Namibia

Map of Africa locating NamibiaMap of Africa locating Namibia

Namibia, a former German colony, is situated towards the north west of South Africa. The Orange River marks the border between the two countries. The country is about 800 000 square kilometers big and borders on Angola to the north and Botswana in the east. The Caprivi Strip, which stretches off its northern edge, extends between Botswana and Zambia. The first European that landed in Namibia was the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão, who came ashore north of Swakopmund at Cape Cross in 1484.

Parts of Namibia are notoriously dry and much of the country is made up of the Namib Desert and the Kalahari. Towards the north the country becomes greener with the Etosha Pan filling with water from northern rivers. This area is rich in diverse wildlife. The Skeleton Coast marks the area where the Namib meets the Atlantic Ocean and is littered with wrecks of ships that ran ashore in the treacherous waters, whalebone shelters used by the San and ghost towns that boomed during the early diamond days.

Due to its harsh environment Namibia is sparsely populated with various different groups. Its population is made up of San, Damaras, Ovambos, Namas, Hereros, Oorlams, Kavangos, East Caprivians, Rehoboth Basters, Kaokovelders, Tswanas and European settlers, mostly German.

The country is rich in natural resources and its main mineral products are copper, diamonds, gold, lead and uranium. The South African and Portuguese governments jointly developed the Kunene hydroelectric scheme in 1969. Fishing is also a prominent industry in Namibia, but exploitation of the rich marine resources led to the near extinction of pilchards and anchovies in the 1960s and 70s. Strict controls were put in place and the numbers of fish have steadily increased since then.

In 1885 the Chancellor of the German Empire, Bismarck, held a convention in Berlin where European powers divided Africa among themselves. This was called the “Scramble for Africa”. In 1886 the border between Angola and what would become German South West Africa was negotiated between the German and Portuguese nations. In 1890 the first German military fort was built at Windhoek and, in July of the same year, the British government also apportioned the Caprivi Strip to the Germans. This would give Germany access to the Zambezi River and its other East African territories, and it would give up its claims on Zanzibar.

The reason Germany selected Namibia as its “protectorate” was influenced by the fact that a tobacco merchant from Bremen, Franz Luderitz, bought up coastal land in the area in 1882. This resulted in Germany actively establishing itself in the African country by 1884. They occupied Herero lands.

Initially the Herero accepted the “treaties of protection”, but the Nama people resisted. In 1888 the Germans confiscated Herero lands and large numbers of their cattle. The aim was to turn South West Africa into a settler colony. In 1890 German soldiers attacked the Nama and by 1892, despite efforts by the Nama and Herero to put up a united front, they were crushed.

By the beginning of the twentieth century African resistance become the central theme under local leaders. German forces were still occupied in crushing the 1903 Bondelswarts Uprising and were hard pressed when the Herero rose in revolt in 1904. Once reinforcements arrived with superior guns German troops defeated them. The new German commander-in-chief, General Lothar von Trotha, ordered the extermination of all Herero people. Pursued by German troops they fled into the desert, into northern Ovamboland and into eastern Bechuanaland, or Botswana. While the German troops were destroying the Herero, the Portuguese launched a new offensive against the northern Ovambo.

In 1905 the Nama, who responded a band of guerrilla fighters. After a year of fierce fighting, Witbooi was killed in action but Jacob Marengo continued to lead the Nama resistance for a further two years. In 1907, the death of Marengo brought about the end of the war of resistance. Many of the surviving Nama and Herero were imprisoned or sent to labour camps. All the remaining Herero lands were confiscated and they were forbidden to keep cattle. Thereafter German policy altered to one of forcing the survivors into the workforce in order to develop the colony.

When the First World War broke out in 1914 South Africa agreed to participate in an assault on German South West Africa. Some Afrikaner Nationalists in South Africa opposed this. Led by Generals J B M Hertzog and C R de Wet they were against South African participation in the war against Germany and any attack on South West Africa, which they viewed as the colonial territory of a friendly power.

