell the farm. “It just didn’t yield enough”, he says. And so the giant windmill was never really in operation. He once got it going for the camera crew of NBC television. The documentary was aired in 2001.

Today the tower, citrus trees and prickly pears are all that remains of the plantation which was once envisaged at the foot of the Tiras Mountains on the fringe of the Namib. And a small café, closed down again since then, on the neighbouring farm on the opposite side of the road, overlooking the striking structure. Many a traveller stops and reaches for his camera. Small wonder. In the grassy plain the colossal contraption, welded together from pieces of scrap metal, looks like the futuristic work of an off-beat artist. Who knows, it might still turn into a tourist attraction one day – as the Peculiar Tower of Tiras.

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Namibia Map with Routes and Stories

Here is a hot tip for all Namibia fans: the new road map ‘Gondwana’s Classic Routes’, fresh from the printers. This map features fascinating routes plus recommended accommodation and many exciting stories about interesting places. At the same time it is also an ordinary road map with all the essential information of the official Namibia road map by Prof. Uwe Jäschke and the Roads Authority of Namibia, which is sold by book stores and souvenir shops.

On the map which has now been published by the Gondwana Collection routes for exploring the country’s south and north have been highlighted. The routes are laid out in manageable daily segments with Gondwana’s lodges and campsites marked as overnight stops. Additional accommodation establishments recommended for the north are Mushara on the eastern fringe of Etosha National Park and Waterberg Wilderness on the south-eastern slope of Waterberg Mountain. These are places where Gondwana does not offer any accommodation but which lend themselves as a destination along the route. Pictures and brief descriptions of the lodges on the side of the map help with the choices and increase anticipation.

Namibia map with routes, lodges and stories

Namibia map with routes, lodges and stories

The 40 numbered dots which mark particularly interesting places and sites are a special feature of this map. They include grand sights like Sossusvlei or the Fish River Canyon but also places which have a fascinating story. These places are described with a few lines and a picture on the reverse of the map. Many of the stories are taken from the ‘Gondwana History’ series of books.

The road map Gondwana’s Classic Routes is available free of charge in English, German and Afrikaans – from the Windhoek office and all the lodges of Gondwana, from Mushara and Waterberg Wilderness.

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Curt von François leaves noteworthy Legacy to Namibia

On 28 December 1931 it is 80 years since the former Reichskommissar and Landeshauptmann of German South West Africa, Curt von François, died at the age of 79. He only spent five years of his life in South West Africa but nevertheless he left a remarkable legacy. Curt von François is seen as the European founder of Windhoek and Swakopmund. In Windhoek a monument was erected in his honour which shows him wearing the Schutztruppe uniform. Few know that von François was not only a soldier but in the first place a talented cartographer and a researcher who contributed significantly to the development of the former German colony.

Curt von François arrived in German South West Africa in 1889. He was 36 years old and had already spent several years elsewhere in Africa. Born on 2 October 1852 in Luxembourg, he was the third of five sons of a Prussian officer of Huguenot nobility. After high school in Posen he was intent on a military career. When he volunteered for the Franco-Prussian War he was 18 years old. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Iron Cross after Paris was occupied by the Prussian army.

Curt von François wearing a colonial uniform (source: Wikipedia)

Curt von François wearing a colonial uniform (source: Wikipedia)

Curt von François interrupted his military career in 1883 to take part in the Kassai expedition led by Hermann von Wissmann into Central Africa. After that he joined George Grenfell, a missionary, to explore the catchment area of two tributaries of the Congo River. Von François was an excellent cartographer and was awarded the Order of the Southern Cross for his contributions to the exploration of Africa. The order was created especially for him by the King of Belgium and was never awarded to anyone else. On his return to Germany in 1887 von François was promoted to the rank of captain.

