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On the Border to Chaos: Identity Formation on the Angolan-Namibian Border, 1927-2008

Gregor Dobler


Borders are places where, in everyday interaction, collective identities are shaped by comparison and contrast. Slight differences in practice are often used to construct huge differences in identity, especially if they can be linked to the legitimacy of political domination. Today’s border between Namibia and Angola has been the frontier of Portuguese and British South African colonialism since 1915. The South African colonial administration has always constructed Portuguese rule in Angola as the contrast which let South African rule appear as benign, just and ordered, thus justifying South African colonial domination. After Angolan independence and the advent of MPLA rule, the border turned from a border to sloppy colonialism into a fortification against communism and terrorism – a Barbary fence against wild hordes trying to undermine the empire. After Namibian independence and the end of the Angolan wars, the contrast between the two realms has been transformed into a difference between two economic and political regimes – safe, democratic and ordered Namibia on the one hand and wild, patrimonial, chaotic Angola on the other. The article will embed three concrete case studies from the colonial period, the war situation and the postcolonial economy into a history of South African/Namibian identity construction on the border. It will show how it has been linked to domination and legitimacy, highlighting the role of the border as preconceived boundary of practices and spheres of domination.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229