Seeheim applies for legal Prostitution - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection
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Seeheim applies for legal Prostitution

Avatar of inke inke - 28. July 2017 - Discover Namibia

Hotel Bellevue in Seeheim at the start of the 20th century. (Photo: Walter Rusch collection)

History does not repeat itself. But every now and again it provides a déjà vu of some kind or other. One example is the debate about the legalization of prostitution. An application with similar content was submitted back in 1908...

"With reference to the discourse with your Honourable Sir, I most obediently allow myself to put forward a circular from which your Honourable Sir will be able to gather that the entire white population of Seeheim is pleased to welcome the establishment of a brothel, and for considerations of health has already desired the same for a long time." With this letter, dated 13 November 1908, a settler by the name of Carl Bamberg responds to the rejection of his first application a few months earlier by the relevant authority, the District Council of Keetmanshoop.

Apart from the extremely submissive parlance one does of course wonder about the place for which the brothel is being applied for. Seeheim?! The tiny hamlet where the gravel road turns off to the Fish River Canyon from the tar road between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz? Seeheim today consists of a hotel and a handful of houses, but it is a much-frequented stopover early last century, mainly due to the railways because it is the junction where the line to the south (Kalkfontein Süd, now Karasburg) branches off from the Lüderitzbucht-Keetmanshoop line. Travellers waiting for their connecting train have two hotels to choose from. Seeheim is also seen as a meeting place of diamond smugglers. From a police decree, dated 16 September 1909, it seems that demand for prostitutes was actually bigger in Seeheim than in Lüderitz: whereas five 'strumpets' are authorized in Seeheim (same as in Keetmanshoop), a total of four are allowed in Lüderitz.

The District Council refers the application to a higher authority – the Gouvernement in Windhoek. Which in turn declares that it is not the appropriate authority, adding in a huff: "[...] an authority which is appointed to maintain law and order can hardly grant its explicit permission to set up an institution which contradicts the regulations of the penal code." The letter, dated 16 January 1909, ends by pointing out that the local police authority is entitled to deal with this unlawful situation by decree – as is customary elsewhere as well.

Carl Bamberg is given the green light in April 1909. Why? Minutes of District Council meetings in November 1908 and April 1909 contain three reasons: "According to reports received by the physicians many natives in Keetmanshoop have a sexually transmitted disease, and many white people, too." Unless prostitution was controlled it had to be feared that these diseases would spread alarmingly.

The permit is tied to conditions. The "brothel-keeper" has to hire prostitutes of European descent only. "Females who offer themselves for prostitution are subject to health control", says the 'POLICE DECREE on the conduct of prostitutes in Seeheim', dated 16 September 1909. "Females subject to moral control will be examined by the Gouvernement’s physician once a week [...]." As a precaution against possible offence the ladies of the night are not allowed to enter Seeheim between 11h00 and 18h00. "Approaching men in the street, loitering about to attract attention, stopping and any other conduct intended to entice men is prohibited."

Carl Bamberg is not particularly successful with his brothel. It’s not that the authorities are giving him a hard time - on the contrary, their initial opposition turns into active support. No, according to a note in one of the health authority’s annual reports it is the lack of suitable and willing staff: "In 1910 the local brothel for whites had to be closed due to gonorrhoea. The efforts of the District Office to recruit other prostitutes remained fruitless."

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