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Preliminary results

The creation of divide and and a discourse of mistrust

As is demonstrated in the paper "We speak Herero but we write in English. Disempowerment through language use in participatory extension work" (Beck, in print), the use of code-switching between written English and spoken Herero is a way of using and producing a distance between those who know and those who do not know English, i.e. a hierarchy between those belonging to “modern” Namibia, a “elite” and the farmers in the village. This pattern is pervasive in many contexts, in the Tjohorongo-Kondjee Farmers' Association, too. It remains to be seen which other means of “doing elite” may be encountered, and the degree of relevancy we may ascribe the linguistic component.

“Doing elite” (through language) is part of performative inventories of the participants. We may assume that they have had previous experience of such situations, and will have other experiences still to come. It remains to be tested, how salient such performative inventories are, and which resources the participants have access to or use to “undo elite” (cf. West & Zimmerman 1987, Kotthoff 2002, Hirschauer 1994).

While we see how in the example of the boar goat project discussion in Omutiuanduko, leadership is (at least partly) constituted by “doing elite”, it remains to be asked which other means for constituting leadership are relevant, and whether “undoing elite” is one of them. Since the methods used in the the boar goat project discussion are very specific (using GTZ's ZOPP/Metaplan method) we will have to find corroborative evidence of similar processes in other organizations. The sequential analysis of the boar goat project discussion and other meetings will have to answer some of the following questions:

  • What exclusive, inclusive, reappropriating and resisting strategies are there, and what role do they play in the meeting?

  • How is mistrust done and undone?

  • What role does language (English and Otjiherero), and literacy play in the constitution of the meeting, and in the constitution of leadership. We may say that there is an unfortunate association of the written and the spoken with English and Herero which coincides with linguistic attitudes.

  • In what ways is gender relevant for the “doing elite” and “undoing elite”? What role does it play that the extension officers are exclusively women? Is there a difference between meetings where more men are present? Where a man is the extension officer?
Social contexts seem to be crucial not only for the understanding of the social processes that become visible during the meeting. They are also crucial for the constitution of development. Since we deal here with an interface between English and Herero, what further insight can we gain by using code-switching as a further point of reference (eg. various publications by Carol Myers-Scotton, Finlayson & Slabbert 1997)?
Some of the linguistic dynamics of the meeting may be described with linguistic attitudes. They themselves tie in to social dynamics of contemporary Herero and Namibian society (Ohly 1987, 1999, PŘtz 1995a, 1995b, Harlech-Jones 1995, Beck 1995).

The constitution of meetings

In Omatjete area there seem to be basically two kinds of meetings: Family meetings and community meetings. Family meetings are primarily funerals, but also weddings, while community meetings are defined as “development meetings”, and they are situated at a certain place within the village, under the community tree. We have observed that community meetings are much more open to the participation of women, while in family meetings an exclusive group of men officially takes decisions.

Apparently there are quite well defined rules for the basic constitution of a meeting, such as a formalized beginning with a prayer by the eldest person present, an introduction to the meeting by the chairperson etc. In the meetings frequent mention is made of rules to which the participants must adhere. When handed over a turn by the chairperson, the turn-taker has to get up. Usually it is men who stand speakng, but increasingly women appropriate this role, too. Here we can observe a difference between elder and younger women. While elder women come to these meetings in the traditional Herero dress, young women come dressed in "Western" clothes. The women thus identified as "traditional" would rather not get up during prayers and not while speaking, while the "Western" women rather do. However, there remain many questions.
  • What happens in situation of discussion? Are turns then still externally allocated, i.e. by the chairperson?

  • How do the groups handle difficult situations?

  • What are the consequences that women appropriate more and more communicative rights through the appropriation of "modern" or "male" role models? Can we also observe these processes in the way of speaking? Can we see some kind of resistance, both from men and women?

  • What are the models or forerunners of meetings people draw on to form their own meetings?

  • It is not clear so far which influence family meetings, and, for that matter, informal chats among neighbours in the village, have on decisions taken during community meetings. We assume that this influence is considerable, but we have not yet been able to really show it. Another issue is the interference of topics in both kinds of meetings. For instance, cattle issues are very important at family meetings, but this is also the case for community meetings?

The constitution of leadership

Since meetings also need leaders, this is a further important issue to follow up. Leaders, or chairpersons, need to appropriate some authority, and they have to be granted this authority by the participants of a meeting. This is a sensitive issue, because the chairperson needs a relevant social standing outside the meeting, within the community. Also, in Herero society and history we can see that leadership is constantly disputed, i.e. it is also constantly re-established. In addition, Omatjete was confronted with two competing chiefs, one of them appointed by the government, the other disputing this appointment for himself. The alliance with either of the chiefs had become a matter of permanent negotiations, because not only political and administrative, but also spiritual and moral functions were ascribed to them. So, while leadership is crucial for the well-being of a community, it is also unstable. This raises some questions:
  • How is leadership constituted? How does a leader manage to acquire authority and keep it? How can he/she ensure that he/she gets the floor, and how can he/she prevent being interrupted in meetings? For this we are currently looking at situations from various meetings assessing pause structure, turn taking, turn allocation, repair organization, strategies of cohesion and coherence. We are in the course of comparing these findings across various meetings (TKFA meetings, water point committee meetings, development project meetings), various chairpersons, with or without extension officers present, etc.

  • How does a chairperson meet challenges, such as unruly speaking up, interruptions, quarrels among the members?

  • Who challenges the chairperson and on what grounds? Who comes in to support the chairperson?

  • How does a female chairperson create and maintain her role?
At present it is clear that the data material gives a very good basis for this analysis. However, we still need to complement the sample with meetings, especially meetings where no extension service or other externally trained members take part. Such material must be collected carefully and as the necessity arises.

We also lack a historical perspective: When did, for instance the community meetings emerge, and on which precursors are they based? There are various kinds of leadership which must be traced far beyond colonial times. It seems, for instance, that one fundamental trait of leadership within Herero communities is, that they are always disputed (eg. Gewald & Bollig 2000, Gewald 2000, Henrichsen 2000, Hendrickson 2000).

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