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Independence - More than 300 Years of Resistance

Avatar of inke inke - 24. March 2017 - Discover Namibia

Resistance leader becomes president: Sam Nujoma is sworn in by Chief Justice Hans Berker on 21 March 1990. Photo: National Archives

It is January 1677. At the tip of Africa, where a supply station has been established at the foot of Table Mountain, the Dutch ship “Bode” sets sails to explore the coastline north of the Gariep/Orange river mouth. In early March the “Bode” arrives at Sandwich Harbour. The crew goes ashore but is attacked by the Khoisan who live there. After a brief skirmish the sailors retreat back to their ship and leave the bay. This was the first resistance by the inhabitants of today’s Namibia against European intruders and resistance continued for more than three centuries.

Adventurers, explorers, hunters and traders travelling north from the Cape began crossing the Gariep/Orange River in the late 18th century. Missionaries soon followed suit. Often they were in fact invited by tribal chiefs because they were seen to be attracting traders. Livestock was exchanged for European merchandise, most notably weapons, because Nama, Oorlam and Herero clashed repeatedly.

However, the European influence on the country’s fate began only at the end of the 19th century. In 1884 Imperial Germany extended its protection to a coastal strip in the southwest which Adolf Lüderitz, a merchant from Bremen, acquired from the Oorlam in Bethanie. In 1886 Germany and Portugal agreed on the northern border of the German protectorate.

Like all the European colonial powers, Imperial Germany wanted a cheap source of raw materials for its aspiring industrialisation, but the vast country was also interesting for settling. In the beginning of the 20th century local population groups rose up against German rule.

This first battle for independence (1903 until 1908) was lost, however. Herero, Nama and Oorlam were defeated by the technically superior Germans, some of their numbers were heavily reduced and they were now subjected to a strict regime. Most of their land was confiscated and sold to settlers.

The position of these population groups did not change much when South African troops invaded the country after the outbreak of the First World War and defeated the German colonial power in 1915. South Africa was granted a League of Nations mandate for the administration of South West Africa in 1920 and aspired to annexe the territory as its fifth province.

After the Second World War South Africa tried to maintain “white” minority rule over the country’s “black” majority with the apartheid system. In Namibia the relocation of people from the “Old Location” in Windhoek to Katutura in 1959 caused a violent rebellion. A total of 13 people were shot dead by the police. Three months later, on 21 March 1960, the massacre at Sharpeville in South Africa caused a worldwide outrage. Sam Nujoma went into exile and became the leader of SWAPO that had recently been established and took up the armed struggle through its military wing, PLAN. The first battle was fought at Ongulumbashe on 26 August 1966 (today commemorated annually on “Heroes’ Day”).

Now the power was no longer divided as unequally as it was during colonial times. Resistance fighters were equipped with modern weapons and received foreign support. In 1966 the United Nations withdraw South Africa’s mandate for Namibia’s administration and recognised SWAPO as representing the majority of the population. But the Cold War helped to sustain South African policies on the African continent as the West needed South Africa as an ally against communism.

The road to Namibia’s independence was paved when the collapse of the Eastern Block became imminent in the late 80s and South Africa realised that it could not win the battle against SWAPO by military means. In early 1989 the United Nations despatched an UNTAG force for to facilitate the transition. Sam Nujoma returned to Namibia in September and elections for the constitutional assembly were held in November. The assembly approved the constitution in February 1990 and chose Samuel Daniel Shafiishuna Nujoma as the country’s first president. Namibia, “Africa’s last colony” celebrated independence on 21 March 1990, 30 years after the Sharpeville massacre and 313 years after the skirmish at Sandwich Harbour.

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