Roger Swart and Christine Marais
MacMillan Education Namibia Publishers (Pty) Ltd, 2009
Reprinted 2018 by Namibia Publishing House.
Although this book was first published in 2009, it is worth reviewing in this issue of AJLA, as it describes the iconic landscapes of Namibia. It is a beautifully presented book on the geomorphology of Namibia which serves two purposes: an easily accessible text without jargon on the landforms of Namibia, and a valuable travel companion for those who wish to observe the landscape with new eyes.
Geology is the genesis of the landscape, and therefore the starting point for understanding why the landscape looks like it does. The scenery can be described as the history of the landscape, the study of landforms being of particular interest to landscape architects. As the author, Roger Swart, points out, geomorphology is a highly visual science, which for most of us is an integral aspect of landscape architecture.
The importance of geomorphology for landscape architects is that it provides us with not only an understanding of landscape processes in the past, but also enables predictions for the future relating to climate change, eroding coastlines, flooding and rockfalls. It also provides us with information on the siting of settlements, dams and transportation routes, as well as sources of water, building materials and minerals. Its value is enormous, but sadly little understood by politicians or even by planners. As the author remarks: "geology and geomorphology are fundamental to our lives".
The arid Namibian landscape, with its remarkable variety of landforms, is a Mecca for geologists, mainly because the landforms are so exposed beneath the threadbare vegetation, and can be observed, in the words of the author, "like the pages of a book".
Swart first leads one through the history and evolution of the Namibian landscape over geological time and then divides the country into some 20 recognisable landform regions, with a description of the characteristics of each region, or landscape type. The characteristics are skillfully represented in drawings and paintings by the artist, Christine Marais.
The main body of the book then describes individual landforms, many of which are iconic landscapes of Namibia, such as the granitic inselbergs, spitzkoppe and finger-like rock pillars that rise from the plains, the doleritic 'organ pipes' near Twyfelfontein, the massive dunes at Sossusvlei, waterfalls, including the Epupa Falls on the Kunene River, and the canyons on the Fish River, Ugab River and at Sesriem, to name a few sites.
Interestingly for me, the use of paintings captures the essence of the landscape and the geological features far more than photographs would. The activity of drawing and painting requires much more observation and interpretation, and is unfortunately a disappearing skill among landscape architects, particularly as we move more towards digital representation.
As one would expect in a book of this nature, there is a comprehensive glossary and bibliography at the back. My only criticism is that the key maps of the various landscape types are too small, with the location of landscape features often imperceptible. My only regret is that such a useful publication as this is not also available for the rest of Southern Africa. However, the landforms described in the book occur widely across the African continent, and its usefulness could therefore be fairly broad.
This book, now in its second printing, is a piece of Africana and should be in every landscape architect's library. It is rare to find a book where science and art are so well combined. On the internet, secondhand copies of the publication often sell for more than the new one!