Namibia /nəˈmɪbiə/, officially the Republic of Namibia (Afrikaans: Republiek van Namibië; German: Republik Namibia (help·info)), is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. Although it does not border with Zimbabwe, less than 200 metres of riverbed (essentially the Zambia/Botswana border) separates them at their closest points. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March 1990, following the Namibian War of Independence. Its capital and largest city is Windhoek. Namibia is a member state of the United Nations (UN), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), and the Commonwealth of Nations.
The dry lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by Bushmen, Damara, and Namaqua, and since about the 14th century AD by immigrating Bantu who came with the Bantu expansion. It became a German Imperial protectorate in 1884 and remained a German colony until the end of World War I. In 1920, the League of Nations mandated the country to South Africa, which imposed its laws and, from 1948, its apartheid policy.
Uprisings and demands by African leaders led the UN to assume direct responsibility over the territory. It recognised the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) as the official representative of the Namibian people in 1973. Namibia, however, remained under South African administration during this time as South-West Africa. Following internal violence, South Africa installed an interim administration in Namibia in 1985. Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa in 1990, with the exception of Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands, which remained under South African control until 1994.
Namibia has a population of 2.1 million people and a stable multi-party parliamentary democracy. Agriculture, herding, tourism and the mining industry – including mining for gem diamonds, uranium, gold, silver, and base metals – form the backbone of Namibia’s economy. Given the presence of the arid Namib Desert, it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Approximately half the population live below the international poverty line, and the nation has suffered heavily from the effects of HIV/AIDS, with 15% of the adult population infected with HIV in 2007.
Main article: History of Namibia
The name of the country is derived from the Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world. Before its independence in 1990, the area was known first as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika), then as South-West Africa, reflecting the colonial occupation by the Germans and the South Africans (technically on behalf of the British crown reflecting South Africa’s dominion status within the British Empire).
The dry lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by Bushmen, Damara, Nama, and since about the 14th century AD, by immigrating Bantu who came with the Bantu expansion from central Africa. From the late 18th century onwards, Orlam clans from the Cape Colony crossed the Orange River and moved into the area that today is southern Namibia. Their encounters with the nomadic Nama tribes were largely peaceful. The missionaries accompanying the Orlams were well received by them, the right to use waterholes and grazing was granted against an annual payment. On their way further northwards, however, the Orlams encountered clans of the Herero tribe at Windhoek, Gobabis, and Okahandja which were less accommodating. The Nama-Herero War broke out in 1880, with hostilities ebbing only when Imperial Germany deployed troops to the contested places and cemented the status quo between Nama, Orlams, and Herero.
The first Europeans to disembark and explore the region were the Portuguese navigators Diogo Cão in 1485 and Bartolomeu Dias in 1486; still the region was not claimed by the Portuguese crown. However, like most of Sub-Saharan Africa, Namibia was not extensively explored by Europeans until the 19th century, when traders and settlers arrived, principally from Germany and Sweden. In the late 19th century Dorsland trekkers crossed the area on their way from the Transvaal to Angola. Some of them settled in Namibia instead of continuing their journey, even more returned to South-West African territory after the Portuguese tried to convert them to Catholicism and forbade their language at schools.
Namibia became a German colony in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck to forestall British encroachment and was known as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika). However, the Palgrave mission by the British governor in Cape Town had determined that only the natural deep-water harbour of Walvis Bay (Walfisch in German, Walvis in Afrikaans, Whale in English) was worth occupying – and this was annexed to the Cape province of British South Africa. From 1904 to 1907, the Herero and the Namaqua took up arms against the Germans and in the subsequent Herero and Namaqua genocide, 10,000 Nama (half the population) and approximately 65,000 Hereros (about 80% of the population) were killed. The survivors, when finally released from detention, were subjected to a policy of dispossession, deportation, forced labour, racial segregation and discrimination in a system that in many ways anticipated apartheid. Most Africans were confined to so-called native territories, which later under South African rule post-1949 were turned into “homelands” (Bantustans). Indeed, some historians have speculated that the German genocide in Namibia was a model used by Nazis in the Holocaust, but most scholars say that episode was not especially influential for the Nazis, who were children at the time. The memory of genocide remains relevant to ethnic identity in independent Namibia and to relations with Germany. Until today Germany fails to take full responsibility for its colonial past. For one reason because as a consequence Germany would have to pay relatively high sums of money as a kind of compensation. This would also be a precedent for other colonial powers.