The Union Government, however, had military necessity and economic reasons to incorporate the territory into the Union after the war. These conflicting motives and ideals led to the South African Rebellion. With the suppression of the rebellion General Louis Botha launched South Africa's troops upon the conquest of the German colony and the British navy captured Luderitz Bay in September 1914, cutting off German supplies.

South African occupation started in May 1915 when General Louis Botha, first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, ordered 40 000 South African troops into the territory. Heavily outnumbered, the German forces were forced into retreat. The colony surrendered on 9 July 1915, bringing 31 years of German rule to an end.

General J C Smuts, a member of the British War Cabinet, put forward the idea of a League of Nations Mandate system for Germany's conquered colonial possessions. He did not intend this to apply to Germany's African colonies because he hoped to see South West Africa incorporated into South Africa. He was unable to persuade the Peace Conference to approve this and in 1920 he and General Louis Botha very reluctantly agreed that South Africa should administer South West Africa under a Class C Mandate from the League of Nations. The mandate purported to safeguard the rights and interests of the indigenous people. It was also obliged to submit annual reports to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission.

The hopes of the inhabitants of South West Africa for redress of grievances when the Union Government took over the territory were soon dashed. During the period 1922 to 1946 the indigenous peoples were allocated from 10,6% to as little as 3,6% of the budget. Even though about 6000 Germans left the country, grazing lands sequestrated by the German colonial government were not restored. Instead, pastoral chiefdoms and communities were dispossessed and almost half the territory was allocated to some 3 000 White settler ranches that were heavily subsidised. Some of these were given to about three hundred Afrikaners, descendants of Voortrekkers who had previously settled in Angola.

Until 1948 the highest authority in the territory was the Administrator of the territory, appointed by the South African Government. Only White settlers were allowed to vote for the Legislative Assembly and local authorities. A resident commissioner and magistrates administered the local inhabitants, issuing directives to chiefs and headmen. Four native commissioners exercised authority in Ovamboland. Black chiefs were treated as government agents who could be replaced or dismissed. Ovamboland was looked on as a labour reserve and very little development was undertaken there.

The greater part of the territory outside Ovamboland included White settlements and the mines. The Herero and Nama communities within this zone were allocated reserves. Expenditure on development of the reserves was curtailed in order to pressure the local people into seeking employment on White farms. This would develop contract labour and establish a migrant labour system similar to that of South Africa.

One incident in particular served to draw international criticism to South Africa. In 1921 the Union administration became involved in the suppression of the Bondelswarts, who, although living on the borderlines of poverty, managed to retain their economic independence by hunting, using dogs. To break this activity the tax on dogs was levied. In addition, their leader, Jacobus Christian, was arrested without proper cause.

In May 1922 the popular hero Abraham Morris, who had led the Bondelswarts resistance to the Germans in 1903, decided to come home with some armed refugees who had fled to the Union for sanctuary during the German occupation. Morris had served as a guide to the South African invasion forces, and had been given a gun in recognition of his services. The Bondelswarts were ordered to hand him over. Violence broke out when Morris' followers refused to surrender their guns. Although Morris agreed to hand over the guns, a fortnight later the new Administrator-General of South West Africa, G R Hofmeyr, and the Bondelswarts leader, Christian, failed to agree.

Hofmeyr ordered a punitive expedition. Smuts tried to restrain Hofmeyr, but failed, and the South African army with bomber support attacked the community, killing some women and children. With this, the Bondelswarts men openly rebelled, but they were soon completely crushed. Thereafter, and throughout the period that led to Second World War, South Africa was subjected to regular criticism by the United Nations Permanent Mandate Commission.

The United Nations (UN) was formed in 1944 and soon afterwards began trying to persuade South Africa to submit the mandate to United Nations trusteeship. Smuts made a determined effort to incorporate South West Africa into the Union of South Africa after the war. In May 1946 the White Legislative Assembly of the territory called for South West Africa's incorporation in South Africa and chiefs and headmen were also persuaded to petition for transfer of the territory to the Union. The South African proposal was opposed by the UN General Assembly, with India, already at loggerheads with South Africa over the treatment of South African Indians, leading the attack.

