PEOPLE OF NAMIBIA
Namibia has a rich ethnic diversity and cultural heritage. Inhabitants vary from hunter-gatherers, herders and farmers in the rural regions to semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled people, including traders, industrialists, civil servants and individuals providing professional services, in urban areas.
Notable examples of Namibia’s diverse cultural groups are Herero women in their distinctive Victorian-style dresses; the Nama and Damara who speak with intriguing click sounds; Himba women with their intricate hairstyles and ornamental copper necklaces and anklets; and the San (Bushmen), the last representatives of the hunter-gatherer tradition.
There are 13 distinct population groups in Namibia. Based on the latest official census (2011), the total population now stands at an estimated 2.1 million, having grown by 15% since the last census in 2001.
Spread over a vast surface area of 825 615 km2, with large areas consisting of desert or semi-desert with low rainfall, scarce water resources and poor soil fertility, the country’s comparatively small population has one of the lowest densities in the world. Growth rates in towns and cities are much higher than in rural areas because of urbanisation. The most recent official population census was conducted in 2011, with preliminary results out by March 2012. The detailed report will be released in early 2013.
Described by anthropologists as the modern descendants of the oldest population group in Namibia, the Topnaars are a hardy group of Khoesan people who have lived on the banks of the Kuiseb River for many years. It is said that centuries ago the Strandlopers, groups of beachcombers who lived a nomadic existence along the seashore, were among the Topnaars’ ancestors.
Today the Topnaars tend their sheep and goats in this harsh environment. Some members of the community work in Walvis Bay. The Topnaar people have many unique traditions and customs linked to their existence in the Namib. Belonging to the Khoekhoe people, they speak the Nama language with its guttural clicks and high musical pitch.
Central to the Topnaars’ culinary tradition is the !nara melon, a large, nutritious fruit that is endemic to the Namib and is said to have medicinal properties. The annual harvesting of the melons in the dunes south of Walvis Bay and the traditional methods of preparing them have survived and are practised to this day. Poems in praise of the !nara form part of the Topnaar culture.
Just under 80 000 people live in East Caprivi, which borders on Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.
Most Caprivians are linguistically related to the Lozi and Makololo of Barotseland in Zambia. The Valozi are the remnants of the Kololo Kingdom, established by Chief Sebetwane of the Bafokeng (originally from the Orange Free State in South Africa), who crossed the Zambezi River in 1838 and overpowered the Luyi. The largest Caprivian tribal groups are the Masubia and Mafwe. Other tribes are the Mayeyi, Matotela, Mashi and Mbukushu.
In Caprivian society the family is the most important socioeconomic unit. Families usually live in villages. Two systems are distinguishable in the social organisation. The Masubias are patrilineally oriented, while the Mafwe reflect distinct matrilineal features in their rules of succession. The form of government consists of hereditary chieftainships, one for the Masubia and one for the Mafwe.
Most Caprivians are subsistence farmers who make their living on the banks of the Zambezi, Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe rivers. Land is cultivated under a system of individual right of occupation as allocated by the people’s authorities. Grazing and veld products are used on a communal basis.
In addition to fishing and hunting, a significant but not exclusive element of the local economy, they keep cattle and cultivate the land. When the Zambezi and Chobe rivers come down in flood, more than half of Caprivi east of the Kwando may be under water. During this period Caprivians use their mikolo (dug-out canoes) to traverse the routes normally used by trucks and pedestrians.
THE REHOBOTH BASTERS
The history of the Rehoboth Basters goes back to the settlement of the first Dutch colonists under Jan van Riebeeck, who landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652.
European settlers came into contact with the indigenous Khoesan people. The children born from this association, whose mixed blood origins were obvious, were called ‘coloureds’ or ‘bastards’, giving rise to two culturally separate groups of people in Namibia.
In 1868 a group of some 90 Baster families moved to Namibia from the Cape. They first settled at Warmbad, then continued northwards, settling at a place 30 km north of Berseba. In 1870 they were finally allowed to settle at the hot-water springs called Rehoboth. In due course the Rehoboth Gebiet became the fatherland of the Basters and was recognised as such by the South African Government in as early as 1915.
Today the Baster community consists of approximately 55 000 people. Their home language is Afrikaans, and their way of life is similar to that of their Afrikaner forebears. The family is the most important socioeconomic unit and functions independently within the community. They regard themselves as a separate community from the Coloureds by virtue of their unique history and the fact that they have been living in their own territory for more than a century.
