The Prostitutes and the Priest Photos and interviews by Christian Bobst

For over 20 years Father Hermann Klein-Hitpass stood up for prostitutes who suffer from hunger, violence, illnesses and social proscription. The multimedia documentation "The Prostitutes an the Priest" reports about the work of the German priest in Katutura, the biggest township of the Namibian capital Windhoek.
Satellite image of Windhoek and Katutura, the largest township of Namibias capital. Katutura was created during the Apartheid era following the forced removal of Windhoek's black population from the city. In the Herero language the word Katutura means "The place where people do not want to live".

"If single women can’t find work in the townships, sex becomes a second currency, which is used to pay for the most necessary things like food, clothes and school fees for their children." says Father Hermann Klein-Hitpass. Condemned to the lowest rungs of society, these women are insulted, despised and rejected by their own people. Every day they face a high risk of infecting themselves with HIV and STDs, get beaten up, raped or even killed.

Windhoek City, 2016. Like many other girls, Eunice hooks up with clients at bars and clubs in the city or in the township of Katutura. She says, she sleeps where the sun sets and that a friend is looking after her children while she is at work.
(2016) Sunset over the city center of Namibias Capital Windhoek. Before the independence Namibia was occupied by South Africa. Just like in Johannesburg or Cape Town, the center of the city looks modern.
(2013) A couple of girls at Damara 6 help doing each other’s hair. Sex workers in Katutura cannot count on the solidarity of their neighbors or relatives; they usually only get help from other girls who do the same work in order to survive.
(2013) View on a squatter settlement in Katutura, the largest township outside Windhoek. Katutura is still growing every day, as a result of both, population growth and rural-urban migration. More than two-thirds of the rural migration to the cities of Namibia are estimated to go to Katutura. As a consequence, the unemployment rate in the township is extremely high.

In this interview Priscilla (13) talks about her life and situation and why she started to sell her body (0:58 minutes, recorded by Christian Bobst in 2013).

(2008) Damara 6. Whenever possible Father Hermann ventured out to Katutura, the township outside Windhoeck, to look after sole women who have to sell their bodies in order to have something to eat. The priest looked at it as a Christian duty to stand by these people, although the Catholic Church did not share this opinion.

(2008) Father Hermann Klein-Hitpass visits some of the women at their homes in the township to see if they need help. Most of those women do not only call him “Father” because he is a priest – many say that he is like a real father to them.
Damara 6, Katutura township (Windhoek), December 1, 2013. A woman is walking down the street in Damara 6. In the very poor neighborhood unemployment is very high. Many of the women and girls, who used to come to Father Hermann’s shelter, live in Damara 6. By now, some of them are even sharing the same shack.
(2013) Father Hermann comforts Hanna, 37, at her home in Damara 6. Hanna never knew her mother or her father, nor did she ever go to school. She grew up in the streets and became a sex worker at the age of 16. A few years ago, some Chinese men promised her a better life abroad and paid for her documents. But Father Hermann convinced her to stay.
(2013) Young men hang out on a Sunday morning at Damara 6. By noon almost everyone is drunk. Women who live alone in the townships are at risk for being sexually assaulted by their neighbors or even by their relatives, especially when they are looked upon as prostitutes. Most of those abuses are conducted under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In this interview Samatha talks about her life and how she become involved with sex work at young age (1:55 minutes, recorded by Christian Bobst in 2013).

(2008) Maria and her two sisters Cecilia and Irene were sold by their mother at the age of 9, 10 and 11 years. Father Hermann says some of the most disappointing and hurtful cases are those where the parents force their children into sex work as means of survival – or just to buy alcohol.

(2008) Irene plays in the street of Havanna, a quarter of Katutura. Two years after this picture was taken, Irene became pregnant and ran away from home. She tried to abort the baby with illegal pills, lost consciousness, was raped by a young man, and passed away. She was 13 years old at that time.
(2013) After Irene passed away, Father Hermann encouraged Maria (left) and Cecilia to make a case against their mother, who is in jail now.
(2015) Cecilia lost her job as a domestic worker, she left Katutura with her two children to look for work somewhere on a farm in the countryside.
Maria lost her 3 months old baby in a fire when her shack burnt down. Maria lives alone since Cecilia left to look for work. Now Maria takes care for the children of her aunt who has a job.