South African rule and the struggle for independence
South Africa occupied the colony in 1915 after defeating the German force during World War I and administered it as a League of Nations mandate territory from 1919. Although the South African government desired 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, as well as electing their own local administration the SWA Legislative Assembly. The South African government also appointed the SWA administrator, who had extensive powers.
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 (along with a definite independence schedule). The Herero Chief’s Council submitted a number of petitions to the UN calling for it to grant Namibia independence during the 1950s. During the 1960s, when European powers granted independence to their colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia. In 1966 the International Court of Justice dismissed a complaint brought by Ethiopia and Liberia against South Africa’s continued presence in the territory, but the U.N. General Assembly subsequently revoked South Africa’s mandate, while in 1971 the International Court of Justice issued an “advisory opinion” declaring South Africa’s continued administration to be illegal.
In response to the 1966 ruling by the International Court of Justice, South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) military wing, People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, a guerrilla group began their armed struggle for independence, but it was not until 1988 that South Africa agreed to end its occupation of Namibia, in accordance with a UN peace plan for the entire region. During the South African occupation of Namibia, white commercial farmers, most of whom came as settlers from South Africa and represented 0.2% of the national population, owned 74% of arable land. Outside the central-southern area of Namibia (known as the “Police Zone” since the German era and which contained the main towns, industries, mines and best arable land), the country was divided into “homelands”, the version of South African bantustan applied to Namibia, although only a few were actually established due to non-cooperation by most indigenous Namibians.
After many unsuccessful attempts by the UN to persuade South Africa to agree to the implementation of UN Resolution 435, which had been adopted by the UN Security Council in 1978 as the internationally agreed decolonisation plan for Namibia, transition to independence finally started in 1988 under the tripartite diplomatic agreement between South Africa, Angola and Cuba, with the USSR and the USA as observers, under which South Africa agreed to withdraw and demobilise its forces in Namibia. As a result, Cuba agreed to pull back its troops in southern Angola sent to support the MPLA in its war for control of Angola with UNITA. A combined UN civilian and peace-keeping force under Finnish diplomat Martti Ahtisaari supervised the military withdrawals, the return of SWAPO exiles and the holding of Namibia’s first one-person one-vote election for a constituent assembly in October 1989. This was won by SWAPO although it did not gain the two-thirds majority it had hoped for; the South African-backed Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) became the official opposition.
Following the adoption of the Namibian Constitution, including entrenched protection for human rights, compensation for state expropriations of private property, an independent judiciary and an executive presidency (the constituent assembly became the national assembly), the country officially became independent on 21 March 1990. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia watched by Nelson Mandela (who had been released from prison the previous month) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state. Walvis Bay was ceded to Namibia in 1994 upon the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
Since independence Namibia has successfully completed the transition from white minority apartheid rule to parliamentary democracy. Multiparty democracy was introduced and has been maintained, with local, regional and national elections held regularly. Several registered political parties are active and represented in the National Assembly, although Swapo Party has won every election since independence. The transition from the 15-year rule of President Sam Nujoma to his successor, Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2005 went smoothly.
Namibian government has promoted a policy of national reconciliation and issued an amnesty for those who had fought on either side during the liberation war. The civil war in Angola had a limited impact on Namibians living in the north of the country. In 1998, Namibia Defence Force (NDF) troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) contingent. In August 1999, a secessionist attempt in the northeastern Caprivi region was successfully quashed.
Geography and climate
Sand dunes in the Namib Desert, Namibia
Main article: Geography of Namibia
At 825,418 km2 (318,696 sq mi), Namibia is the world’s thirty-fourth largest country (after Venezuela). It lies mostly between latitudes 17° and 29°S (a small area is north of 17°), and longitudes 11° and 26°E.
Being situated between the Namib and the Kalahari deserts, Namibia is the country with the least rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Namibian landscape consists generally of five geographical areas, each with characteristic abiotic conditions and vegetation with some variation within and overlap between them: the Central Plateau, the Namib Desert, the Great Escarpment, the Bushveld, and the Kalahari Desert.
