History of Namibia

Published on 29th November 2005

Only few reliable sources are available on the prehistoric times and early human existence in Namibia. The oldest palaeontological discovery is the 12 million year old jaw bone of the Otavipithecus namibiensis, found in the Kombat Mine at Otavi. The first rock paintings were found in the so-called Apollo-11 Cave in the Hunsberg in southern Namibia. They are dated back to 26.000 B.C. The other Namibian rock paintings or etchings - for example those in Twyfelfontein - are younger. It is generally presumed that Bushmen lived in Namiba since about 3.000 B.C. In the 15th century, Bantu tribes of herdsmen moved from East Africa to the north and north-west of Namibia. The Himba stayed in the Kaokoveld, the Herero later moved further south, where they met the Nama who moved north from the Orange River.

The precolonial times until the beginning of the 19th century are characterised by the work of the missionaries. In particular the Rhenish Mission Society was very involved in the south of Namibia. In 1811, the missionary Heinrich Schmelen had a church erected in Bethanien. It was the first Namibian building built from stone. Many more mission stations and churches were founded, e.g. in Otjimbingwe, Okahandja and Gobabis. The missionaries were followed by merchants, scientists and adventurers.

In the year 1840 the Nama Chief Jan Jonker Afrikaner founded a settlement in Klein-Windhoek, an area with good water, and so the foundations were laid for what later became the capital city, Windhoek. The missionaries of the Rhenish Mission under Carl Hugo Hahn also settled here a little later.

The second half of the 19th century was rife with fierce battles between the Nama and the Herero, who fought over land for hunting and grazing that had - due to long periods of drought - become scarce. In 1880, the Herero under their chief Maharero, conquered Windhoek from the Nama. The last big war between Nama and Herero ensued for ten years.

In the beginning of the German colonial era it was very difficult to find settlers due to the ongoing war between Herero and Nama. The Schutztruppe, which had landed in 1889 in Walvis Bay under the command of colonel Kurt von François, initially only counted 23 men. Its main task was to mediate between the hostile groups. But the Nama - under their leader Hendrik Witbooi - resisted the new colonial power.

Only François\' successor Major Theodor Leutwein could negotiate a peace treaty with the Nama in 1894, which lasted till 1904.

Although the German Empire generously gave farmland away, the settling process took place very slowly. In 1897, a cattle disease broke out in the whole country and almost half of the cattle stock perished. The transportation sector, which then relied heavily on ox waggons, was devastated. Nevertheless, about 1000 whites settled in the country up to January of 1904. In this year, the Herero revolt under their chief Samuel Maharero broke out. He launched his revolt from Okahandja with 6.000 warriors and initially caused the German Schutztruppe heavy losses. Only after reinforcements and cannons were brought in and the blade General Lothar von Trotha had taken over command were the tides turned against the Herero people.

The Hereros were completely defeated in the Waterberg Battle in August 1904. The survivors - also women and children - had to flee into the arid Omaheke plains in the Kalahari, where many of them perished from thirst.

Just two months later, in October 1904, the Nama in the south rose against the German oppressors again, after having forfeited the historical chance to ally and combine forces with the Herero against the Germans. However, the fighting still lasted until March 1907 and ended with the signing of the so-called \"Schutzverträge\" (\"Protection Contracts\").

As a consequence, the colony \"Deutsch Südwestafrika\" started to flourish. Within a few years the number of settlers increased tenfold. And in 1908, rich diamond deposits were discovered in the vicinity of Luederitz. The mining industry also developed in other places, like Tsumeb and Otavi.

But the beginning of the First World War put an end to the young German colony. In 1915, the German Schutztruppe was forced to surrender near Tsumeb to the South African troups fighting for the British. Deutsch Südwestafrika became a protectorate of the Union of South Africa.

With passing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, German South West Africa was declared a mandate of the League of Nations under South African administration. Subsequently, German was displaced as the official language and although most Germans remained, 4000 left the country. South Africa encouraged Afrikaans families to settle in the country, especially in the south. In 1951, the oppressive South African Apartheid policy was extended to South-West Africa. With the implementation of the Odendaal Plan, homelands were established between 1964 and 1966 and Black people were forcefully resettled.

The United Nations withdrew the mandate from South Africa in 1966. South Africa refused to accept this resolution and to hand its control over the country to the UN. The SWAPO (South-West African People\'s Organisation) under the leadership of Sam Nujoma, then started the armed liberation struggle. Most of it took place in Ovamboland, at the Angolan border in the north-west..

The diplomatic turmoil between the UN and South Africa and the armed struggle of the SWAPO lasted for 23 years. On November 11,1989 the first free elections for the Constitutional Assembly were held. SWAPO won the elections gaining 57% of the votes. In 1990, the constitution was changed. Sam Nujoma became president and Namibia the 151st member of the United Nations.

In 1993, Namibia received a currency of her own. The Namibian Dollar (N$, NAD) is, however, equal to the South African Rand, because the two economies are closely linked.

Lastly, in 1994, Walvis Bay, Namibia\'s only seaport of economic importance, was handed over by South Africa; the last step towards independence of Namibia.  

Below is an analysis of Namibia according to The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:

Rank: 81

Score: 3.10

Category: Mostly Unfree

Population: 1,985,000

Total area:  825,418 sq. km

GDP: $4.3 billion

GDP growth rate: 2.7%

GDP per capita: $2,202

Major exports: diamonds, preserved fish, metal ores, food products, live animals

Exports of goods and services: $1.8 billion

Major export trading partners: UK 48%, South Africa 23%, Spain 15%

Major imports: transport equipment, chemical products, plastic products, refined petroleum products, machinery and equipment

Major import trading partners: South Africa 80%, US 5%, Germany3%, Russia1%

Foreign direct investment (net): $186 million

REFERENCES

www.etosha.com/culture.htm

www.namibian.org/travel/namibia/history.htm

www.electionworld.org/history/namibia.htm

The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal

 


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