The history of
Namibia has passed through several distinct stages,
and Namibia has really only existed as a modern state
since South Africa relinquished control of the country
in 1989. Early in the 20th century, Namibia was a
German colony (German South West Africa). After the
1st World War, it became a League of Nations-administered
territory. Following the 2nd World War, the United
Nations mandated control of the country to South Africa
when as South-West Africa it was administered by a
South African-appointed administrator-general.
is a high density of rock paintings in Namibia. The
most famous archaeological site is the Apollo 11 Cave,
containing rock paintings dating back at least 25,000
Bushmen (also called
San) are generally assumed to have been the earliest
inhabitants of the region comprising today's Namibia,
Botswana and South Africa. The bushmen were hunters
and gatherers with a nomadic lifestyle. The most important
part of their diet consisted of fruits, nuts and roots,
but they also hunted different kinds of antelopes.
Over time, many different ethnic groups of immigrants
settled in Namibia.
The far north - The Owambo and Kavango
Owambo, and the smaller and closely related group
Kavango, lived in northern Namibia and southern Angola.
Being settled people they had an economy based on
farming, cattle and fishing, but they also produced
metal goods. Both groups belonged to the Bantu nation.
They rarely ventured south to the central parts of
the country, since the conditions there did not suit
their farming way of life, but traded extensively
their knives and agricultural implements
Khoisan immigration - The Nama and Damara
about 2,000 years ago the original hunters and gatherers
of the San people were the only inhabitants in Namibia.
At this time the Nama (also known as Namaqua, Khoi-Khoi
or Hottentot) settled around the Orange River in the
south on the border between Namibia and South Africa
where they kept herds of sheep and goats.
Both the San and
the Nama were Khoisan peoples, and spoke languages
from the Khoisan language group.
In the 9th century
Damara (also known as Bergdama or Berg Damara), another
Khoisan group, entered Namibia. It is unclear where
they came from, but they settled in the grasslands
in central Namibia, known as Damaraland.
- The Herero
During the 17th century the Herero, a pastoral, nomadic
people keeping cattle, moved into Namibia. They came
from the east African lakes and entered Namibia from
the northwest. First they resided in Kaokoland, but
in the middle of the 19th century some tribes moved
farther south and into Damaraland. A number of tribes
remained in Kaokoland: these were the Himba people,
who are still there today. The Herero were said to
have enslaved certain groups and displaced others
such as the Bushmen to marginal areas unsuitable for
their way of life.
In the 19th century white farmers, mostly Boers moved
farther northwards pushing the indigenous Khoisan
peoples, who put up a fierce resistance, across the
Orange River. Known as Oorlans, they adopted Boer
customs and some spoke a language similar to Afrikaans.
Armed with guns, the Oorlans caused instability as
more and more came to settle in Namaqualand, and eventually
conflict arose between them and the Nama. Under the
leadership of Jonker Afrikaner, the Oorlans used their
superior weapons to take control of the best grazing
land. In the 1830's Jonker Afrikaner concluded an
agreement with the Nama chief Oaseb whereby the Oorlan
would protect the central grasslands of Namibia from
the Herero who were then pushing southwards. In return
Jonker Afrikaner was recognised as overlord, received
tribute from the Nama and settled at what today is
Windhoek, on the borders of Herero territory. The
Afrikaners soon came in conflict with the Herero who
entered Damaraland from the south at about the same
time as the Afrikaner started to expand farther north
from Namaqualand. Both the Herero and the Afrikaner
wanted to use the grasslands of Damaraland for their
herds. This resulted in warfare between the Herero
and the Oorlans as well as between the two of them
and the Damara, who were the original inhabitants
of the area. The Damara were displaced by the fighting
and many were killed.
With their horses
and guns, the Afrikaners proved to be militarily superior
and forced the Herero to give them cattle as tribute.
The last group to arrive in Namibia before the Europeans
were the Basters – descendants of Boer men and
African women (mostly Nama). Being Calvinist and Afrikaans-speaking,
they considered themselves to be culturally more "white"
than "black". As with the Oorlans, they
were forced northwards by the expansion of white settlers
when, in 1868, a group of about 90 families crossed
the Orange River into Namibia. The Basters settled
in central Namibia, where they founded the city Rehoboth.
In 1872 they founded the "Free Republic of Rehoboth"
and adopted a constitution stating that the nation
should be led by a "Kaptein" directly elected
by the people, and that there should be a small parliament,
or Volkraad, consisting of three directly-elected
European influence and colonisation
The first European to set foot on Namibian soil was
the Portuguese Diogo Cão in 1485, who stopped
briefly on the Skeleton Coast, and raised a limestone
cross there, on his exploratory mission along the
west coast of Africa.