The liberal English clergyman, Reverend Michael Scott, and Dr Xuma, president of the African National Congress (ANC), provided evidence against South Africa on the grounds of racial discrimination. They had also received reports from the Herero and others that indicated that the local chiefs had misunderstood the petition and that many of them were, in fact, against incorporation in South Africa. Smuts refused to accept that the UN was the legitimate successor to the defunct League of Nations by refusing to register South West Africa as a UN Trusteeship Territory.

Dr D F Malan used Smuts' difficulties with the UN over South West Africa as a tool in his election campaign before 1948. The National Party (NP) intended to incorporate the territory into South Africa unilaterally, and to apply its racial policies in spite of world opinion. After the NP won the South African election of 1948 the new government refused to submit further reports on South West Africa to the UN because the mandate over South West Africa had lapsed, but they stopped short of open defiance of UN authority. In 1949, without incorporating the territory, the Nationalists ingeniously increased their majority in the South African Parliament by creating six new seats for the White population of South West Africa in the Lower House and four in the Senate. In this way it brought about effective rule over South West Africa as a fifth province, without UN recognition.

The UN challenged South Africa's actions in the International Court of Justice. The next year the Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion that South Africa's mandate to administer the territory should remain in force, but that as the UN was the League of Nations' successor, South Africa must still report to it. South Africa rejected the court's ruling and in 1954. South West African “Native Affairs” were placed under the direct control of Pretoria. Although it had withdrawn from the Trusteeship Committee, South Africa was persuaded to rejoin in 1957 for negotiations with Charles Arden-Clarke, the UN negotiator. When these failed, the period of resolutions condemning South Africa's policies began.

In 1959 riots broke out in Windhoek over the extension of urban apartheid to South West Africa, and the forced removal and resettlement of people from locations near Windhoek to one remote from the city. In November of that year the UN Assembly noted that South Africa was administering the territory in a manner contrary to the mandate, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice, and earlier resolutions of the UN Assembly itself.

The Trusteeship Committee required that South Africa revoke all apartheid laws that applied in South West Africa and it appointed a seven-nation committee to investigate conditions. In 1960 Liberia and Ethiopia applied to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the World Court, for binding judgment against South Africa. The South African government invited the chairman and secretary of the seven-nation committee, Victorio Carpio of the Philippines and Dr Martinez de Alva of Mexico respectively, to visit the territory. They arrived in 1962 and while they were in South Africa they issued a report favourable to it.

After leaving the country they brought out another report affirming that apartheid was being rigorously enforced in South West Africa and stating that South Africa did not intend to abandon its policies, and was not preparing the people of South West Africa for independence. Carpio repudiated the first report. At the time, Carpio and De Alva lost credibility, not only because the two reports seemed contradictory, but also because the South West African case was sub judice at The Hague. However, with the publication of the Odendaal Report in 1964, the substance of the second report was proved correct.

In 1962 the World Court decided that it had the power to judge the case and it rejected the South African argument that the plaintiffs, Ethiopia and Liberia, had no standing. The plaintiffs argued that the franchise in South West Africa was restricted to Whites. They said that inadequate educational facilities were provided and that the inhabitants had to use travel passes. They observed that political party and trade union membership had been banned, that the inhabitants were kept racially segregated, that certain jobs were reserved for Whites, that Blacks were excluded from the right to own landed property over large areas of the territory and that the administrator of the territory could force deportation of individuals without right of appeal.

The case dragged on for six years, during which time one judge died and a successor with different views was appointed who rejected the legal standing of Ethiopia and Liberia. South Africa narrowly won the case by eight votes to seven. This strengthened the determination of members of the UN General Assembly to end South Africa's mandate over the territory and to place it under UN control.

Rising political consciousness in South West Africa resulted in the formation of Black political parties. The South West African National Union (SWANU) was founded in 1962 and was active in central South West Africa for a time. Other small parties developed in the south.