The Central Plateau runs from north to south, bordered by the Skeleton Coast to the northwest, the Namib Desert and its coastal plains to the southwest, the Orange River to the south, and the Kalahari Desert to the east. The Central Plateau is home to the highest point in Namibia at Königstein elevation 2,606 meters (8,550 ft). Within the wide, flat Central Plateau is the majority of Namibia’s population and economic activity. Windhoek, the nation’s capital, is located here, as well as most of the arable land. Although arable land accounts for only 1% of Namibia, nearly half of the population is employed in agriculture.
The abiotic conditions here are similar to those found along the Escarpment; however the topographic complexity is reduced. Summer temperatures in the area can reach 40 °C (104 °F), and frosts are common in the winter.
The Namib Desert is a broad expanse of hyper-arid gravel plains and dunes that stretches along Namibia’s entire coastline. It varies between 100 to many hundreds of kilometres in width. Areas within the Namib include the Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld in the north and the extensive Namib Sand Sea along the central coast. The sands that make up the sand sea result from processes of erosion that take place in the Orange River valley and areas further to the south. As sand-laden waters drop their suspended loads into the Atlantic, onshore currents deposit them along the shore. The prevailing south west winds then pick up and redeposit the sand in the form of massive dunes in the widespread sand sea, forming the largest sand dunes in the world. In areas where the supply of sand is reduced because of the inability of the sand to cross riverbeds, the winds also scour the land to form large gravel plains. In many areas of the Namib Desert there is little vegetation aside from lichens found in the gravel plains and in dry river beds where plants can access subterranean water.
The Great Escarpment swiftly rises to over 2,000 meters (6,562 ft). Average temperatures and temperature ranges increase further inland from the cold Atlantic waters, while the lingering coastal fogs slowly diminish. Although the area is rocky with poorly developed soils, it is nonetheless significantly more productive than the Namib Desert. As summer winds are forced over the Escarpment, moisture is extracted as precipitation. The water, along with rapidly changing topography, is responsible for the creation of microhabitats which offer a wide range of organisms, many of them endemic. Vegetation along the escarpment varies in both form and density, with community structure ranging from dense woodlands to more shrubby areas with scattered trees. A number of Acacia species are found here, as well as grasses and other shrubby vegetation.
The Bushveld is found in north eastern Namibia along the Angolan border and in the Caprivi Strip which is the vestige of a narrow corridor demarcated for the German Empire to access the Zambezi River. The area receives a significantly greater amount of precipitation than the rest of the country, averaging around 400 mm (15.7 in) per year. Temperatures are also cooler and more moderate, with approximate seasonal variations of between 10 and 30 °C (50 and 86 °F). The area is generally flat and the soils sandy, limiting their ability to retain water. Located adjacent to the Bushveld in north-central Namibia is one of nature’s most spectacular features: the Etosha Pan. For most of the year it is a dry, saline wasteland, but during the wet season, it forms a shallow lake covering more than 6,000 square kilometres (2,317 sq mi). The area is ecologically important and vital to the huge numbers of birds and animals from the surrounding savannah that gather in the region as summer drought forces them to the scattered waterholes that ring the pan. The Bushveld area has been demarcated by the World Wildlife Fund as part of the Angolan Mopane woodlands ecoregion, which extends north across the Cunene River into neighbouring Angola.
The Kalahari Desert, an arid region shared with South Africa and Botswana, is one of Namibia’s well-known geographical features. The Kalahari, while popularly known as a desert, has a variety of localized environments, including some verdant and technically non-desert areas. One of these, known as the Succulent Karoo, is home to over 5,000 species of plants, nearly half of them endemic; fully one-third of the world’s succulents are found in the Karoo.
The reason behind this high productivity and endemism may be the relatively stable nature of precipitation. The Karoo does not experience drought on a regular basis, so even though the area is technically desert, regular winter rains provide enough moisture to support the region’s interesting plant community. Another feature of the Kalahari, indeed many parts of Namibia, are inselbergs, isolated mountains that create micro-climates and habitat for organisms not adapted to life in the surrounding desert matrix.
Namibia’s Coastal Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world. Its sand dunes, created by the strong onshore winds, are the highest in the world.