The next European
to visit Namibia was also a Portuguese, Bartholomeu
Diaz, who stopped at what today is Walvis Bay and
Lüderitz (which he named Angra Pequena) on his
way to round the Cape of Good Hope.
Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier and
neither of the Portuguese explorers went far inland.
In 1793 the Dutch
authority in the Cape decided to take control of Walvis
bay, since it was the only good deep-water harbour
along the Skeleton Coast. When the United Kingdom
took control of the Cape Colony in 1797, they also
took over Walvis Bay. But white settlement in the
area was limited, and neither the Dutch nor the British
penetrated far into the country.
One of the first
European groups to show interest in Namibia were the
missionaries. In 1805 the London Missionary Society
began working in Namibia, moving north from the Cape
Colony. In 1811 they founded the town Bethanie in
southern Namibia, where they built a church, which
today is Namibia's oldest building.
In the 1840's the
German Rhenish Mission Society started working in
Namibia and co-operating with the London Missionary
Society. It was not until the 19th century, when European
powers sought to carve up the African continent between
them in the so called "Scramble for Africa",
that Europeans – Germany and Great Britain in
the forefront – became interested in Namibia.
The first territorial
claim on a part of Namibia came in 1878, when Britain
annexed Walvis Bay on behalf of the Cape Colony, confirming
the settlement of 1797. The annexation was an attempt
to forestall German ambitions in the area, and it
also guaranteed control of the good deepwater harbour
on the way to the Cape Colony and other British colonies
on Africa's east coast.
In 1883, a German
trader, Adolf Lüderitz, bought Angra Pequeña
from the Nama chief Joseph Fredericks. The price he
paid was 10,000 Reichmark and 260 guns. He soon renamed
the coastal area after himself, giving it the name
Lüderitz. Believing that Britain was soon about
to declare the whole area a protectorate, Lüderitz
advised the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck to
claim it. In 1884 Bismarck did so, thereby establishing
German South West Africa as a colony (Deutsch Süd-West
Afrika in German).
A region, the Caprivi
Strip, became a part of German South West Africa after
the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty on July 1, 1890, between
the United Kingdom and Germany. The Caprivi Strip
in Namibia gave Germany access to the Zambezi River
and thereby to German colonies in East Africa. In
exchange for the island of Heligoland in the North
Sea, Britain took control of the island of Zanzibar
in East Africa.
before Germany claimed South West Africa, German troops
had sought to occupy the big, sparsely-populated area.
Conflicts with the native tribes resulted, most significantly
with the Namaqua. Under the leadership of the tribal
chief Hendrik Witbooi, nicknamed "the black Napoleon",
the Namaqua put up a fierce resistance to the German
occupation. Contemporary media called the conflict
"The Hottentot Uprising".
The Namaqua's resistance
proved to be unsuccessful, however, and in 1894 Witbooi
was forced to sign a "protection treaty"
with the Germans. The treaty allowed the Namaqua to
keep their arms, and Witbooi was released having given
his word of honour not to continue with the Hottentot
In 1894 major Theodor
Leutwein was appointed governor of German South-West
Africa. He tried without great success to apply the
principle of "colonialism without bloodshed".
The protection treaty did have the effect of stabilising
the situation but pockets of rebellion persisted,
and were put down by an elite German regiment Schutztruppe,
while real peace was never achieved between the colonialists
and the natives.
Being the only
German colony considered suitable for white settlement
at the time, Namibia attracted a large influx of German
settlers. In 1903 there were 3,700 Germans living
in the area, and by 1910 their number had increased
to 13,000. Another reason for German settlement was
the discovery of diamonds in 1908. Diamond production
continues to be a very important part of Namibia's
The settlers were
encouraged by the government to appropriate land from
the natives, and forced labour – hard to distinguish
from slavery – was used. As a result, relations
between the German settlers and the natives deteriorated.
and Namaqua wars
The ongoing local rebellions escalated in 1904 into
the Herero and Namaqua Wars of 1904-1908, when the
Herero attacked remote farms on the countryside, killing
approximately 150 Germans.
outbreak of rebellion was considered to be a result
of Theodor Leutwein's softer tactics, and he was replaced
by the more notorious General Lothar von Trotha.
In the beginning
of the war the Herero, under the leadership of chief
Samuel Maharero had the upper hand. With good knowledge
of the terrain they had little problem in defending
themselves against the Schutztruppe (initially numbering
Soon the Namaqua
people joined the war, again under the leadership
of Hendrik Witbooi.
