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In a beautiful written piece for the New York Times, Trevor Noah paints a picture of his childhood with his mother

Midnight Express - Namibia style

2011-01-12 09:47
It was with a growing sense of horror that I read in the papers last week of yet another South African musician being thrown into a Namibian jail.  

Idols star Andriëtte Norman and her boyfriend Marcel Olivier spent two nights in overcrowded cells before being fined R10 000 and chased out of the country. All because of faulty paperwork in their passports.

This mere enumeration of the facts does not convey the horror, the fear, the humiliation, and, above all, the sheer unnecessary tedium these two young people had to endure.

I have noticed a disquieting trend with some Namibian customs officials. They make a habit of waving people into their country, even if they have faulty passport stamps (or no stamps at all), and then pounce on them gleefully the moment they try to return to South Africa; or, as happened in the case of this couple, when they get caught in a roadblock.

It happened to me, it happened to Carte Blanche journalist Bonita Nutall, and now it’s happened to Andriette and her friend. And these are only the high-profile cases we know about.

In the three to four ghastly hours I spent in that filthy police holding cell in a township outside Walvis Bay almost three years ago, I met several other so-called passport offenders, some of them from South Africa, who had been simply tossed into those circumstances and forgotten, without the benefit of publicity, lawyers or even a trial.

In the space of those few hours, I also became closely, one can almost say intimately, acquainted with several self-proclaimed cattle thieves, a rapist, and at least one suspected murderer. We were about a dozen men in a chilly little concrete room with no working toilet and only enough bedding for three.


At least I had reading material in Afrikaans; the grafitti against the walls, written in old dried blood, clearly spelled out my fate should I remain in that cell for longer than two nights. Blood-curdling screams coming from neighbouring cells confirmed the very real danger I was in.

All because I had the nerve to do a concert and subsequent holiday in Namibia WITH a simple and valid work permit which had somehow been bungled by incompetent officials upon my entry at Windhoek airport.

Sure enough, I was luckier than Andriette and Bonita. My lawyer got me out on bail shortly before midnight. The next day, I made Namibian legal history by being the first person to dispute the charges against me in court and actually win. I was not fined, nor do I have a criminal record in Namibia, but the whole futile exercise cost us R25 000 in legal fees and alternative travel arrangements.

The bottom line is this:

One. Namibia is a wonderful country, yes. My wife (who is Namibian-born) and I try to go there at least once a year.

Two. However, I shall never, ever perform music in Namibia ever again, or take as much as a guitar, a signed CD or a G-string into that country.

Three. If this incompetence persists, Namibians can kiss concert tours by South African musicians goodbye. Word is out. We are going to very apprehensive of accepting gigs there from now on.

Final point. In the long run, all cultural exchanges between South Africa and Namibia might simply fizzle out and die. Which would be a kind of shame, wouldn’t it?

I mean, aren’t neighbours supposed to be friendly with one another?

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