While they are traditionally stock and crop farmers, today many of them are involved in other economic sectors, especially the building trade. A large number of Rehoboth Basters commute to Windhoek on a daily or weekly basis. In the sphere of culture and religion they maintain a western way of life.
Today people of mixed descent are an integral part of most populations throughout Africa, but because of the nature of their descent, they are sometimes not integrated into any of the other cultural groups. This is also the case in Namibia.
One of the differences between the Coloureds and the Rehoboth Basters is the fact that the Basters identify with the Rehoboth Gebiet, whereas the Coloureds have never inhabited a specific part of the country, and were not allocated a ‘homeland’, as was the case with other non-white population groups during South African administration of the territory.
Namibia’s Coloured community, numbering just over 50 000, has its origins in the Cape Province of South Africa. Its members are mixed-race descendants of Caucasian, Malayan and indigenous Khoe and San people. For the most part Coloureds maintain a western culture and way of life. Like the Rehoboth Basters, they speak Afrikaans as a home language, although their accent differs considerably.
By and large Coloureds are well educated and practise a wide range of professions, including the civil service, education and especially the building trade. While a small group of Coloureds practise stock farming in the south of the country, most of them live in towns such as Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Lüderitz, Kalkveld and Karasburg. A fairly large community lives in Walvis Bay, where they are fishermen or have their own businesses.
The origins of the Damara people are an enigma to anthropologists. One of several puzzling aspects is that while they differ physically from the Nama and Hai||om people, they also speak the Khoekhoegowab language. Another is that although they are dark skinned, in most other respects they differ from other people of Bantu origin in Namibia.
Traditionally the Damara community consists of a number of subdivisions, called haoti. These are clusters of clans and extended families that were formerly concentrated in specific areas, consisting of about eleven sub-groups.
Before the arrival of the white settlers, the Damaras’ way of life was similar to that of the nomadic San insofar as they lived from hunting and veldkos.
There is also ample archaeological evidence that they kept small herds of stock, especially goats, for centuries. The small family group formed the nucleus of socioeconomic activities. At the heart of their religion lay the so-called ‘sacred fire’, associated mainly with their hunting activities. In addition, they practised small-scale horticulture, growing primarily tobacco and pumpkins, and mined and smelted copper, trading with articles made from copper and soapstone.
The Damara were ousted from their traditional areas by advancing Nama and Herero. In German colonial times they settled in the Okombahe environs. In 1973 an area of approximately 4.7 million hectares was proclaimed as Damaraland, with Khorixas as its administrative capital. Following independence, this area became part of the Erongo Region. According to the latest census (2011), about 150 400 people live here, 42 400 more than in 2001.
Nowadays rural Damara people cultivate corn and vegetables, while livestock production has become an important source of income. Many work on commercial farms; others in mines, with some making a living from small mining in the Erongo Region. A relatively large number are employed in urban centres as teachers, clerics and officials. Some of Namibia’s most eloquent and influential politicians are Damara, notable examples being former Prime Minister, Hage Geingob, and the speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, also a former Prime Minister.
The Herero are a pastoral cattle-breeding people who migrated to Namibia several centuries ago. It is believed that they formerly lived in a country with water and reeds, known as Roruu, before migrating further south. No one has, however, succeeded in tracing this legendary African marshland.
According to oral tradition, they moved southwards from the great lakes of East Africa, crossed into present-day Zambia and southern Angola, and arrived at the Kunene River in about 1550.
After inhabiting Kaokoland for some 200 years, a large splinter group led by Maendo migrated further south, leaving the Himba and Tjimba tribes behind. They reached the Swakop River valley towards the middle of the 18th century. During the 19th century they moved eastwards, eventually establishing themselves in the northern-central areas of the country.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Herero and the Mbanderu were still living in family units headed by an omukuru. The absence of a political structure can be attributed to the system of dual descent. A person’s status in the family hierarchy, the place of abode, and traditions, are determined by the paternal line, oruzo. Control and distribution of all movable property, on the other hand, is determined by the maternal line, eanda. The matriclans exert control over most people’s property, especially cattle, and supervise the application of traditional laws of inheritance. The localised patriclans, on the other hand, take responsibility for sacred objects and the holy cattle (ozohivirikwa), the exercising of authority in the family, succession of chiefs, priesthood, ancestral fires and the ritual food taboos.
