The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

Have you noticed how hard it is to get out of bed, these winter mornings?

How it’s dark and cold and windy when most of us have to get up? How, in many parts of the country, those learners who’ve been allowed to go back to school are going to school in the cold and the dark? That for many workers living at the far side of Katutura, winter means waiting for buses and taxis in the freezing dark?

If only there was a solution? Oh, wait, there is! Or was.

The sun rises ‘objectively’ at a certain time for any given point on the earth’s surface. We might have subjectively decided to call this point in space and time, ‘7AM’.

But say we then moved our clocks back an hour. That same ‘objective’ position of the sun and earth, that was subjectively ‘7AM’ for us, now subjectively becomes ‘6AM’. We suddenly have a whole extra hour of light (and at least some heat) to get out of bed, get to work, get to school, and so on.

Daylight-saving time is a brilliant invention, and I can’t think of a convincing reason why we abandoned it.

I wonder if recent immigrants to Namibia are even aware that, between 1994 and 2017, we put our watches back one hour from the first Sunday in April until the first Sunday in September? Even mobile phones, which took a while to adjust their automatic date systems no longer put their clocks back.

In that regard, we seem to have joined a number of African countries, including Morocco, Libya and Egypt, that used to set clocks and watches back or forward an hour for some part of the year, but who have now given up on the system.

Perhaps the physics or the math was just too complicated for some of us, or too difficult to put into words. I used to watch some Namibians get lost in a fog of logic trying to explain to their children why we were setting all our watches back an hour. The first time we implemented daylight-saving time, there were public clocks in Independence Avenue that were set as much as three hours apart.

The oft-repeated argument that with Winter Time we ‘lost an hour of business’ with our main trading partner, South Africa, never made sense to me. Which business is so in touch with their South African suppliers that they can’t go one hour without being on the phone with them? And how then do we explain our increasing trade with China, a full six hours ahead of Namibia?

Yes, the Zambezi region, which being further east, sees the sun earlier than the rest of the country anyway (you’re still following the logic, I hope!) never used Winter Time at all. I’m not sure that a time difference can be claimed to give ammunition to any secessionist movement. Must we be all the same just to live together in one country? Is California more likely to break away from the United States because they’re on a different time zone than New Mexico?

Perhaps the real reason has to do with who has power and privilege in this country, and who does not. Schoolchildren (who might like an easier start to their day) have no money and no votes, whereas successful businesspeople (who want the convenience of Zoom calls to South Africa and long evenings at the braai), can marshal plenty of both.

I don’t think I will get my wish of Namibia returning to Winter Time. We’ve just moved on from the idea. I do concede that perhaps, like the Libyans who abandoned daylight saving time in 2013, we have more important things to argue about.

I’m certainly ready to talk to any Namibian who agrees with me, though, and to join any serious campaign for the re-establishment of daylight-saving time. Just don’t invite me to any meetings before nine o’clock, okay?

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and lecturer in the Department of Communication of the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog on http://ellishugh.wordpress.com