In this interview Alexia remebers how she was chased away from home as a young woman and how she survived on the streets (2:45 minutes, recorded by Christian Bobst in 2013).

(2008) Father Hermann tries to comfort Sama, who suffers from severe depression after losing her child. In 2005 Father Hermann opened a daycare facility for prostitutes in the township Katutura in the Namibian capital Windhoek. The priest called the centre "Stand Together". There he looked after more than 4700 women and their 10000 children. He provided them with food, clothes and mental assistance.

(2008) Father Hermann hands out milk powder to prevent small children from contracting HIV by their mothers from breastfeeding. Sex workers who registered with Hermann receive a ration of food and second-hand clothing once per week. The bookkeeping of Father Hermann is meticulous, he knows exactly who got what and when.
(2008) The girls and women who come to Father Hermann’s daycare are hungry. Usually they have to walk the streets to be able to buy food for themselves and their kids. At the daycare they receive food for free, so they can briefly recover from their daily distress.
(2008) Women and children rest at father Hermanns Daycare facility. They are tired, many of them walked for hours to get some food at the shelter.
(2013) Eunice checks out second hand dresses at Father hermann´s shelter. "Proper cloths are very important to get a minimum of respect in this culture, so the women will always try to dress up as good as possible, even if they have nothing. I don´t want them to spend their money on clothes, when they have hungry children to feed at home." Father Hermann says.

The former sister Inocentia Mbati helped Father Hermann three years with the work at the daycare facility. Today she is a teacher. In this interview Inocentia Mbati tells about her cooperation with Father Hermann in the "Stand Together" shelter (2:09 minutes, recorded by Florian Mebes and Christian Bobst in 2015).

(2008) The stories Father Hermann has heard are often nearly unbearable. Abuse, rape, physical mistreatment, AIDS and STDs are recurrent themes in the life stories of most of the women. Some commit crimes themselves: a few kill their children in despair, while others want to avenge themselves on men who have abused them by knowingly infecting them with HIV.

(2013) Christina´s (17) face was cut with a smashed bottle when she had an argument with another sex worker on the street. She says that offering sex work on the streets is very dangerous because there is a high risk to be robbed, beaten up, raped or even to be killed.
(2013) At Father Hermann´s daycare facility, Miriam talks about her hopes to find a job to support her brothers and sisters in order to live together with them as a familiy.
(2013) As soon as Christina (17) had her menstruation, her mother, who was an alcoholic, forced her to make money by selling herself. She dropped out of school at the age of thirteen, ran away from home and continued to sell herself to survive. She says that she is HIV positive and four months pregnant.
(2013) Eunice was abused when she was an underage child. At the age of 16 she became a sex worker – and an angry young woman. “Why do I have to eat porridge while others are eating pasta?“ she complains about her miserable life.

To help the streetwalking girls, Klein-Hitpass collected donations at home and abroad. Father Hermann sent letters on a regular basis in which he reported in detail about the situation of the prostitutes.

The typewriter on which Father Hermann wrote his letters.
Father Hermann introduces himself and tells about the miseries of the women after whom he looked.

The destiny of the children of the prostitutes worried Father Hermann in particular. These photos which he took give an impression of what the priest saw every day. The captions originate from hanwritten notes which the priest wrote on the back of his photographs.

Her mother is an alcoholic., so this young girl takes care for her 5 younger brothers and sisters.
Unemployed and and suffering from AIDS, this women became mentally diturbed. She can hardly take care for her 3 children anymore.
This girld was misused by her uncle. She does not even have breasts yet, but she is infected with AIDS.
Only 19 years old, this girl tries to help others as good as she can.
She´s already HIV positiv, her mother said: "Hurry up to make me a grandmother before I die from AIDS."
A criticising article from the newspaper Namibian Sun. Many of these women are not victims only. Some try to take advantage of the priest´s kindness, a fact that Father Hermann is well aware of. Many of them also turn to alcohol and thievery.