Toivo ya Toivo and Sam Nujoma transformed the Ovamboland People's Organization (OPO) into the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 1960 and began training a guerrilla army. SWAPO gained the sympathy of the Black African states and through them the UN, resulting in the resolution of the UN Security Council that banned the sale of arms to South Africa. During 1966 SWAPO’s first military action took place in Ovamboland. Two years later SWAPO members were convicted in the Pretoria terrorism trial and their leader, Toivo ya Toivo, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.

This changed South Africa's political approach to a policy of separate development. In 1964 the Report of the Commission of Enquiry, which had been prepared in close collaboration with Dr H F Verwoerd, recommended that South West Africa be partitioned. The 1968 the Development of Self-Government for Native Nations in South West Africa Act laid the foundations for homelands. As in South Africa bantustans, later known as homelands, were defined for the various Black, Khoi, San and Damara communities. More than 50% of the land was to be reserved as a homeland for the White minority. This included most of the territory's mineral wealth and agricultural potential, and was ultimately to be absorbed into South Africa.

This scheme was furthered when the South West Africa Affairs Act of 1969 transferred many powers from the Territorial Assembly in Namibia to the South African Assembly. Lack of Black support in Namibia for these plans, especially in SWAPO-supporting territory, was demonstrated in 1973 by the very small poll in the elections for Ovamboland's so-called ‘self-government'.

In 1967 the UN Council for South West Africa was established, and subsequently renamed the Council for Namibia. Prodded by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) international pressure mounted against South Africa. The UN again tried unsuccessfully to take over the administration of the territory in 1967, and two years later passed a resolution that South Africa should terminate its administration over South West Africa.

South Africa ignored this and took the administration of the territory under direct rule in 1969. Although the UN Security Council endorsed the termination of South Africa's mandate with a declaration that South Africa was an illegal occupier of Namibia (Resolution 276), and although it requested sanctions against South Africa (Resolution 283), it was unable to do anything about it. It therefore asked the World Court for an advisory opinion on the consequences of South Africa's occupation.

In 1971 the World Court advised that South Africa's presence in South West Africa was unlawful. South Africa held that it was not bound by the advisory opinion of the World Court. A visit to South Africa and Namibia in March 1971 by, the Secretary General of the UN, Dr Kurt Waldheim, ended in a deadlock with Prime Minister Vorster. Further attempts to negotiate a solution to the dispute failed. To pursue their policy of partitioning the territory into a series of ‘independent' ethnic states the South African Parliament passed the ‘Development of Self-Government for Native Nations in South West Africa Amendment Act' in 1973. This provided for ‘self-government' in Ovamboland and East Caprivi. The UN responded by recognising SWAPO as the only lawful representative of the population of Namibia.

During the next two years South Africa deployed a large police and military force to the territory to protect White farmers in outlying areas from terrorist attacks, and to protect Blacks who had not joined SWAPO from intimidation. South Africa persisted in extending apartheid to Namibia in the face of all international opposition.

With the collapse of Portuguese rule in Mozambique South Africa's position was weakened on its eastern borders because Mozambique was taken over by the Marxist-oriented Frelimo regime. UN pressure increased. The Security Council threatened South Africa with expulsion if it did not recognise the territorial and national integrity of Namibia by withdrawing South African administration. While seeking to protect White interests, security and law and order, South Africa attempted to placate international criticism in an attempt to prevent a communist-backed SWAPO government from coming to power in Namibia.

It changed its policy of partition and sought to establish a federation of Black states in Namibia. The South African government hoped this would meet UN demands for the preservation of the national integrity of Namibians, while allowing Whites to retain control over the greater part of its resources. To bring this plan to fruition representatives of the various ethnic regions met at the Windhoek Turnhalle in September 1975 to work out a federal constitution based on ethnic states. Some of the social aspects of apartheid were abandoned. SWAPO and the UN rejected it.

