Giddy-Up!

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By Eve Fairbanks, The New Republic

OUTJO, NAMIBIA -- Growing up in Namibia in the 1980s, Willem Bezuidenhout was alone with his cowboy dream. He wallpapered his father’s house in the capital of Windhoek with posters of Hopalong Cassidy and shunned play dates to watch The War Wagon again and again in his darkened bedroom, pausing the tape to trace John Wayne’s image onto pieces of translucent paper that he pressed up to the screen. His playmates—the sons of Namibia’s white farmers, doctors, or lawyers, like his father—made fun of him.

But that was before the white communities of southern Africa went crazy for country. These days, Bezuidenhout is a star. At an annual cultural festival in the dusty northern Namibia town of Outjo this past May, he shared top billing with a South African pop idol. Bezuidenhout’s show was an American-style rodeo with all the trimmings, including a lassoing demo that drew on the skills he picked up at the San Francisco Cow Palace, where he went to learn roping in the early ’90s, before the potential for a cowboy revival in rural Africa was fully understood. “In Namibia, as a kid, I had my twenty country-and-western records, and everybody looked at me strange,” Bezuidenhout told me the morning of the festival, panting as he lugged his ropes over to a homemade wooden corral. “Now everybody here loves Garth Brooks and Randy Travis.” Read more ...