Later that year the Foreign Office sent him to the German colonies of Cameroon and Togo in his capacity as surveyor and researcher. But his task was also to sign friendship treaties with the most important tribal leaders. Apparently it was only thanks to the human qualities and negotiation skills of von Francois that the expedition did not end in a bloody dispute with the local population. The expedition was still in progress when von Francois received a request by the German Colonial Society to become commander of the colonial forces, the Schutztruppe, in the newly established colony of German South West Africa.

On 24 June 1889 Curt von François landed in Walvis Bay with 21 soldiers. He marched to Otjimbingwe and set up his headquarters there. Reichskommissar Heinrich Ernst Göring had previously been based in Otjimbingwe. Due to unrest between Namas and Hereros he had fled to Walvis Bay, which was British at the time, several months before the arrival of the first Schutztruppe contingent.

At the insistence of Curt von François the seat of government was soon moved further inland. He chose Windhoek because it was located in a ‘no-man’s land’ between Hereros and Namas and strong springs supplied plenty of water. On 18 October 1890 the first stone was laid for the fort Groß-Windhoek (now the Alte Feste), from which Namibia’s capital evolved.

Von François was appointed Reichskommissar in 1891 and two years later became the Landeshauptmann of German South West Africa. On 12 September 1892 he founded Swakopmund to establish a harbour for the colony which so far had to rely on Walvis Bay, earlier annexed by Britain.

In 1892 Hereros and Namas made peace after 40 years of war. Since the Nama under Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi had never recognized the German protectorate or the colony, Germany now feared that Namas and Hereros would combine forces.

The Curt von François memorial in Windhoek (photo: Wiebke Schmidt)

The Curt von François memorial in Windhoek (photo: Wiebke Schmidt)

The Schutztruppe was reinforced with an additional 225 troops from Germany and on 12 April 1893 von François attacked Hornkranz. German soldiers killed at least 80 people, among them many women and children. Witbooi himself was able to escape with almost all the men who were fit to bear arms. Historic sources disagree on the question whether von François went against a general order from the foreign office in Berlin to refrain from military action or whether the instruction had been changed as the Schutztruppe was reinforced. The massacre at Hornkranz was discussed by the international press for several months. The true number of victims was never conclusively clarified.

The lack of success in dealing with the Nama tribes allied with Hendrik Witbooi soon caused discontent in German South West Africa as well as in Germany. Von François was more of a cartographer and explorer at heart than a soldier. From 1890 to 1892 he had invested a lot of time into mapping the country. On the basis of his cartographic work it was possible to draw the first military maps of the colony a few years later. In early 1894 Major Theodor Leutwein was detached to assist von François.

When von François’ term as Reichskommissar ended that year he was succeeded by Leutwein. Von François was appointed Commander of the Schutztruppe in German South West Africa but was released from his position only eight months later, discharged with pension and called back to Berlin. He was assigned to the foreign office as an expert. In this position it was possible for him to follow his real passion: For study purposes he travelled to north and east Africa as well as to South Africa. In 1905 he visited South America. In numerous publications he reported on the results of his expeditions or discussed the various aspects of German colonial policy.

Curt von François was married twice. During the five years that he spent in German South West Africa he married Amalia Gereses, a Damara princess. A daughter was born from the marriage. After Amalia’s death he again married in 1896 when he was 44 years old. With his second wife, Margarethe Meyer zu Bohmte, he had four children. After the couple‘s divorce in 1911 von François lived in Zernsdorf until his death on 28 December 1931. He was buried in the Invalidenfriedhof in Berlin, a cemetery where many of Germany’s most highly regarded personalities found their final resting place in those days. His grave no longer exists.

The Curt von François memorial was inaugurated in Windhoek on 13 October 1965. As part of the celebrations to mark the capital’s 75 years of existence, Windhoek was also awarded town status. Von François’ daughter from his first marriage, Josephine, attended the festivities. The youngest daughter from his second marriage, Praxedis, had also travelled to Windhoek but the two half-sisters did not meet each other.

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