The Namib Desert and the Namib-Naukluft National Park are located here. The Namibian coastal deserts are one of the richest sources of diamonds on earth. The area is divided into the northern Skeleton Coast and the southern Diamond Coast. Because of the location of the shoreline — at the point where the Atlantic’s cold water reaches Africa — there is often extremely dense fog.
Sandy beach composes 54% of the shoreline, and mixed sand and rock form another 28%. Only 16% of the total length is rocky shoreline. The coastal plains are “dune fields”, gravel plains covered with lichen and some scattered salt pans. Near the coast there are areas where the dunes are vegetated with hammocks. Namibia has rich coastal and marine resources that remain largely unexplored.
Namibia has the second-lowest population density of any sovereign country, after Mongolia. The majority of the Namibian population is of Bantu-speaking origin – mostly of the Ovambo ethnicity, which forms about half of the population – residing mainly in the north of the country, although many are now resident in towns throughout Namibia. Other ethnic groups are the Herero and Himba people, who speak a similar language, and the Damara, who speak the same “click” language as the Nama.
In addition to the Bantu majority, there are large groups of Khoisan (such as Nama and Bushmen), who are descendants of the original inhabitants of Southern Africa. The country also contains some descendants of refugees from Angola. There are also two smaller groups of people with mixed racial origins, called “Coloureds” and “Basters”, who together make up 6.6% (with the Coloureds outnumbering the Basters two to one). There is a large Chinese minority in Namibia.
Whites (mainly of Afrikaner, German, British and Portuguese) make up about 6.4% of the population; they form the second-largest population of European ancestry, both in terms of percentage and actual numbers, in Sub-Saharan Africa after that of South Africa. Most Namibian whites and nearly all those of mixed race speak Afrikaans and share similar origins, culture, and religion as the white and coloured populations of South Africa. A smaller proportion of whites (around 30,000) trace their family origins directly back to German colonial settlers and maintain German cultural and educational institutions. Nearly all Portuguese settlers came to the country from the former Portuguese colony of Angola. The 1960 census reported 526,004 persons in what was then South-West Africa, including 73,464 whites (14%).
Namibia conducts a census every ten years. After independence the first Population and Housing Census was carried out in 1991, further rounds followed in 2001 and 2011. The data collection method is to count every person resident in Namibia on the census reference night, wherever they happen to be. This is called the de facto method. For enumeration purposes the country is demarcated into 4,042 enumeration areas. These areas do not overlap with constituency boundaries in order to get reliable data for election purposes as well.
The 2011 Population and Housing Census counted 2,113,077 inhabitants of Namibia. Between 2001 and 2011 the annual population growth was 1.4%, down from 2.6% in the previous ten–year period.
Religion in Namibia, religion per cent
The Christian community makes up 80%–90% of the population of Namibia, with at least 50% of these Lutheran. 10%–20% of the population hold indigenous beliefs.
Missionary work during the 1800s drew many Namibians to Christianity. While most Namibian Christians are Lutheran, there also are Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, African Methodist Episcopal, Dutch Reformed, Rhenish Christians, and Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
There are some Jewish people.
Although its official language is English, Namibia is a multilingual country as it is illustrated on these examples in English, German, Afrikaans and Oshiwambo.
The official language is English. Until 1990, German and Afrikaans were also official languages. Long before Namibia’s independence from South Africa, SWAPO had decided that the country should become officially monolingual, consciously choosing this approach in contrast to that of its neighbour South Africa (which granted all 11 of its major languages official status), which was regarded as “a deliberate policy of ethnolinguistic fragmentation.” Consequently, English became the sole official language of Namibia. Some other languages have received semi-official recognition by being allowed as medium of instruction in primary schools.
The northern majority of Namibians speak Oshiwambo as their first language, whereas the most widely understood and spoken language is Afrikaans. Among the younger generation, the most widely understood languages are English and Afrikaans. Both Afrikaans and English are used primarily as a second language reserved for public communication, but small first-language groups exist throughout the country.
While the official language is English, most of the white population speaks either German or Afrikaans. Even today, 90 years after the end of the German colonial era, the German language plays a leading role as a commercial language. Afrikaans is spoken by 60% of the white community, German is spoken by 32%, English is spoken by 7% and Portuguese by 1%. Geographical proximity to Portuguese-speaking Angola explains the relatively high number of lusophones; in 2011 these were estimated to be 100,000, or 4–5% of the total population.