To cope with the
situation, Germany sent 14,000 additional troops who
soon crushed the rebellion in the Battle of Waterberg
in 1905. Earlier von Trotha issued an appeal to Herero
people, denying them citizenship rights, and ordering
them to leave the country or be killed. In order to
escape, the Herero retreated into the waterless Omaheke
region, a western arm of the Kalahari Desert, where
many of them died of thirst. The German forces guarded
every water source and were given orders to shoot
any Herero on sight. Only a few Herero managed to
escape into neighbouring British territories. These
tragic events, known as the Herero Genocide, resulted
in the death of approximately 65,000 Herero (80 percent
of the total population), and 10,000 Namaqua (50 percent
of the total population).
South African rule 1915-1966
In 1915, during World War I, South Africa, being a
member of the British Commonwealth and a former British
colony, occupied the German colony of South-West Africa.
On December 17,
1920, South Africa undertook administration of South-West
Africa under the terms of Article 22 of the Covenant
of the League of Nations and a Class C Mandate agreement
by the League Council. The Class C mandate, supposed
to be used for the least developed territories, gave
South Africa full power of administration and legislation
over the territory, but required that South Africa
promote the material and moral well-being and social
progress of the people.
Following the League's
supersession by the United Nations in 1946, South
Africa refused to surrender its earlier mandate to
be replaced by a United Nations Trusteeship agreement,
requiring closer international monitoring of the territory's
administration. Although the South African government
wanted to incorporate 'South-West Africa' into its
territory, it never officially did so, although it
was administered as the de facto 'fifth province',
with the white minority having representation in the
whites-only Parliament of South Africa.
During the 1960s,
as the European powers granted independence to their
colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure
mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia, which
was then South-West Africa. On the dismissal (1966)
by the International Court of Justice of a complaint
brought by Ethiopia and Liberia against South Africa's
continued presence in the territory, the U.N. General
Assembly revoked South Africa's mandate.
for independence 1966-1990
Also in 1966, the South-West Africa People's Organisation
(SWAPO) began guerrilla attacks on South Africa, infiltrating
the territory from bases in Zambia. After Angola became
independent in 1975, SWAPO established bases in the
southern part of the country. Hostilities intensified
over the years, especially in Ovamboland.
In a 1971 advisory
opinion, the International Court of Justice upheld
UN authority over Namibia, determining that the South
African presence in Namibia was illegal and that South
Africa therefore was obliged to withdraw its administration
from Namibia immediately. The Court also advised UN
member states to refrain from implying legal recognition
or assistance to the South African presence
International pressure for independence
In 1977, Western members of the UN Security Council,
including Canada, France, the West Germany, the United
Kingdom, and the United States (known as the Western
Contact Group), launched a joint diplomatic effort
to bring an internationally acceptable transition
to independence for Namibia. Their efforts led to
the presentation in April 1978 of Security Council
Resolution 435 for settling the Namibian problem.
The proposal, known as the UN Plan, was worked out
after lengthy consultations with South Africa, the
front-line states (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe), SWAPO, UN officials, and the
Western Contact Group. It called for the holding of
elections in Namibia under UN supervision and control,
the cessation of all hostile acts by all parties,
and restrictions on the activities of South African
and Namibian military, paramilitary, and police.
South Africa agreed
to cooperate in achieving the implementation of Resolution
435. Nonetheless, in December 1978, in defiance of
the UN proposal, it unilaterally held elections in
Namibia which were boycotted by SWAPO and a few other
political parties. South Africa continued to administer
Namibia through its installed multiracial coalitions.
Negotiations after 1978 focused on issues such as
supervision of elections connected with the implementation
of the UN Plan.
the 1966-88 period, seven UN Commissioners for Namibia
were appointed. South Africa refused to recognize
any of these United Nations appointees. Nevertheless
discussions proceeded with UN Commissioner for Namibia
N°5 Martti Ahtisaari who played a key role in
getting the Constitutional Principles agreed in 1982
by the front-line states, SWAPO, and the Western Contact
Group. This agreement created the framework for Namibia's
democratic constitution. The US Government's role
as mediator was both critical and disputed throughout
the period, one example being the intense efforts
in 1984 to obtain withdrawal of the South African
Defence Force (SADF) from southern Angola. The so-called
Constructive Engagement by US diplomatic interests
was viewed negatively by those who supported internationally
recognised independence, while to others US policy
seemed to be aimed more towards restraining Soviet-Cuban
influence in Angola and linking that to the issue
of Namibian independence. In addition, US moves seemed
to encourage the South Africans to delay independence
by taking initiatives that would keep the Soviets-Cubans
in Angola, such as dominating large tracts of southern
Angola militarily while at the same time providing
surrogate forces for the Angolan opposition movement,
UNITA. Finally, in 1987 when prospects for Namibian
independence seemed to be improving, the seventh UN
Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson was appointed.
