Nomadic people who have lived in the area
that is Namibia for thousands of years have been joined
by immigrant Bantu people from the 1300s. Europeans came
in the 19th century. Most of the area was a German
colony from 1884 to 1915. Rebellion against the
hard-headed German government in 1904 led to a genocide
of mainly herero. After the First World War, the country
was managed by South Africa, which introduced apartheid
(racial segregation). In 1966 the resistance movement
took Swapo to arms and in 1990 the independent Namibia
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Namibia, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Namibia has been inhabited by indigenous people
(bushmen) since prehistoric times. They were wandering
hunters, fishermen and collectors. The San people were
eventually pushed out into the Kalahari desert by two
hunter people, khoikhoi (in Namibia called nama) and
damara, who settled in the central part of the high
Bantu people immigrated from the north and east from
the 1300s. Herero, who were livestock nomads, settled in
the northeastern and central parts of the area. Ovambo
(ambo) in the north became settled peasants with
livestock and formed small kingdoms on both sides of the
Kunene River. The related kavango people settled further
The area is colonized
From the end of the 18th century, Europeans began to
take an interest in the area. Traders and missionaries
came traveling after hearing rumors of diamonds. The
blacks were pushed away from the earth. In 1884, Germany
proclaimed a German protectorate, and at the Berlin
Conference in 1884-1885, Europe's great powers
recognized the colony of German South West Africa. The
Atlantic port of Walvis Bay on the west coast of the
colony was linked to the British Cape Colony in the
south. Through an agreement with the United Kingdom,
Germany also gained control of the Caprivi Strip (later
renamed, see Geography), a narrow land corridor that
provided access to the Zambezi River far east.
The Germans set up reserves for the black residents
of less than a quarter of the colony's area and denied
them access to important water resources. Herero, Nama
and other peoples rebelled, which was severely defeated
by the Germans.
After a decisive battle at Waterberg on August 11,
1904, the Germans defeated the Herero and persecuted
them as they then tried to flee women and children
through the Kalahari Desert to Botswana. The desert was
"blocked off" by the Germans shooting everyone who tried
to return home. Wells and water holes in the desert were
poisoned or cemented again, and most of the refugees
died of thirst and starvation.
In October 1904, what was called the first genocide
of the 20th century began, when the German general
Lothar von Trotha gave orders to exterminate all herero
within the borders of the colony. Between 1904 and 1908,
an estimated 60,000 herero and 10,000 nama were killed.
Thus, three quarters of herero and half of the nama had
been destroyed. Those who were not killed were sent to
After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914,
South African troops occupied the area. In 1919, the
League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations)
gave South Africa the task of managing the country.
South Africa was committed to ensuring the welfare and
social development of its inhabitants, but instead began
using natural resources and manpower. Land was
distributed to white farmers and the right to extract
valuable minerals was sold to foreign companies.
South African stewardship
The blacks were referred to live in special reserves.
By 1922, the reserve had shrunk to a tenth of the
country's area. They were overcrowded and extremely
poor. Many blacks had no choice but to become contract
workers in mines or on the whites' farms under harsh
After the Second World War 1939-1945, the United
Nations Confederation was replaced by the United Nations
(UN), which declared that South West Africa would be a
trusteeship area under the United Nations. But South
Africa refused to relinquish control. Instead, the same
racial segregation laws as in South Africa were also
introduced in Namibia. This meant, among other things,
that blacks and whites were kept separated in public
places such as restaurants, hospitals, trains, post
offices, public toilets, etc.
In the 1950s, blacks began to gather for organized
resistance. Several movements were founded, including
Opo (Ovamboland People's Organization)
and the hero- dominated Swanu (South
West Africa National Union), which encouraged civil
disobedience. Opo was converted in 1960 to the
South West African People's Organization (Swapo),
which in 1966 took up arms against South Africa's
The same year, the UN repealed the mandate of South
Africa. In order to strengthen the area's claim of
independence, it was given its own name: Namibia (after
the Namib desert). In 1973, the UN recognized Swapo as
the only legitimate representative of the Namibians.
Swapo was also strengthened militarily after Angola's
independence in 1975, when it became free for the
movement to establish bases there.
Swapo leads the liberation struggle
South Africa was now trying to set up a
friendly-minded government that could take over the
regime. In 1975 the so-called Turnhalle
Conference (of the German Turnhalle, which
means gymnasium; the conference was held in Windhoek's
sports hall) was initiated with the participation of
twelve delegations - one for each people group. The
white delegation dominated and Swapo was not allowed to
participate. After three years, the conference presented
a plan for an ethnically-based governance that was
rejected by the UN and Swapo. The conference
participants then formed the Democratic
Turnhalle Alliance (DTA, see
also Political system).
The Western powers put increased pressure on South
Africa, which after many trips agreed on a plan for
Namibia's transition to independence. In 1978, the UN
Security Council adopted Resolution 435, which included
cessation of fire, South African retreat and free
elections under UN auspices. But South Africa soon
defied the resolution and organized a election that
Swapo boycotted and that DTA won big.
From 1979, South Africa stepped up the military fight
against Swapo with regular attacks into southern Angola.
Towards the end of the 1980s, military efforts in
Namibia and Angola began to postpone South Africa's
economy. At the same time, the tension between the
United States and the Soviet Union made the superpowers
pressure the parties to reach a solution. In 1988 Angola
and Cuba agreed to withdraw the Cuban troops
participating in the fighting against South Africa, in
exchange for South Africa leaving Namibia. Swapo agreed
to a ceasefire.
In November 1989, UN-supervised elections were held
for an assembly to draw up a constitution for Namibia.
DTA went to election on a conservative program and
received support from blacks who were frightened by
Swapo's Marxism and by the dominance of the Ovambo
people within the party. Before the election, Swapo
began to downplay his Marxist profile. Its leader Sam
Nujoma promised, among other things, to abandon plans to
introduce one-party systems.
Swapo won the election with 57 percent of the vote
against 29 percent for DTA. Swapo did not receive two
thirds of the mandate, which meant that the party was
forced to cooperate with DTA in the drafting of the
constitution. It was adopted in February 1990 and
shortly thereafter Sam Nujoma was elected president.
Nujoma swore the oath on March 21, 1990 - the same day
that Namibia became independent.