The colonial wars and Herero German War of 1904–1907 resulted in a drastic decrease of the Herero population. Under General Lothar von Trotha and his infamous Vernichtungsbefehl (proclamation of extermination), a large number of Herero were wiped out. Left without land and cattle, the survivors practically disintegrated as a group. A large number fled to Bechuanaland (Botswana). When South Africa took over administration of the Territory in 1915, the refugees began to return and were gradually allocated home areas such as Aminuis, Epukiro, Waterberg East, Otjohorongo and Ovitoto.
Despite the suppression of their traditional culture, confiscation of tribal lands and the restrictions of labour laws, the remaining Herero managed to keep their bonds of family life, tribal solidarity and national consciousness alive, as is demonstrated by the annual Herero Festival on Maharero Day in August when various units of paramilitary organisations parade before their leaders in full dress through the streets of Okahandja.
Similarly the Mbanderu and the Zeraua tribes honour their captains at festivals in Gobabis and Omaruru respectively. In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the wives of the missionaries, Herero women developed the voluminous Victorian-style dresses that the more traditional of them wear to this day. The distinctive headdress with its two points symbolises cattle horns.
Today Herero-speaking Namibians number over 130 000. They can be subdivided into the following groups: the Herero proper, with the traditional chiefdoms of Maharero (Okahandja), Zeraua (Omaruru) and Kambazembi (Waterberg); the Ndamuranda; the Tjimba Herero of Kaokoland (Kunene Region); the Mbanderu, who live in eastern Namibia, especially in the Gobabis District and the reserves of Epukiro, Otjombinde and Omongua (known more commonly by the Nama name, Aminuis); the Himba of the Kunene Region (see below); and other smaller factions in northern Kunene and south-western Angola. Their language belongs to the Bantu group of languages.
The Himba, Tjimba and other Herero people who inhabit Namibia’s remote north-western Kunene Region are loosely referred to as the Kaokovelders. Herero in terms of origin, language and culture, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists who tend to trek from one watering place to another.
They seldom leave their home areas and maintain, even in their dress, a tradition of their own, on which other cultures have made little impression. For many centuries they have lived a relatively isolated existence and were not involved in the long struggle for pasturelands between the Nama and the Herero to any noteworthy extent.
The largest group of Kaokovelders is the Himba, semi-nomads who live in scattered settlements throughout the Kunene Region. Tall, slender and statuesque, they are characterised especially by their proud yet friendly bearing. The women especially are noted for their unusual sculptural beauty, enhanced by intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. They rub their bodies with red ochre and fat, a treatment that protects their skins against the harsh desert climate.
The homes of the Himba of Kaokoland are simple, cone-shaped structures of saplings, bound together with palm leaves, and plastered with mud and dung. The men build the structures, while the women mix the clay and do the plastering. A fire burns in the headman’s hut day and night, to keep away insects and provide light and heat. A family may move from one home to another several times a year to seek grazing for their goats and cattle. Men, women and children wear body adornments made from iron and shell beads.
Forming the border between Namibia and Angola for more than 400 km is the Okavango River, lifeline of the Kavango people, who make a living from fishing, cattle farming and cultivating sorghum, millet and maize on the wide fertile plains on either side. Closely related to the Owambo, the Kavango also originate from the large lakes of East Africa. Archaeological diggings place the arrival of early Kwangali settlers around the 1600s, although the VaGciriku, VaSambyu and Hambukushu might have arrived later. They first settled near the Kwando River in Angola, moving south of the Okavango River between 1750 and 1800.
Today the Kavango consist of five individual tribes, namely the Kwangali, Mbunza, Shambyu, Gciriku and Mbukushu, each inhabiting an area of its own along the southern bank.
The Kwangali and Mbunza tribes have similar social practices, such as preparing young boys for manhood and young girls to take care of a household. The two tribes speak the same language, namely Rukwangali.
The split between the Shambyu and Gciriku tribes occurred when they were settled on the southern bank of the Okavango River 47 km east of Rundu, opposite Rundjarara. The languages spoken by these tribes, Rushambyu and Rugciriku, are very similar. The Mbukushu, who speak Thimbukushu and live in the eastern part of Kavango, differ socially and ethnologically from the other four tribes.
Each tribe is ruled by a traditional chief or chieftainess, assisted by headmen. The chief has the overall ruling power over his tribe and custodial power over the land that falls within the jurisdiction of that tribe. Like most other groups in northern Namibia, the Kavango social organisation is based on the matrilineal system. This penetrates all spheres of social life, in particular family law, the law of inheritance and succession, the marriage system, political structure and traditional religious system.