Upon South Africa's relinquishing control of Namibia,
Commissioner Carlsson's role would be to administer
the country, formulate its framework constitution,
and organize free and fair elections based upon a
non-racial universal franchise.
In May 1988, a US
mediation team – headed by Chester A. Crocker,
US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
– brought negotiators from Angola, Cuba, and
South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union
together in London. Intense diplomatic maneuvering
characterized the next 7 months, as the parties worked
out agreements to bring peace to the region and make
possible the implementation of UN Security Council
Resolution 435 (UNSCR 435). At the Reagan/Gorbachev
summit on September 29, 1988 it was agreed that Cuban
troops would be withdrawn from Angola, and Soviet
military aid would cease, as soon as South Africa
withdrew from Namibia. Agreements to give effect to
these decisions were drawn up for signature at UN
headquarters in New York in December 1988. Cuba, South
Africa, and the People's Republic of Angola agreed
to a total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. This
agreement known as the Brazzaville Protocol established
a Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC), with the United
States and the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee
implementation of the accords. A bilateral agreement
between Cuba and Angola was signed at UN headquarters
in New York City on December 22, 1988. On the same
day, a tripartite agreement between Angola, Cuba and
South Africa was signed whereby South Africa agreed
to hand control of Namibia to the United Nations.
(Tragically, UN Commissioner N°7 Bernt Carlsson
was not present at the signing ceremony. He was killed
on flight Pan Am 103 which exploded over Lockerbie,
Scotland on December 21, 1988 en route from London
to New York. South African foreign minister, Pik Botha,
and an official delegation of 22 had a lucky escape.
Their booking on Pan Am 103 was cancelled at the last
minute and Pik Botha, together with a smaller delegation,
caught the earlier Pan Am 101 flight to New York.)
UNSCR 435 officially started on April 1, 1989, when
the South African-appointed Administrator General,
Louis Pienaar, began the territory's transition to
independence. Former UN Commissioner N°5 and now
UN Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari arrived
in Windhoek in April 1989 to head the UN Transition
Assistance Group's (UNTAG) observer mission.
The transition got
off to a shaky start because, contrary to SWAPO President
Sam Nujoma's written assurances to the UN Secretary
General to abide by a cease-fire and repatriate only
unarmed Namibians, it was alleged that approximately
2,000 armed members of the People's Liberation Army
of Namibia (PLAN) SWAPO's military wing, crossed the
border from Angola in an apparent attempt to establish
a military presence in northern Namibia. UNTAG's Martti
Ahtisaari took advice from British Prime Minister,
Margaret Thatcher, who was visiting Southern Africa
at the time, and authorized a limited contingent of
South African troops to aid the South West African
police in restoring order. A period of intense fighting
followed, during which 375 PLAN fighters were killed.
At a hastily arranged meeting of the Joint Monitoring
Commission in Mount Etjo, a game park outside Otjiwarongo,
it was agreed to confine the South African forces
to base and return PLAN elements to Angola. While
that problem was resolved, minor disturbances in the
north continued throughout the transition period.
In October 1989,
under orders of the UN Security Council, Pretoria
was forced to demobilize some 1,600 members of Koevoet
(Afrikaans for crowbar). The Koevoet issue had been
one of the most difficult UNTAG faced. This counter-insurgency
unit was formed by South Africa after the adoption
of UNSCR 435, and was not, therefore, mentioned in
the Settlement Proposal or related documents. The
UN regarded Koevoet as a paramilitary unit which ought
to be disbanded but the unit continued to deploy in
the north in armoured and heavily armed convoys. In
June 1989, the Special Representative told the Administrator-General
that this behavior was totally inconsistent with the
Settlement Proposal, which required the police to
be lightly armed. Moreover, the vast majority of the
Koevoet personnel were quite unsuited for continued
employment in the South-West Africa Police (SWAPOL).
The Security Council, in its resolution 640 (1989)
of August 29, therefore demanded the disbanding of
Koevoet and dismantling of its command structures.
South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, announced
on September 28, 1989 that 1,200 ex-Koevoet members
would be demobilized with effect from the following
day. A further 400 such personnel were demobilized
on October 30. These demobilizations were supervised
by UNTAG military monitors.
