Account by a GDR child of Namibia

Nangula Costa
© Tina Hüttl/Goethe-Institut e.V.

When Nangula Costa was asked by the Cultural Officer at the Germany Embassy in Namibia whether she would like to go on a trip into her past, she hesitated. Many versions of the story of the GDR children of Namibia are circulating and also many rumours. The invitation to visit her former boarding school at Bellin castle and other places where she used to go to school, accompanied by five Namibian journalists, gave her the opportunity to set the record straight. She is very grateful to the organisers – the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut – for this opportunity. A personal account.

“One of my earliest childhood memories is of Bellin castle in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania just before Christmas. It had snowed. We Namibian children, who knew only the refugee camp in Angola, thought the snow was sugar. It was a great disappointment to discover how cold and wet it felt. We had only just arrived by plane in the former GDR. Besides myself, there were 78 other children. Some of them were orphans or had lost one parent, some were children of party officials from the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and some, like myself, had just been chosen at random. Between 1979 and 1989, a total of 430 Namibian children were taken in by the GDR – we are also called Namibia’s Ossi (i.e. East German) children.

For a long time, I felt I was a black German, or rather a black citizen of the GDR. I still feel very German – I was taught in German for a long time and grew up with the GDR system and culture. Contrary to many rumours, we were always treated very well at the boarding school in Bellin castle. The teachers were very kind to us – and that’s what the other GDR children of Namibia also say. We set up an Ossi club and see each other regularly. But of course, everyone comes to different conclusions about their past. For my part, I had a wonderful childhood in Bellin that I would not want to have missed. It’s a very idyllic place, very green. The castle, where we had group rooms, dormitories and a park with lots of ponds and our own sledging slope, is a paradise. Seeing it again now, I had the impression that it was even bigger and more luxurious than in my childhood.

It is not true that we walked around with guns. Nor were we given propaganda lessons. Basically, we had the same lessons as all pupils in the GDR, except that we had to learn German first and started English lessons earlier. And of course, we learned more about Africa in geography and history.

Radio Feature: DDR-Kind aus Namibia – Nangula Costa (in German) 

But what interested us most was sport. I played handball and volleyball and did athletics. We children were always very busy. During the holidays, we went to Prerow and other holiday camps or were taken home by our teachers. They were like parents to us. We had no contact at all to our own parents all those years, probably because of SWAPO’s security concerns.

I am not angry with my mother for letting me be taken away. In the refugee camp, I would not have had an education and I might have been raped. She wanted the best for me and the GDR gave me a chance to make something of myself. Actually, the only thing that was traumatic for me was the shock of suddenly having to go back to Namibia. The GDR was our home. After the GDR collapsed when I was 14 or 15, I was supposed to go back to a country I did not know to a mother who a complete stranger to me. Being thrown so suddenly from one culture into another without any psychological support – that was the worst thing for us.

We GDR children of Namibia definitely did not become an elite. To tell the truth, many of us did not want to have anything to do with politics after that. After that abrupt caesura, many said they would rather live their own life. That’s what I am doing now. I speak several languages, have completed a bachelor’s degree in communication and am doing a correspondence course alongside my job. In that respect I am very German: I believe that if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard for it.”

About Ndatyapelao Nangula Costa

The Namibian came to the GDR without her parents in 1979, when she was just four, and attended boarding school there until she was a teenager. She and other Namibian children were to be educated in the GDR with a view to later helping to develop their native Namibia as socialist officials of SWAPO, a Honnecker government project that came to an abrupt end in 1989. Today she lives and works in Windhoek, Namibia.