The traditional economy in Kavango is based on a combination of horticulture (pearl millet, referred to locally as mahangu, sorghum and maize) and animal husbandry (cattle and goats). Today, thousands of young Kavangos work as migratory labourers on farms, in mines and in urban centres. An important local industry is woodcarving. Bowls, masks, ornaments, furniture and other functional items are produced for the tourist and other markets.
Much of the rapid population growth in Kavango has been the result of immigration from Angola.
The only true descendants of the Khoekhoe in Namibia are the Nama, whose ancestors originally lived north and south of the Orange River.
Eight Nama tribes were already living north of the river when Jager (father of Jan Jonker) and Jonker Afrikaner crossed it with the Afrikaner tribe. The Afrikaners and four other tribes represent the so-called Oorlam group, which entered the country during the nineteenth century. Pushed continuously northwards by a rapidly advancing white farming community, the Nama, led by the famous Jan Jonker Afrikaner, settled further north in the southern and central parts of the country.
Another important Nama chief was the nephew of Jonker Afrikaner, Hendrik Witbooi, who was an early resistance leader against European colonisation. His face is portrayed on the Namibian dollar note, and a statue, erected in his honour in the Parliament Gardens in Windhoek, stands among other statues of historical figures.
As pastoral nomads, the Nama traditionally had little need to build permanent structures. Their beehive-shaped rush-mat houses were ideally suited to their lifestyle. The concept of communal land ownership still prevails with all tribes, except for the =|Aonin or Topnaars, whose !nara fields are the property of individual lineages. Today most Nama live in permanent settlements. They have adopted western lifestyles and the Christian religion, and work within the formal economy.
The Nama have much in common with the San. They are comparatively light in colour and generally short in stature, with certain distinctive cha-racteristics, such as the women’s small and slender hands and feet. They also share their linguistic roots with the San, speaking with distinctive clicks. The Khoekhoegowab Dictionary with an English–Khoekhoegowab Index, compiled by Professor Wilfrid Haacke and Eliphas Eiseb, was published in 2004.
Traditionally the Nama are cattle farmers. Their socioeconomic unit is the patrilineal family group, which functions within the wider Nama group. The individual groups originally functioned separately under chiefs and councillors who sometimes united against a common enemy such as the Herero but often clashed with one another. With the entry of the Herero and their intrusion into the pasturelands of the Nama, a fierce and prolonged conflict arose between these two groups. The struggle was brought to an end by German colonial forces in the late 1800s, and home areas such as Berseba, Bondels, Gibeon (Krantzplatz), Sesfontein, Soromas and Warmbad were placed at the Namas’ disposal.
Numbering approximately 117 000, the Nama consist of thirteen tribes or groups. These are the !Kharkoen (Simon Kooper), |Hôa-|aran (also referred to as //Aixa-//ais meaning Angry Nation), =|Aonin (Topnaar), Kai//Khaun, Khauben (Rooi Nasie), |Hai-|Khauan (Berseba tribe), Oorlams (Vaalgras), //Haboben (Velskoendraers), Kharo-!oan (Keetmanshopers), //Khau/-gôan (Swartbooi), !Gami-=|n˜un (Bondelswarts), |Khobesen (Witbooi), //Okain (Groot Doders) and Kai|khauan or Gaikhauan (Lamberts).
Nama people have a natural talent for music, poetry and prose. An example of a traditional dance is the well-known Nama stap. Numerous proverbs, riddles, tales and poems have been handed down orally from generation to generation. Nama praise poems range from impromptu love songs and formalised praise of heroic figures, to songs of the animals and plants in their environment.
Nama women are highly skilled in needlework. Their embroidery and appliqué work, regarded as a traditional art form, consists of brightly coloured motifs inspired by the rural environment and lifestyles of the Nama people. The content of the work is often expressive and humorous. The traditional patchwork dresses that the Nama women wear are especially typical. Two projects in the south which co-ordinate these talents and market the products are anin, situated on a farm between Uhlenhorst and Hoachanas, and Gibeon Folk Art in the village of Gibeon.
Kaross floor rugs or blankets made with skins of domestic animals or antelope are a speciality of the area. They are produced by Namas as well as Basters, and are sold by vendors along the main tarred road leading south.
The people referred to collectively as the Aawambo live in central northern Namibia and southern Angola. In about 1550, migrations of these people, who have a common origin and culture, moved southwards from the Great Lakes in East Africa and settled between the Kunene and Okavango rivers. Today four of the groups live in the Cunene Province in southern Angola and eight in northern Namibia, the latter representing just over half of Namibia’s population.
