Finally, the day had arrived. It was 09h00 in the morning of 21 July 2020 when I went to visit one of the first Namibians who visited China way back in the 60s. Of course, I was simply elated. Who wouldn’t want to share a table with Angeline Kozonguizi and listen to her memorable visit down memory lane.
The sky was blue and beautiful as it sparkled in the warm-winter sun. There were many of her grandchildren in the house and some were busy playing hide-and-seek, while a few kids were building sandcastles for fun. I was already excited to sit next to her and enjoy her fine story-telling. She was dressed in a sparkling red suit; she looked very young for an 82-year-old woman.
The tough road to the mysterious east in a difficult time
During the 60s, most African countries had attained independence, except for Namibia. Geographically, Namibia is made up of a savannah, dry scrubland, as well as the Kalahari and the Namib Desert. The country is rich in minerals such as copper, gold, uranium, vanadium, lithium, tungsten and diamonds. It was these minerals that encouraged and motivated South Africa to try and hold on to Namibia throughout the many years of the revolution, stretching from 1966 to 1990. The South African government also believed that by holding onto Namibia, the guerrilla war in Angola would be kept further away from South Africa.
South African apartheid laws were extended to Namibia and prevented black Namibians from having any political rights, as well as restricted social and economic freedoms. South Africa’s rule over Namibia aimed to exploit the mineral resources by apartheid, white South Africa.
Meme Angeline, as I refer to her, is her mother’s only child, who was born in 1938 in Windhoek. During her upbringing, she said its only boys that were allowed to attend school but her father wanted her to be educated. As a result, her father made it possible for her to be educated in South Africa, where she attended primary school. She then returned to Namibia in 1959, after having completed her primary school. Upon her return, she worked as an assistant staff at the Windhoek Central Hospital until 1963.
But her most exciting, memorable moments dates back to 1964 when her father arranged for her and others to go and further their studies and knowledge sharing in China. She explained her journey was an emotional one because she was going far away from home but all in all, it was exciting because it was her first time going out of Africa and being on the plane.
She said their journey started early February and she recalled how long and exhausting it was because they had to walk from Namibia (Gobabis) to Botswana. There was no transport to offer, and they had to pass through the Botswana forest where wild animals (like lions) moved freely. The journey of two weeks was the scariest, according to her, as they could only travel at night and hide during the day because some British soldiers sought their whereabouts. She said their first destination in Botswana was Shaltful Police station (now Ghanzi Police station), and they were very surprised because they found South West Police (Boers) at the station, waiting to arrest them. At that time, Botswana was a British protectorate. She said the British refused to arrest them but they handed over their names to be published in the local newspaper back home. Angeline said they continued with their journey, passed through Francistown and furthest crossed Botswana borders through Zambezi River at Kazungula. Together with her fellow Namibians, they camped in Livingstone, Zambia, waiting for their travel documents to be processed to proceed to the capital, Lusaka. Notwithstanding their documents being unfinalised, they decided to sneak into the train heading to Lusaka, in the hope they would obtain the papers there. She never gave up because she was determined to go to China.
Meme Angeline said they obtained their documents in April, a moment they anticipated to begin their journey to China. They took a flight from Lusaka to Tanzania, Tanganyika, and later flew to Pakistan, Karachi. A day later, they departed for China and landed in Beijing. She remembers her welcome and hospitality at the airport as very unique. They were received by the Chinese Women’s Federation.
China a country she will never forget
Meme Angeline Kozonguizi described her six-months stay in China as one of the most exciting and memorable experiences compared to the more than 20 countries that she visited around the world.
Meme Angeline said it is uncommon for a prominent leader to share a table with ordinary citizens. However, during her visit to China, Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai and other Chinese leaders allowed her an opportunity to share a tea kettle as they deliberated on high-level discussions.
Her delegation of four Namibian women met many people and highly positioned government officials, who were eager to help them as evident in the reception given to them. They visited various provinces and cities in China, accompanied by their Chinese friends and interpreters.
Meme Angeline said the Chinese people placed a great deal of importance on status and position in society and travelling was an important status symbol. With a very wide smile on her face, she described the Chinese people as very nice, friendly, patriotic and respectful. She said the government of China took care of its citizens by ensuring all the basic needs were accessible them – from cities to rural communities. She also emphasised how China’s government was putting more effort into implementing poverty alleviation programs in rural areas. That time, the government already had programs in agricultural and energy projects that are fundamental pillars of agripreneurship and agribusiness activities among rural communities. She also described how buildings and roads were being constructed within months. In addition, she said there were women-facilitated assembly line projects. For example, they had toy manufacturing plants. These toys were packaged and exported to other countries and the income was redistributed to rural women for specific projects.
Meme Angeline narrated that during that time, business was an important culture in China. The government played a very important part of business by creating good policies for investors.
Asked how they coped with living among the Chinese locals, she said the Chinese people have been accustomed to considering people’s preference when working with them.
She described how China was very impressive in the 1960s through development and innovation, always aiming for higher targets.
The octogenarian observed that food was an important part of Chinese culture. She also explained differences in food preference, saying the northern parts of China eat more noodle dishes whilst the southern parts eat more rice dishes. “They use a lot of fresh vegetables in their cooking for a balanced diet,” she added, saying the government of China took great care to prepare sumptuous meals for its visitors. Rice was usually served at the end of the meal to make sure everyone was satisfied. Baguettes were extremely important and there were specific forms of etiquette to be observed. When hosting, it was important to ensure there was enough food, that you served good Chinese rice, wine and the seating arrangements were correct.
Mandarin is the main language spoken in mainland China; however, she said, there are variations in dialects among different regions. Cantonese was the main language spoken in Hong Kong and the Southern provinces such as Guangzhou. She did not learn local languages because Mandarin is a very complex language, considering its written characters.
A visit that has influenced her life
Meme Angeline said the Chinese culture influenced her life and how she looks at the world. Firstly, Chinese people are very hardworking people and very respectful – these characteristics taught her to be the person she is today. “China is a unique market with unique business models,” she said, adding that the visit was very inspiring. She also declared that she was influenced to start kindergarten schools around the country because when she visited China, she noticed that education is prioritised by the government and individuals.
Summing up what she learned, she said she was made to understand the importance of food. “We need to consider the types of food we are serving and things such as the speed of service.”
She gained an understanding of the structure of the manufacturing-wholesale industry and how to identify opportunities for her country to work closely with the Chinese.
Her message to the youth is: “Work hard until you become the boss of your bosses”. She further advised young people to learn from the Chinese personalities – to have respect, a sense of responsibility and accountability to meet their governments or communities halfway in solving socio-economic challenges.
2020-08-05 10:52:20 | 1 months ago