History of Walvis Bay

Published on 5th June 2007

Walvis bay meaning “Whale Bay” in Afrikaans is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of Namibia. The town of Walvis Bay has a population of approximately 17,000.

The Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias anchored his flagship São Cristóvão in Walvis Bay on December 8, 1487, on his expedition to discover a sea route to the East via the Cape of Good Hope. He named the bay "O Golfo de Santa Maria da Conceição." The Portuguese did not formally stake a claim to Walvis Bay.

In 1840, during the Scramble for Africa, Britain, the dominant seafaring nation at that time, annexed Walvis Bay and a small area surrounding the territory to not only forestall Germans’ ambitions in the region but also ensure safe passage of British ships around the Cape. In 1910, Walvis Bay, as well as the Cape Colony, became part of the newly formed Union of South Africa. However, a dispute arose with Germany over the enclave's boundaries. This was eventually settled in 1911 and Walvis Bay was allocated an area of 1 124 km² (697.5 mi²).

The enclave was overrun by the Germans early in World War I, but South African Forces eventually ousted the Germans in 1915. Walvis Bay was then integrated into the new martial law regime established in South-West Africa. Later, South Africa was awarded control over South-West Africa by the League of Nations. Civilian rule was restored in South-West Africa in 1921 and Walvis Bay became an integral part of South-West Africa. Anticipating an imminent ceding of its control over South-West Africa, South Africa transferred power over Walvis Bay back to its Cape Province in 1971.

In an attempt to avoid losing control of Walvis Bay in 1977 to a possibly hostile SWAPO-led government, the then South African Government re-imposed direct rule and reasserted its claim of sovereignty based on the original annexation. In 1978, the United Nations Security Council provided for bilateral negotiations between South Africa and a future Namibia to resolve the political status of Walvis Bay.

In 1990, South-West Africa gained independence. A new nation, Namibia, was born but Walvis Bay remained under South African control. After independence the local business community and investors in Walvis Bay applied pressure on the South African authorities to resolve its political status. Sovereignty over Walvis Bay was formally transferred to Namibia on February 28, 1994.

Walvis Bay is home to a large population of flamingos and is an internationally designated wetland and a migration point for many thousands of sea birds and waders, including Arctic terns. It is also known as Walfisch Bay and Walvisbaai.

Walvis Bay is Namibia's most important port and the terminus of a railroad from the hinterland. Fishing fleets are stationed here, and the town has fish canneries. Salt is harvested here too. Kuisebmund Stadium, home to two clubs in the Namibia Premier League, is also located in the city.



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