In 1976 the South African Government stalled on giving Namibia unilateral independence because the Zimbabwe election, where Robert Mugabe's radical ZANU party won a resounding victory, had alerted South Africa to the likelihood of SWAPO sweeping to victory in Namibia. Mutual differences led to the collapse of the settlement attempt and arrangements for the elections were delayed under a variety of pretexts. The prolonged stalemate led to the establishment of an interim government, but the South African Government held back on pushing the territory into unilateral independence, maintaining it would allow UN-sponsored elections once agreement could be reached on the details.

In the meantime SWAPO stepped up its guerrilla activity and its political support in Namibia expanded. By 1981 a drastic economic downturn had occurred in Namibia. A general world depression had affected the prices of Namibia's chief exports, diamonds, karakul, copper, and uranium. Drought and terrorism had crippled cattle ranchers, and the fishing industry was at low ebb, due to over-fishing during the 1970s. Whites began leaving Namibia in increasing numbers.

South Africa, equally hard-pressed, was finding Namibia less profitable and its Namibian subsidies and defence of that country were heavy burdens. Friction developed between the Administrator-General of the Territory appointed by the South African Government and ministers of the interim government, which collapsed in 1983 with the resignation of Chairman, Mr Dirk Mudge and the Council of Ministers. Direct South African rule through the Administrator-General was re-imposed.

South African troops repeatedly attacked SWAPO bases in Angola and openly supported Jonas Savimbi's guerrilla struggle against the Angolan MPLA, causing the MPLA to call for more support from the Cuban troops. By 1983 as many as 20 000 South African soldiers were stationed in Namibia to combat SWAPO's guerrilla forces. Cross-border raids continued until a massive invasion by South African forces into Angola saw South Africans occupying wide areas of the southern part of the country.

Both sides gained breathing space when an agreement was reached in Lusaka. The MPLA Government agreed that South African troops would withdraw from Angola and stop supporting UNITA, while the Angolan authorities would prevent SWAPO establishing bases on their territory. The Angolan authorities were unable to eliminate the SWAPO bases and South Africa did not complete its withdrawal.

During the Carter regime relations between the United States of America (USA) and South Africa deteriorated. The Reagan administration supported South Africa in its insistence that Cuba withdraw as a precondition for any settlement that would permit UN-sponsored elections in Namibia. In 1985 a new grouping of anti-SWAPO parties was formed and the idea of a Multiparty Conference (MPC) to form a transitional government was put forward. There was still no sign of a withdrawal of South African troops from the territory for fear that a SWAPO-dominated government, backed by Communists would be installed. In 1987 and 1988 South Africa increased the number of troops sent to the border and stepped up attacks against SWAPO fighters in Angola. At the end of the decade, Namibia's future remained unresolved.

A Joint Commission, instituted in 1988 supervised the implementation of UN Resolution 435 for the independence of Namibia and monitored Namibian/Angolan peace initiatives. Independence was achieved after negotiations were conducted between South Africa, Western powers, the UN and the South West African Peoples' Organization (SWAPO). The settlement was signed in New York in December 1988.

The New York agreement led in turn to the Namibian independence election in which democratic principles had been inserted into the independence process by the Western powers. SWAPO won 57% of the votes, but as this was not an absolute majority, other parties also took part in the drafting of the constitution. It contained, in the words of Professor Gerhard Erasmus of Stellenbosch University, “a remarkable set of finely tuned checks and balances on the exercise of power”.

Six parliamentary opposition parties were supported by 43% of the electorate. In 1991 national reconciliation was still the watchword, capital was still largely White-controlled, and the fishing and uranium industries had taken a downturn. South Africa cut its subsidies and totted up a bill of R700-million, which it said Namibia must pay. At that stage it was still withholding Walvis Bay, Namibia's trade lifeline, but, by 1994, the city had been returned to Namibia. By then South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela's Government of National Unity, and the SWAPO Government had embarked on a policy of national reconciliation. SWAPO, having adopted a policy of caution concerning economic and social reform, was proving Namibia to be one of the most democratic states in Africa.

References

  • Howcroft