Book Review

Andreas Rothe


Friedman, John T.: Imagining the Post-Apartheid State: An Ethnographic Account of Namibia. New York: Berghahn Books, 2011. Pp. xii + 312, including photographs, illustrations, bibliographical references and index.  ISBN-10: 0857450913. ISBN-13: 9780857450913.


At first, the title of this monograph seems very bold: Does the author really claim he has written an ethnographic analysis of every group living in Namibia, of all ethnicities? With eight recognised ‘national languages’ and further recognised ‘regional languages’ alone, it seems unlikely that this could be achieved in just about 300 pages. Or does he claim, even bolder, that all groups in modern Namibia constitute one single ethnicity? Friedman is aware that his title can evoke such considerations, and he is quick to counter them. He underlines that the aim is neither “a generalised account of ‘the Namibian people’, [nor] a superficial survey of Namibia’s ethnic groups.”[1] Instead, he will attempt to ethnographise the Namibian State itself, an – he himself admits – “amorphous and problematic object.”[2] Over the next few pages of introduction one finally arrives at the authors intention: He wants to learn how the Namibian State and its citizens imagine each other – and that with a particular regional focus: Kaokoland. Kaokoland or Okaoko is a relatively remote region in north-western Namibia. The name itself is historical and does not reflect in the administrative division of modern Namibia, but it is still widely understood and used. Aside from making use of archival and other historical sources, he relies on extensive participatory observation over a total of 18 months mainly in Opuwo, the regional capital of the modern Kunene region of which Kaokoland is a part now. Taking into considerations that modern social connections transcend geographical borders, he includes family members of interviewees who have moved from Okaoko to Windhoek, for example. He defines all these people as ‘Kaokoland-connected’.

[1] John T. Friedman, Imagining the Post-Apartheid State, p.3.

[2] Ibid.


Post Apartheid, Ethnography, Namibia

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