The new Friendship City Agreement between San Antonio and Windhoek, signed on April 22 by Mayor Ivy Taylor and her Namibian counterpart Muesee Kazapua, marks San Antonio’s first formal liaison with a municipality in Africa.
The Namibian capital, which shares some surprising similarities with San Antonio and is widely regarded as one of the most progressive and economically sound cities on the continent, is a valuable partner.
According to the United Nations, nearly 50% of the world’s population is – or will soon be – affected by water scarcity and shortages. Despite the harsh South Texas climate, San Antonio has been blessed with a robust water supply, thanks to one of the most prolific artesian aquifers in the world, the Edwards Aquifer. The recent deal between the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), which professionally manages and conserves the aquifer, and Spanish conglomerate Abengoa will further increase San Antonio’s water supply by 20%. Against the background of an additional one million residents who are expected to turn this city into the nation’s fifth-largest by 2040, the SAWS-Abengoa agreement is crucial.
On the endeavor to secure sustainable water access for decades to come, City leaders will be able to exchange experiences, challenges and prognoses with the recently signed Friendship City of Windhoek – the only African municipality that recycles water and one of very few on the continent with potable tap water. The Goreangab Water Reclamation Plant built in the 1960s to reclaim water directly from domestic sewage and the new plant, completed in 2002, have put Windhoek on the global map for research and international conferences on water reclamation.
The arid climate combined with strives for responsible, farsighted water management is just one of several commonalities between San Antonio and the capital of Namibia.
There is also the German heritage. San Antonio has the King William neighborhood (once known as “Sauerkraut Bend”) and very obvious German influence in nearby communities such as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and Boerne. Namibia’s past as a German imperial colony is omnipresent to this day. German was one of three official languages until Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990 and to this day is spoken by a considerable share of the population (English is the sole official language, Oshiwambo the most prevalent).
A German-style Karneval goes on for four weeks every year and includes numerous live music events, parades and parties all over the city – not unlike Fiesta. The annual Oktoberfest attracts more than 5,000 attendees over two days, many of them in traditional dirndl and lederhosen. Neighborhoods and landmarks still carry German names, for instance Ludwigsdorf, Christuskirche or Reiterdenkmal.
Approximately 230,000 people, about 13% of Namibia’s population of 1.8 million, live in Windhoek, making it roughly three times as populous as the nation’s second largest city, Walvis Bay. The capital is home to nearly all corporate headquarters of national enterprises, government entities, as well as educational and cultural institutions. While the city still has a small-town feel, like San Antonio, it is experiencing the challenges and promises of rapid growth.
“Windhoek is beautiful. Vibrant and tranquil at the same time,” said Ernst Schneider, a Namibian of German descent who spends most of the year in the Texas Hill Country. He graduated from a German high school in Windhoek and came to San Antonio to study at Trinity and St. Mary’s University before marrying a fifth generation San Antonian. On his ranch near Vanderpool, Schneider raises exotic animals and creates Africa-themed paintings and sculptures, but goes back at last once a year to visit his family.
“I feel at home in Texas as much as in Namibia,” said Schneider, who was intrigued by the Friendship City Agreement between San Antonio and Windhoek.
Namibia’s cultural and ethnic diversity, with the Ovambo people making up about half of the population, is another parallel to Texas and particularly San Antonio. But despite its heterogeneity, the young nation boasts a robust economy that mainly relies on tourism, mining, agriculture, fishing and manufacturing, paired with a stable multi-party democracy. Social issues like gender equality are taken seriously, as a look at Windhoek’s city council illustrates: Of the 15 council members, eight are female.
Situated between the Kalahari Desert in the East and the Namib, the world’s oldest desert, in the West, the sparsely inhabited landscape features a wide array of wildlife, including zebras, cheetahs, lions, rhinoceros and elephants, but also seals and the endangered African penguins. To preserve its flora and fauna and to secure its reputation as a prime destination for well-regulated hunting and ecotourism alike, Namibia became the first country to incorporate environmental protection into the constitution and to designate its entire coastline a national park.
The ties between San Antonio and Namibia are almost as old as the southwestern African nation itself. Elected officials have welcomed numerous Namibian delegations since the early 1990s, including annual embassy visits since 2005. Elisa Chan further cultivated the relationship during her tenure as District 9 Council member and introduced the current Namibian ambassador to the U.S., Martin Andjaba, to then-Councilwoman Ivy Taylor. The story now has come full circle, since Mayor Taylor signed a Friendship City Agreement with Windhoek in front of elected officials and civic leaders that included Chan and Andjaba, as well as representatives from the Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce and other prominent members of the local African American community.
“As an American of African descent, this is one of my proudest days in office,” Mayor Taylor said at the ceremony. “We must seize every opportunity to reinforce positive, bi-lateral relationships between our two continents, particularly initiatives that lead to sustainable economic and community development benefitting our peoples.”
The mayor of Windhoek, Muesee Kazapua, specifically pointed toward economic cooperation and trade, training and development, tourism and renewable energy as potential areas for collaboration.
“I am convinced that this friendship agreement will go a long way to be of mutual benefit to the two cities,” Mayor Kazapua said.
Prior to the signing, the Namibian delegates toured some of San Antonio’s cultural sights and were hosted by the Briscoe Western Art Museum for the Texas Cavaliers River Parade. Mayor Kazapua and Ambassador Andjaba, who were accompanied by Windhoek Councilmember Brunhilde Cornelius, External Affairs Manager Chris Eita and Commercial Counselor Freddie Gaoseb, also visited Brooks City Base and participated in an exchange of economic profiles at the Free Trade Alliance.
“They were very impressed with San Antonio’s commercial portfolio and the growth we are experiencing here,” said local attorney Bob Braubach, who was named Honorary Consul of Namibia in 2013 after many years of dedicated relationship building. Having traveled to Namibia for the past 20 years, including several trade missions organized by the government, Braubach said he was excited and proud to witness the Friendship City Agreement between San Antonio and Windhoek.
“Our cities are a great match,” Braubach said. “I’m optimistic that this partnership has the potential to not only foster cultural understanding, but also to benefit both sides economically.”
More information on San Antonio’s international relations can be found at www.sainternationalrelations.org.
*Featured/top image: The Namibian delegation takes a ride on the San Antonio River. Courtesy photo.