Shark Island: Uproar over concentration camp campsite

04 November 2021 | Tourism

ELLANIE SMIT



WINDHOEK

Uproar has broken out on social media after Namibia Wildlife Resort’s (NWR) Shark Island campsite, located in Lüderitz, reopened on 1 November.

Some Namibians were rubbed the wrong way after NWR announced that Shark Island is ready to welcome back campers and is taking bookings again.

They questioned how the former concentration camp can be used as vacation accommodation.

Shark Island was Namibia's first large-scale concentration camp, where close to 1 800 Nama prisoners arrived in September 1906, including Cornelius Frederick, one of the strongest Nama military leaders.

“Shark Island to us, the Nama and the Ovaherero descendants of the 1904 - 1908 genocide that took place on those rocks, is a graveyard,” Festus Muundjua of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation (OGF) said.

He added: “You don't invite tourists or promote tourism in a graveyard. A graveyard, in our culture, is a sacred place and allowing unsavoury things to happen in there amounts to a desecration of graves.”

NBC journalist Gordon Joseph said: “This is insensitive, tone deaf and so damn tacky. This was a concentration camp. There are bodies buried there. What is the reason?”

Hannah Brendell added that it is “incredibly ill thought out and disgusting for NWR to do something like this”.

“It's like creating a party over the graves of hundreds of Namibian people. It's meant to be a memorial site, not a camping ground. Please reconsider this,” she said.

Govt to blame

Petelina Frans said Namibia’s history is too painful for this. “I don’t see how this could’ve gone over so many heads.”

Another disgruntled Namibian, Sheya Timo Gotlieb, tweeted that while he enjoys camping, he could never do so on top of his ancestors’ graves.

Nelao Hamunime added that this is what happens when government only knows how to half-heartedly condemn matters, instead of actually taking issues seriously. “Now the government-owned resort company is marketing a concentration camp as a tourist destination,” she said.

Talk to the ministry

NWR has been operating campsite facilities at Shark Island since the company became operational in 1999, managing director Dr Matthias Ngwangwama said, adding that the company will “continue to do so unless the status quo changes and Shark Island is no longer a government or NWR-operated facility”.

He said although there have been talks over the years to declare it as a place of historical significance, this has not been realised yet.

Ngwangwama added that if anyone has a problem with NWR operating Shark Island, this should be taken up with the arts and culture ministry, “but still then a change in law will have to be affected for it not to fall within NWR’s facilities”.

Renovation at Shark Island was initially planned for the 2019/2020 financial year, but this had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The project commenced in April this year and was concluded in October. The restoration saw all ablution blocks, field kitchens and the lighthouse undergoing renovations, which cost more than N$3.1 million.

Shark Island was declared a national heritage site on 15 February 2019. A memorial on the island honours Fredericks, as well as the other brave men, women and children who died there during the war.

A memorial plaque for Adolf Lüderitz, after whom the town was named, was also erected at the site.

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