Tracing the liberation of Namibia

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IN Namibia, a former German colony, a mere 20 percent of the population (mostly white settlers) owned about 75 percent of all the land.
In 1990, shortly after its independence, Namibia’s first President Sam Nujoma initiated a plan for land reform, in which land would be redistributed from white settlers to indigenous Africans.
By September 1994, legislation was passed with a compulsory, compensatory approach.
The land reform process was, however, slow, mainly because Namibia’s Constitution only allowed land to be bought from farmers willing to sell.
Also, the price of land is very high in Namibia, which further complicated the matter for indigenous people.
By 2007, some 12 percent of the total commercial farmland in the country was taken away from white farmers and given to black citizens.
The colonial history of the land of Namibia makes interesting reading.
It begins with Portuguese navigator-explorer Bartholomew Diaz who reached Walvis Bay, in what is now Namibia, in the year 1487; two years after the Portuguese navigator Diego Cäo had sailed north of the bay, into what is now Cape Cross, in 1485.
Diaz was on an expedition to discover a sea route to the East via the Cape of Good Hope.
However, they did not formally stake a claim to the bay.
In the long and bloody history of the colonisation of Africa, the European powers initially showed little interest in Namibia, owing to the desert along its coast, until the 19th Century when South West Africa (now Namibia), became a German colony in 1884, the first German colony in Africa in the face of strong British resistance.
In 1867, Britain had annexed two islands and in 1874, they were included as part of their Cape Colony, as part of the offshore territory known as Penguin Islands.
In 1883, a German trader named Adolf Lüderitz developed the bay into a trading station and renamed it ‘Lüderitz’.
He concluded treaties with neighbouring chiefs who ceded large tracts of the territory to the newcomers.
In April 1884, Lüderitz, believing that Britain was about to claim the area and form a ‘protectorate’, transferred his rights over the bay to the German Imperial Government.
The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck proclaimed a German protectorate over Lüderitz’s trading station and the surrounding area.
At the same time, he renamed the bay Lüderitzbucht (Lüderitz Bay). The location became a naval base for German South-West Africa – now Namibia.
The bay, indented and complex in structure, opens to the Atlantic Ocean in the West.
Lüderitz town is located in the southern shore of the inner eastern bay.
Named as ‘Angra Pequena’ in Portuguese, it opens towards the north.
Further west is Griffith Bay, a deep inlet stretching southwards in the southern part.
The German seizure of Angra Pequena in 1884 is one of the first incidents in Europe’s infamous Scramble for Africa.
The bay west of Angra Point is known as Shearwater Bay, currently the location of a proposed port for the export of coal from Botswana, among other goods.
Walvis Bay, known as ‘Ezorongondo’ by the indigenous Herero people, is the only natural harbour of any size along the country’s coast. Is a safe haven for sea vessels because of its natural deep-water harbour.
The town of Walvis Bay, situated just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, covers a total area of 29 km2.
Walvis Bay receives an average precipitation of only 13,2mm per year, making it one of the driest cities on earth. It has an average relative humidity of above
80 percent throughout the year.
The harbour’s strategic value in relation to the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope had caught the attention of world powers since it was first discovered by the outside world in 1485, that resulted in the complicated political status of Walvis Bay over the years.
The bay was developed by a succession of colonists seeking the resources of this strategic harbour settlement.
A dispute which arose with Germany over the boundaries, was eventually settled in 1911, when an area of 1 124 km2 was allocated to Walvis Bay.
The easternmost bay, named initially as Angra Pequena by Bartholomew Diaz when he first mapped the area in 1487, led to the dispute that arose between Britain and Germany from 1880 to 1885, and contributed to the strains which later led to the First World War.
The tensions between the autocratic German state and the more diplomatic British over Angra Pequena (Lüderitz Bay) resulted in important political trends during the late 19th Century with the growth of imperialism.
It highlighted the difficult diplomatic task of conducting negotiations between the two divergent ideologies as well as the conflicts within Britain’s different systems of colonial views.
Otto von Bismarck, until 1871 when he adopted a cautious wait-and-see-approach, had not thought of possibilities of acquiring colonies in Africa for Germany.
He was to send his son Herbert to conduct undercover negotiations in his battle to gain a foothold in Africa.
Initially, however, the Germans showed little interest in their newly-acquired territory and little commercial development occurred until the late 19th Century.
During the Scramble for Africa, the British occupied Walvis Bay and a small area surrounding the territory and permitted the Cape Colony to complete the annexation of the territory in 1884, following the initial steps taken in 1878.
The number of German settlers gradually increased until in 1904 when the Herero people rose in rebellion.
However, the Germans suppressed the uprising brutally, following which, the Nama people in Namibia began a guerilla war, but by 1907, they had been defeated again with great brutality.
Land, according to a 1895 imperial decree during German rule in South West Africa, belonged to the ‘Kaiser’.
The British, on the other hand, passed the Land Ordinance Number 3 of 1923, establishing a title deed system with prominence over customary tenure.
In 1910, as part of the British Cape Colony, Walvis Bay became part of the newly formed Union of South Africa.
In 1915, during the First World War, the South Africans captured the territory that had been overrun by Germans and quickly integrated it into the new martial law regime established in South West Africa.
After the war, former German colonies were ‘given’ to the Allied Powers – called ‘mandates’; thus, Namibia became a British mandate.
South Africa was later awarded control over South West Africa by the League of Nations (now United Nations), to administer the territory.
In 1921, civilian rule was restored in South West Africa and the administration of Walvis Bay was transferred to South West Africa under the South West Africa Affairs Act of 1922.
South Africa also sought to annex South West Africa itself and had presented such a proposal to the League of Nations.
The South West Africa Affairs Act of 1922 stated that: “The port and settlement of Walvis Bay, which forms part of the Cape of Good Hope, shall for judicial and administrative purposes be regarded as if it were part of the mandated territory of South West Africa.”
In 1966, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) began a long guerilla war to gain their independence.
In 1977, following increasing international pressure to relinquish its control over South West Africa, South Africa repealed the Act, but transferred control of Walvis Bay back to the Cape Province, thereby making it an exclave.
In 1988 the South African Government agreed to allow Namibia to become independent.
After a new Constitution was written, Namibia and its population of almost two million people finally became independent on March 21 1990.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For views and comments, e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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