Thursday, April 10, 2008

Namibia An Empty Quarter of Africa With Potential

Written from Luderitz, Namibia--

This largely desert country in the southwest of Africa is three times larger than California, but has only 1.8 million people. Much of it gets rain only once every five years, and it has spectacular scenery reminescent of the South Dakota badlands. They call one section the Valley of the Moon. Sand dunes rise as high as 1,200 feet, and yesterday, when we visited one of them on my African cruise, young people were climbing to the top and then surfing downward on huge boards. Some were able to surf from top to bottom without falling.

Our guide in a tour by four-wheel drive vehicles was a former South African Apartheid policeman who said he is on his way to Iraq for security duty, a high priced job he claimed is now held by 20,000 former South African security people. I wonder whether this can be true, and also wonder if it is the American taxpayers who are paying for it. I've never read any article talking of Apartheid cops' role in Iraq.

Before World War I, Namibia, then called Southwest Africa, was a German possession, and there are still German attitude traces here. Our tour was so regitmented, they would not even stop to permit us from buying postcards, although I managed to buy and send some today.

The population in Namibia is said, at present, to be 12% white, 8% "colored," or mixed, and 80% black. Judging from our stops here today and Walvis Bay yesterday, the lion's share of good jobs are held by whites and a few coloreds, and there is much evidence, as in the rest of Africa, of young black men sitting around the streets all day, unemployed.

Yet Namibia has obvious potential, including the largest uranium mine in the world, and, close to this city, diamond mines. It would take an aqueduct nearly 1,500 miles long to bring water here from Botswana. In the meantime, it is pretty bleak, a few palm trees, but mostly barren land broken by a few exotic plants that can get by on the moisture they pick up from fog rolling in from the sea.

Below the Tropic of Capricorn, the weather at this time of the year, is marvelous, bright clear days and temperatures in the high 70s, as the Southern fall begins.

Next stop, South Africa, in two days, where the M.S. Prinsendam will be visiting Capetown for three days, Durban and Richards Bay. Some passengers are getting off the ship to take a trip to Victoria Falls, or to the game refuges, and some will even be going to Zimbabwe. I decided to skip that and will be going on two day trips to game refuges and also down to the Cape of Good Hope.

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Russ Stanton's view of what editors should read for a three-day retreat apparently devoted to further downsizing and diminishing of the L.A. Times, might be suitable for Stanton's remedial reading course, but it has little or nothing to offer serious thinkers about the future of the newspaper business.

Two former L.A. Timers who are working elsewhere were among the Pulitizer winners this year, including Amy Harmon, the talented former reporter in Business, now working for the New York Times. Naturally, while the Washington Post was winning six Pulitzers, and the New York Times two, the L.A. Times won none. Most of the people who would have competed for them in recent years have left the paper, victims of Dennis FitzSimons, David Hiller and Sam Zell.

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