The San are generally assumed to have been the earliest inhabitants
of the region. Later inhabitants include the Nama and the Damara or Berg
Dama. The Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero migrated from the north in about
the 14th century A.D.
The inhospitable Namib Desert constituted a formidable barrier to European
exploration until the late 18th century, when successions of travelers,
traders, hunters, and missionaries explored the area. In 1878, the United
Kingdom annexed Walvis Bay on behalf of Cape Colony, and the area was incorporated
into the Cape of Good Hope in 1884. In 1883, a German trader, Adolf Luderitz,
claimed the rest of the coastal region after negotiations with a local
chief. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Germany resulted in
Germany's annexation of the coastal region, excluding Walvis Bay. The following
year, the United Kingdom recognized the hinterland up to 20 degrees east
longitude as a German sphere of influence. A region later known as the
Caprivi Strip became a part of South West Africa after an agreement on
July 1, 1890, between the United Kingdom and Germany. The British recognized
that the strip would fall under German administration to provide access
to the Zambezi River and German colonies in East Africa. In exchange, the
British received the islands of Zanzibar and Heligoland.
German colonial power was consolidated, and prime grazing land passed
to white control as a result of the Herero and Nama wars of 1904-08. German
administration ended during World War I following South African occupation
On December 17, 1920, South Africa undertook administration of South
West Africa under the terms of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League
of Nations and a mandate agreement by the League Council. The mandate agreement
gave South Africa full power of administration and legislation over the
territory. It required that South Africa promote the material and moral
well-being and social progress of the people.
When the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946, the newly formed United
Nations inherited its supervisory authority for the territory. South Africa
refused UN requests to place the territory under a trusteeship agreement.
During the 1960s, as the European powers granted independence to their
colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa
to do so in Namibia, which was then known as South West Africa. In 1966,
the UN General Assembly revoked South Africa's mandate.
Also in 1966, the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) began
its armed struggle to liberate Namibia, in part from bases abroad. After
Angola became independent in 1975, SWAPO established bases in the southern
part of that country. Hostilities intensified over the years, particularly
in the north.
In a 1971 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice upheld
UN authority over Namibia, determining that the South African presence
in Namibia was illegal and that South Africa therefore was obligated to
withdraw its administration from Namibia immediately. The Court also advised
UN member states to refrain from implying legal recognition or assistance
to the South African presence.
International Pressure for Independence
In 1977, Western members of the UN Security Council, including Canada,
France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United
States (known as the Western Contact Group), launched a joint diplomatic
effort to bring an internationally acceptable transition to independence
for Namibia. Their efforts led to the presentation in April 1978 of Security
Council Resolution 435 for settling the Namibian problem. The proposal,
known as the UN Plan, was worked out after lengthy consultations with South
Africa, the front-line states (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe), SWAPO, UN officials, and the Western Contact Group.
It called for the holding of elections in Namibia under UN supervision
and control, the cessation of all hostile acts by all parties, and restrictions
on the activities of South African and Namibian military, paramilitary,
South Africa agreed to cooperate in achieving the implementation of
Resolution 435. Nonetheless, in December 1978, in defiance of the UN proposal,
it unilaterally held elections in Namibia which were boycotted by SWAPO
and a few other political parties. South Africa continued to administer
Namibia through its installed multiracial coalitions. Negotiations after
1978 focused on issues such as supervision of elections connected with
the implementation of the UN Plan.
Negotiations and Transition
Intense discussions between the concerned parties continued during the
1978-88 period, with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative,
Martti Ahtisaari, playing a key role. The 1982 Constitutional Principles,
agreed upon by the front-line states, SWAPO, and the Western Contact Group
created the framework for Namibia's democratic constitution.
In May 1988, a U.S. mediation team, headed by Assistant Secretary of
State for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker, brought negotiators from
Angola, Cuba, and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union together
in London. Intense diplomatic maneuvering characterized the next 7 months,
as the parties worked out agreements to bring peace to the region and make
implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435 possible. On December
13, Cuba, South Africa, and the People's Republic of Angola agreed to a
total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. The protocol also established
a Joint Commission, consisting of the parties with the United States and
the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee implementation of the accords.
A bilateral agreement between Cuba and the People's Republic of Angola
was signed in New York on December 22, 1988. On the same day a tripartite
agreement, in which the parties recommended initiation of the UN Plan on
April 1 and the Republic of South Africa agreed to withdraw its troops,
was signed. Implementation of Resolution 435 officially began on April
1, 1989, when South African-appointed Administrator Gen. Louis Pienaar
officially began administrating the territory's transition to independence.
Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari arrived in Windhoek to begin performing
his duties as head of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG).
The transition got off to a shaky start on April 1 because, in contravention
to SWAPO President Sam Nujoma's written assurances to the UN Secretary
General to abide by a cease-fire and repatriate only unarmed insurgents,
about 2,000 armed members of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN),
SWAPO's military wing, crossed the border from Angola in an apparent attempt
to establish a military presence in northern Namibia. The Special Representative
authorized a limited contingent of South African troops to aid the South
West African police in restoring order. A period of intense fighting followed,
during which 375 PLAN fighters were killed. At Mt. Etjo, a game park outside
Windhoek, in a special meeting of the Joint Commission on April 9, a plan
was put in place to confine the South African forces to base and return
PLAN elements to Angola. While the problem was solved, minor disturbances
in the north continued throughout the transition period. In October, under
order of the UN Security Council, Pretoria demobilized members of the disbanded
counterinsurgency unit, Koevoet (Afrikaans for "crowbar"), who had been
incorporated into the South West African police.
The 11-month transition period went relatively smoothly. Political prisoners
were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was repealed, South Africa
withdrew all its forces from Namibia, and some 42,000 refugees returned
safely and voluntarily under the auspices of the Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 98% of registered voters turned
out to elect members of the Constituent Assembly. The elections were held
in November 1989 and were certified as free and fair by the Special Representative,
with SWAPO taking 57% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds necessary
to have a free hand in drafting the constitution. The Democratic Turnhalle
Alliance, the opposition party, received 29% of the vote. The Constituent
Assembly held its first meeting on November 21 and its first act unanimously
resolved to use the 1982 Constitutional Principles as the framework for
Namibia's new constitution.
By February 9, 1990, the Constituent Assembly had drafted and adopted
a constitution. March 21, independence day, was attended by Secretary of
State James A. Baker III, who represented President George H.W. Bush. On
that same day, he inaugurated the U.S. Embassy in Windhoek in recognition
of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
On March 1, 1994, the coastal enclave of Walvis Bay and 12 offshore
islands were transferred to Namibia by South Africa. This followed 3 years
of bilateral negotiations between the two governments and the establishment
of a transitional Joint Administrative Authority (JAA) in November 1992
to administer the 300-square mile territory. The peaceful resolution of
this territorial dispute, which dated back to 1878, was praised by the
United States and the international community, as it fulfilled the provisions
of UN Security Council 432 (1978) which declared Walvis Bay to be an integral
part of Namibia.