The Kwanyama constitute the largest of the eight Owambo tribes. The others are the Ndonga, Kwambi, Ngandyela, Kwaluudhi and Mbalanhu, and the smaller the Nkolonkadhi and Unda. The Owambo languages are Bantu in origin. They are closely related to one another and commonly understood by Oshiwambo speakers. The Kwanyama and Ndonga languages have been developed into written languages.
Traditionally called Ovamboland and today loosely referred to as Owambo, the highly populated northern region of Namibia was divided into the Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions following independence in 1990. According to the 2011 population census, the Ohangwena Region, with 245 100 inhabitants has the second largest population in the country, and Omusati Region with 242 900 people, the third largest. While the majority of Namibia’s Owambo live in these four so-called O regions, many have migrated southwards to other parts of the country.
Since 1870, following the advent of the Finnish Mission in Owambo, and subsequently the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, Christianity has played a major role in the lives of the Owambo people. Today more than half of the population has some link with these denominations. The Finnish Mission Church developed into an independent Owambo/Kavango Church, which also has adherents among the Kavango people of the north-east.
In the pre-colonial structure of Owambo society there was a king and headmen in each of the seven Owambo groups. Judicial powers were vested in village and regional courts, with the highest court being the Supreme Court of the King, where the King is assisted by his headmen. This system reflects influences from the great mediaeval states of central Africa characterised by the sacred king having almost unlimited power.
Today only three of the Owambo clans – the Ndonga, Ngandjera and Kwaluudhi – still recognise their kings and are ruled by chiefs-in-council. The rest have a system of senior headmen forming a council and administering their tribes by joint action. An important function of these officials is the regulation of the system of land ownership. About a quarter of the Owambo regions has been claimed by individual landowners, each occupying farms of several thousand hectares.
Owambo houses are traditionally of the rondavel type, mostly surrounded by palisades and often connected by passages. Cattle kraals usually form part of the complex, which is surrounded by cultivated lands. The Owambo practise a mixed economy of agriculture, mainly mahangu (pearl millet), sorghum and beans, and animal husbandry (cattle), supplemented by fishing in shallow pools and watercourses called oshanas.
Traditional land is utilised according to traditional right of occupation usually acquired by payment of cattle to the ‘owner’ of the ward (omkunda). Grazing and utilisation of veld and bush products are communal but subject to the laws of the people.
Trading runs in the Owambos’ blood, as is borne out by the more than 10 000 stalls, cuca shops and numerous locally owned shopping complexes in the region. Large numbers of Oshiwambo people now work in other parts of the country; and today’s workforces in the mining and fishing industries consist primarily of Owambo people. Most senior civil servants and political leaders speak Oshiwambo.
Home industries such as dressmaking, wood carving, pottery and basketry provide an income for many Owambo women, who traditionally cultivated the land and raised the children. Today Owambo women are increasingly entering the labour market as nurses, clerks, shop assistants and teachers.
The most striking feature of the traditional Owambo social system is the predominance of matrilineal descent, which determines the laws of inheritance and succession, as well as post-marital residency. In recent years, as a result of external factors such as the Christian doctrine, migrant labour and economic independence, there has been a distinct shift towards a patrilineally organised society.
The Owambo people have always played an active role in politics. Namibia’s ruling party, SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation), started as a non-violent pressure group referred to as the Owambo People’s Organisation. It was led by Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo and Samuel Shafiishuna Nujoma, the man destined to become the first president of an independent Namibia.
The earliest known inhabitants of Namibia are the San (Bushmen), who belong to the Khoesan peoples. Generally short in stature, they have light yellowish-brown skins, while their language, which differs among the different groups, is characterised by numerous clicking sounds.
These hunter-gatherers – which include the Ju/’Hoansi, Kxoe and !Kung – roamed the vast plains of Southern Africa for thousands of years before migrants armed with weapons and searching for new land on which to graze their animals and plant their grain, drove them further and further east into the Kalahari Desert. Most San people now live or work on farms in eastern Namibia or live in remote communal areas in Otjozondjupa and Omusati. There are approximately 35 000 San people in Namibia.
The wealth of rock paintings and engravings found in mountains and hills throughout Namibia bear witness to the Bushmen’s former habitation in many parts of the country. The oldest rock art dates back some 28 000 years. Examples are the famous White Lady painting of the Brandberg and the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein, one of the richest collections in Africa.
