Namibia Flag
Namibia Flag
Namibia spent much of the 20th century under colonial rule. As South West Africa, it was a possession of Germany. From 1904 to 1906 the Namibians rose against their German rulers. The rebellion was crushed, and most of the indigenous people were stripped of their land.

On July 19, 1915, the last German troops surrendered to the South African expeditionary corps at Khorab, and the South African military occupation of Namibia began. Namibia was seen as a valuable asset to whoever controlled it because of its mineral wealth and agricultural potential.

On December 17, 1920, South Africa received official approval from the League of Nations to rule Namibia under a “C” mandate. This type of mandate was designated for former German territories that were not considered to be likely to pass into independence in the foreseeable future. It led to decades of tension.

Although the South Africans publicly claimed that the mandate should be viewed as a position of great trust and honor, in practice it offered profits and advantages to South African nationals. For all essential purposes, Namibia had been annexed to South Africa, with the interests of Namibians subordinate to those of whites.

The South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), a Marxist guerrilla group founded in 1960, began fighting for Namibia’s independence in 1966. In 1966 the United Nations (UN) passed Resolution 2145, which revoked South Africa’s mandate and changed the country’s name to Namibia.

The UN brokered a peace agreement in 1977 in which South Africa accepted UN control over Namibia. Only in 1988, however, did South Africa agree to withdraw from Namibia. The new government held UN-supervised elections in 1989, which SWAPO won decisively.

Sam Nujomo, one of the leaders of the independence movement, became Namibia’s first president. After independence, the government pursued a policy of compromise with opposition groups and worked to address racial inequalities.

Map of Namibia
Map of Namibia

There is an extreme disparity between the income levels of blacks and whites. However, the living standards of blacks have been steadily improving, and the major economic resources in the country are no longer controlled exclusively by whites.

The country’s modern market sector produces most of its wealth, while a traditional subsistence agricultural sector supports most of its labor force. The principal exports are diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, lead, cattle, and fish. Ranching is still controlled largely by white citizens and foreign interests.

In other industries—notably mining, fishing, and tourism—the participation of indigenous entrepreneurs has been increased to provide economic opportunities for blacks. The unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent in 2000 primarily affected the black majority.

Namibia struggled to bring equality to its indigenous population. Racially, in 2005, black Africans made up 87.5 percent of the population, with white Africans numbering 6 percent and people of mixed race making up 6.5 percent.

By law, all indigenous groups participate equally in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocations of natural resources. However, Namibia’s indigenous citizens were unable to fully exercise these rights as a result of minimal access to education, limited economic opportunities under colonial rule, and their relative isolation.

Virtually all of the country’s minorities are represented in Parliament, in senior positions in the cabinet, and at other levels of government. The San, also known as Bushmen, are particularly disadvantaged. The government took numerous measures to end societal discrimination against the San. However, many San children do not attend school, making advancement difficult.

The future of Namibia remained in doubt at the start of the 21st century. The spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) held the possibility of devastating the country. Over 20 percent of Namibian adults were infected with HIV.

Additionally the presence of numerous refugees from nearby war-torn nations held the potential to drag down the economy and involve Namibians in cross-border conflicts. Desertification, land degradation, and wildlife poaching were likely to remain issues of concern in the foreseeable future.