The 11-month transition
period ended relatively smoothly. Political prisoners
were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was
repealed, South Africa withdrew all its forces from
Namibia, and some 42,000 refugees returned safely
and voluntarily under the auspices of the Office of
the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost
98% of registered voters turned out to elect members
of the Constituent Assembly. The elections were held
in November 1989 and were certified as free and fair
by the UN Special Representative, with SWAPO taking
57% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds necessary
to have a free hand in revising the framework constitution
that had been formulated not by UN Commissioner N°7
Bernt Carlsson but by the South African appointee
Louis Pienaar. The opposition Democratic Turnhalle
Alliance received 29% of the vote. The Constituent
Assembly held its first meeting on November 21, 1989
and resolved unanimously to use the 1982 Constitutional
Principles in Namibia's new constitution.
(According to The
Guardian of July 26, 1991, Pik Botha told a press
conference that the South African government had paid
more than £20 million to at least seven political
parties in Namibia to oppose SWAPO in the run-up to
the 1989 elections. He justified the expenditure on
the grounds that South Africa was at war with SWAPO
at the time.)
By February 9, 1990, the Constituent Assembly had
drafted and adopted a constitution. Independence Day
on March 21, 1990 was attended by numerous international
representatives, including the main players, the UN
Secretary-General and the President of South Africa,
who jointly conferred formal independence on Namibia.
Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of
On March 1, 1994,
the coastal enclave of Walvis Bay and 12 offshore
islands were transferred to Namibia by South Africa.
This followed 3 years of bilateral negotiations between
the two governments and the establishment of a transitional
Joint Administrative Authority (JAA) in November 1992
to administer the 780 km² (300 square mile) territory.
The peaceful resolution of this territorial dispute,
which dated back to 1878, was praised by the international
community, as it fulfilled the provisions of the UN
Resolution 432 from 1978 which declared Walvis Bay
to be an integral part of Namibia.
With SWAPO as the ruling party and Sam Nujoma as president
Namibia set out on its path as a newly independent,
democratic state in 1990. A number of questions and
issues have arisen in Namibia's political life since
Reelection of Sam Nujoma
Sam Nujoma won the presidential elections of 1994
with 76,34% of the votes. The only other candidate,
Mishake Muyongo of the DTA came a poor second.
In 1998, with one
year until the scheduled presidential election when
Sam Nujoma would not be allowed to participate in
since he had already served the two terms that the
constitution allows, SWAPO amended the constitution,
allowing three terms instead of two. They were able
to do this since SWAPO had a two-thirds majority in
both the National Assembly and the National Council,
which is the minimum needed to amend the constitution.
Sam Nujoma was reelected
as president in 1999, winning the election, that had
a 62.1% turnout with 76.82%. Second was Ben Ulenga
from the Congress of Democrats (COD), that won 10.49%
of the votes.
Nujoma was succeeded
as President of Namibia by Hifikepunye Pohamba in
Ben Ulenga is a
former SWAPO member and Deputy Minister of Environment
and Tourism, as well as High Commissioner to the United
Kingdom. He left SWAPO and became one of the founding
members of COD in 1998, after clashing with his party
on several questions. He did not approve of the amendment
ot the constitution, and criticised Namibias involvement
One of SWAPO's policies, that had been formulated
long before the party came into power, was land reform.
Namibia's colonial and apartheid past had resulted
in a situation where about 20 percent of the population
owned about 75 percent of all the land. Land was supposed
to be redistributed mostly from the white minority
to previously landless communities and ex-combatants.
The land reform has been slow, mainly because Namibia's
constitution only allows land to be bought from farmers
willing to sell. Also, the price of land is very high
in Namibia, which further complicates the matter.
President Sam Nujoma
has been vocal in his support of Zimbabwe and its
president Robert Mugabe. During the land crisis in
Zimbabwe, where the government by force confiscated
white farmers' land using violent methods, fears arose
among the white minority and the western world that
the same method would be used in Namibia. This has
not been the case so far.
in conflicts in Angola and DRC
In 1999 Namibia signed a mutual defence pact with
its northern neighbour Angola. This affected the Angolan
Civil War that had been ongoing since Angola's independence
in 1975. Both being leftist movements, SWAPO wanted
to support the ruling party MPLA in Angola to fight
the rebel movement UNITA, whose stronghold was in
southern Angola. The defence pact allowed Angolan
troops to use Namibian territory when attacking UNITA.
The Angolan civil
war resulted in a large number of Angolan refugees
coming to Namibia. At its peak in 2001 there were
over 30,000 Angolan refugees in Namibia. The calmer
situation in Angola has made it possible for many
of them to return to their home with the help of UNHCR,
and in 2004 only 12,600 remained in Namibia. Most
of them reside in the refugee camp Osire north of
Namibia also intervened
in the Second Congo War, sending troops in support
of the DRC's president Laurent-Désiré