Namibian international defender Manfred Starke’s ancestors once immigrated from German to Namibia.
We talked to the footballer who plays for FSV Zwickau about racism and the Namibian national team.
Starke was born in Namibia’s capital Windhoek in 1991, one year after the country became independent, as the son of German immigrants. Deutschlandfunkkultur.de spoke to the young defender and wanted to know what role the colonial history of his country played for him as a child in Namibia.
Q: Between 1904 and 1908, 60 000 to 70 000 Herero and Nama were killed during the uprising against the German colonial rulers in then German South West Africa. Historians have long classified what the Germans did there as genocide. After the First World War, today’s Namibia, as a South African mandate area, was under the sign of apartheid for decades. What role has that history played in your life?
I have to say that I didn’t record it like that as a child. You are with black people a lot ... you do a lot with them, and in any way racism never played a major role, you didn’t play football any other way with someone who is black or white or whatever. That’s why I actually didn’t notice that much myself.
Q: How did your family get there in the first place?
My great-grandfather emigrated back then - I believe it was from Wilhelmshaven and then ended up in Namibia. Then my grandpa was born there, my father was born there, I was born there, and I am now the third generation there. And yes, we’ve lived there ever since.
Q: Inequality…did the topic play a role in the family, was it discussed, in the family circle?
I didn’t notice anything
else in my immediate environment. I also believe that there are always extremes, there are always extremes in one direction, I’ll say against black now, and then there are also extremes in the other direction, against white. There are always extreme cases, but most of them, I would say, are not so straightforward.
Q: Does that apply to the whole country, or is Windhoek, as a large city, another exception? Is it different when you come to the country?
I haven’t seen that much now, but I would almost say that this actually applies to all of Namibia. I have never gone anywhere where it seemed to me that one was treated inferiorly, that racism played a big role there. As I said, there are always these extreme cases, but I didn’t really notice them.
Q: At 13, you went to the football boarding school in Rostock, you then continued to pursue football and came to Germany. Why did you take the step?
It’s simply because of football, it was a long story. At that time, a coach from Germany came to Namibia by chance and asked my father whether I would like to try it. And yes, that’s how my father came up to me, whether I wanted to face the matter or whether I would say I don’t want to. He basically left it to me to decide if I wanted to try it. Then I said yes, why not, and that’s how it turned out. Then I had a three-month trial training session at Hansa Rostock, and yes, after that it was eleven years in Rostock.
Q: You are now almost 30, 17 years later. Can you say whether the step was worth it for you?
Yes, definitely. Football is one thing, but also my personality. I had to do my own laundry when I was 13, and you become self-employed relatively quickly. Of course, that was the first step away from family and so, of course, a few tears have flowed, that’s completely normal, but I think we almost got a closer relationship, my parents and I because you really enjoy the time you have together.
Q: You say you have enough time to go back to your family to Namibia, when you go back, you will also play for the Namibian national team. What is the climate like in the national team, how is it made up?
I’m the only white person there, but that’s why I’m so warmly welcomed. I always hear little peaks like Whitey, for example, but that’s more fun, it’s such an approach that is very humorous. I never had the feeling that I was being treated differently because of the colour of my skin.
Q: And what is the level of the Namibian national team?
First of all, it’s a completely different kind of football. I do think there are a few players who could also gain a foothold in Europe. All the opportunities that you have here in Europe, unfortunately, you don’t have there - with all the training conditions and so on and so on - but the talent is definitely there.
Q: The other players in the Namibian team, do they all play in the country, or are there many of the players who travel abroad?
Most of them are actually on the road in South Africa, there the level of the league is much higher than in Namibia, and then there are one or two. One of them plays in England, a few play in Zambia, a few have played in Thailand, but most of them play in South Africa, as I said.
Q: Referring to what you said about the national team, people tend to be more relaxed about each other and the issue of racism doesn’t really play a role at all. Is that really only valid for sport, or how does it look in other social circles?
First of all, if I have that right in my head, about 20% of the population is white, there is always racism against white or against black, but that is balanced in my opinion. Or I’ve never found it so extreme that it somehow takes on a very dominant role in society outside of football, outside of sport. I do not think so.
Q: And what about yourself, what are you planning for the near future? At almost 30 you might think about what to do when your football career comes to an end, have you already come up with a plan?
I’ve already come up with a rough plan, I’ve always said that I’d actually like to go back to Namibia at some point. That has been shelved a bit for now. I see my future in Germany for the time being, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of taking the step back at some point in old age.
Q: Did you have an apprenticeship in addition to football, could you then go into another profession here in Germany?
I’m currently doing a distance learning course in business administration and want to build on it. - Deutschlandfunkkultur.de