Renowned as great storytellers, the San express themselves eloquently in prose, music, mimicry and dance. Their simplest instrument is the hunter’s bow, strung with animal hair and equipped with a hollowed-out melon or an empty tin can as a sound box. Moth cocoons filled with stones or seeds are attached around their ankles to provide rhythm while they dance.
The San are divided into three groups: the Hai||om (who traditionally inhabited Etosha) in the northern districts of Otavi, Tsumeb and Grootfontein; the Qgu (!Kung) and Ju/’Hoansi in Bushmanland and the Gobabis District; and the Khoé or Mbarakwengo in West Caprivi. While a small number of these legendary people still practise their traditional, nomadic lifestyle, the majority lead a settled existence in villages, having been strongly influenced in their way of life by Western culture, economies and lifestyles.
Numbering approximately 8 000, the Tswana are the smallest cultural group in Namibia. They are related to the Batswana of Botswana and the northern Cape Province. Namibia’s Tswana can be divided into three groups, the largest being the Tlharo, who originally came from Kuruman in the northern Cape. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century a large group of Batswana did a Thirstland trek through Botswana to Namibia, during which many succumbed. The second-largest group is the Tlhaping, ‘tlhapi’ meaning ‘fish’ in Tswana. The third and smallest group, the Bangologa (referred to derogatively as Kgalagadi by other Tswana clans), have mixed with the Kalahari Bushmen to some extent and are lighter in colour.
Namibia’s Tswana live in a triangle with a line between Epukiro and Aminuis in the east as its base and extending to Walvis Bay, its vertex, in the west. Most Namibian Tswanas, however, live in the Gobabis District, where they are involved in farming, many of them having bought farms north and south of the town.
Approximately 100 000 Namibians of European descent currently live in Namibia, of whom about two-thirds speak Afrikaans, one quarter German and the rest mostly English, and to a lesser extent, Portuguese. Most of them live in the urban, central and southern parts of the country, and most are involved in commerce, manufacturing, farming, professional services and, to a diminishing extent, the civil service. English was selected as Namibia’s official language and Afrikaans, the common vernacular, was retired to a secondary position after serving with German and English as one of three official languages for some 60 years.
The first European missionaries, adventurers and explorers began to settle in Namibia in the 1800s, initially in the south. They were mainly Afrikaners infiltrating gradually from South Africa, and settlers of British and German descent. An interesting group was the Dorslandtrekkers, one of several ‘treks’ of Afrikaners who moved northwards from the Groot Marico in South Africa’s northern Transvaal over the Limpopo in search of new places to live. In the second half of the 19th century, after endless wanderings, they settled in Angola, where they lived for about 50 years, before moving to Namibia in 1928.
In 1878 Britain annexed the area surrounding Walvis Bay. In 1884 Bismarck proclaimed German South West Africa a German protectorate, excluding the Walvis Bay enclave. In 1915 the South African Forces gained control of South West Africa and in 1920, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, South Africa took over administration of the country.
Following the Second World War, assisted by generous financial aid, a large number of farms were sold to settlers from South Africa, including returning soldiers. Due to the Angolan war in 1974 there was a considerable influx of Portuguese settlers in Namibia during the seventies. However, as Namibian independence drew closer, many left for Portugal or South Africa.
The number of whites living in Namibia who speak English as a home language is surprisingly small, not more than 8 000. They don’t necessarily all have an English ancestry – many are descended from Jews, Italians, French or Portuguese people who came to settle in the country and adopted English as their home language. The major contribution of the English-speaking community to the country is undoubtedly the English language, which replaced Afrikaans, German and English as the official language. Today English is the main language of instruction in state-run schools throughout the country.
As a result of Namibia being administered by South Africa since the end of the First World War and Afrikaans being one of the Territory’s three official languages as well as the main language of instruction in state-run schools, at the time of Namibia’s independence in 1990, Afrikaans was the lingua franca spoken by approximately 90% of all Namibians. It is still a prominent language, as it is not only the first language of Namibia’s Afrikaners but also of the country’s Rehoboth Basters and Coloureds.
Although the period of German rule in Namibia ended almost a century ago and lasted barely thirty years, the German influence on Namibia’s culture, economy and infrastructure has been and still is extensive. According to the 2001 official census, about 25 000 white German-speaking Namibians currently live in the country. By and large these are Germans who have lived in Namibia for seven to eight generations.
NOTE: Population group numbers are still according to the 2001 population census, as official results will only be out in 2013.