‘Tufta’ in Namibia

Winfried Holze

In the book ‘Gulag, a History’ by Anne Applebaum, the word ‘tufta’ is mentioned.

It’s apparently a Russian concept loosely translated as ‘swindling the boss’.

The author mentions that “tufta permeated virtually every aspect of work – work assignments, work organisation, work accounting – and affected virtually every member of the camp community, from the Gulag bosses in Moscow, the lowliest camp guards, to the most downtrodden prisoners”. 

And “such practices were so deeply ingrained in the Soviet system that it is hardly fair to describe them as if they were somehow unique to the Gulag. Nor were they unique to the USSR.

“The communist-era proverb ‘they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work’ could once be heard in most of the languages of the old Warsaw Pact.”

Applebaum goes on to describe it as the art and effort applied to evading work in the hope that it will remain undetected.

In essence the aim would be that it just needs to APPEAR as though the work has been done or is being done or as though one LOOKS busy, not that this is ACTUALLY happening or is concluded.


Ever wondered why Namibia has not made the progress it should have in terms of socio-economic development 33 years after independence, despite the enormous and urgent work that needs to be done?

It appears that the answer to this riddle has now been revealed, namely that many of our citizens, government officials and politicians in particular practise the fine art of ‘tufta’, perfecting it with each passing day.

Many of our leaders often proudly remind us of having received their education in Eastern Bloc countries during the liberation struggle; now they have introduced this much appreciated skill into our country.

On the other hand, maybe this skill has been with us all along. Maybe it was just a case of never pinpointing it properly, or giving it a name.

So next time you’re frustrated with anybody at a local authority, government institution or a lackadaisical worker and are about to explode out of frustration, remind yourself it’s likely just about legitimate ‘tufta’.

’Tufta’ is probably also why each and every effort at achieving communism or socialism has failed.

A system based on ‘tufta’ or ‘swindling the boss’ never has and never will work. Political parties and wannabe political parties – whether it be the NEFF, AR, LPM, CP, or Swapo, etc – would do well to start dropping this inherent policy from their party manifestos as soon as possible.

  • Winfried Holze is a Namibian urban design activist, architect and marble stone sculptor at WHUDA Marble Art Namibia.

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