Father Hermann placed as little value to possession and comfort as he did on his external appearance. He lived very modest in the church’s residential home. From 2012 the priest started to withdraw for health reasons. His ability to concentrate strongly decreased.

(2008) Father Hermann poses in front of his Toyota Hilux at the Roman Catholic church in Pioneers Park in Windhoek, where he lives in a small two room apartment. He always carries a chain with dozens of keys and under his shirt he has a pouch with his wallets and important documents. The Toyota was built in 1989, hermann bought in 2006. It travelled 344900 kilometers.
(2013) Father Hermann gives shelter to a woman who knocked on the door of his apartment late at night, looking for help. When in adversity, the women often come to Father Hermann’s home at the Catholic Church in Pioneers Park, Windhoek. Due to the alarming extent of his work and serious health issues the priest has more and more difficulties to keep his apartment clean and tidy.
(2013) Father Hermann walks to his car with some food he bought at a supermarket in the center of Windhoeck.
(2013) Father Hermann goes for dinner at the mess hall of the church where he closby lives in a small apartment. He says that he is often tired and dizzy, because he suffers from cerebral atrophy as well as diabetes. In the last two years, his strength has been fading and he finds it more and more difficult to stay mentally focused.

In this interview the renowned German professor of political science Dr. Heribert Weiland explains what Father Hermann inspired and why it came to a conflict with the Catholic Church (4 minutes, recorded by Christian Bobst and Barbera Miller in 2015). Dr. Heribert Weiland got to know Hermann Klein-Hitpass while working as an electoral observer in Namibia. He has suggested Father Hermann for the bestowal of The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2012 Father Hermann was honoured for his work with the The Order of Merit. The eulogy on the website of the German embassy in Namibia contains numerous information about the biography of the priest.

Since 2015 Father Hermann is in need of care. The priest lies in the Roman-Catholic hospital in Windhoek where the women visit him every now and then. The Catholic Church shows no interest in continuing his auxiliary project.father Hermann´s attempts to assign the responsibility of the shelter to a church member or to one of the women all failed.

(2016) Alexia and Maria help father Hermann to get up in bed to have a conversation with him. For Farher Hermann this girls have become his family. He says he feels never happier then when they are there to visit him.
(2015) Weakened by his age and diabetes, Father Hermann increasingly reached his limits. In August 2015 he had to be hospitalized. He was not able to leave the hospital ever since.
(2015) The daycare facility was closed by members of the Catholic Church, following the bishop’s orders. The bishop of Windhoek refuses, in spite of repeated inquiries, to find a solution for a possible continuation of Father Hermann’s project or to make a statement regarding this topic.
(2016) Alexia is one of the few girls who was able to escape the vicious circle. At the age of 13 she got pregnant by her father. At that time her mother was in hospital. She died one day after Alexia told her that she was expecting a baby from her father. The relatives blamed Alexia for killing her mother and chased her away from home. For almost 20 years she had to survive all alone on the streets. Alexia says that Father Hermann gave her back her dignity. Now she works as a chef at a hotel outside Windhoek.
Father Hermann having lunch while sitting on his bed. He will not be able to leave the hospital ever again. The German priest dedicated his life and energy to the poorest of the poor. It makes him sad that he can’t help the women anymore and that no one at the church in Windhoek is willing to continue his work. But he is not feeling bitter about it. He is at peace with himself, with the things he did and the life he lived.

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Photographer Christian Bobst accompanied Hermann Klein-Hitpass with the camera from 2008 to 2016. In 2013 he interviewed Father Hermann as well as the prostitutes. The journalist and documentary filmmaker Florian Mebes edited the interviews. In 2015 they travelled to Namibia together to visit the already ill priest in the hospital and the women in their township: https://vimeo.com/198707337

Credits:

Christian Bobst

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