It always staggers me that with all the information available to us in the U.K. we still know so little about the people and cultures we share this small world with. Were a stranger arriving in Britain for the first time to ask one of the first people they see about a brief history of the U.K., our political system or even the last 5 Prime Ministers I’m not sure what sort of answer they would get. Especially if they asked me…’Um, well there’s Brexit, and once this guy called David Cameron had an affair with a pig, apparently’.
Dennis, my Namibian taxi driver and very first person I spoke to upon arrival could answer all my questions with impeccable English and a seemingly endless fountain of knowledge. Having concluded the formalities so often followed when in discussion with men in Africa, primarily focussed around his family, I was eager to hear more from him on what I had learnt on the flight over.
Namibia, formerly German South West Africa had been one of Germany’s six principal colonies in the late 1800’s along with Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon, Tanzania and Togo. After Germany’s defeat in World War One the League of Nations entrusted South Africa (SA) with a mandate to administer the territory instead, less than 30 years later however following the dissolution of the League of Nations after World War Two, the newly established United Nations (UN) conceived a trusteeship system to bring all German colonies under UN responsibility. SA naturally disputed this claiming that for 30 years the Namibian territories had lived happily under their administration. As a result 20 years of legal argument between SA and the UN ensued until eventually in 1966 the UN General Assembly ended their mandate and declared South Africa had no further right to administer the territory.
European law does not carry well in Africa, a continent in which ancient beliefs and tradition often takes precedence over modern technology. South Africa had no intention of allowing Namibia to gain its independence due to its incredible supply of natural resources, the most notable amongst these being the significant presence of diamond, uranium and lithium. They also believed that by keeping Namibia under their control it kept the Guerrilla War in Angola (Namibia’s neighbour to the North) further from their border. As a result South Africa’s apartheid laws were extended to Namibia, ensuring that black Namibians were not entitled to the same political rights and social or economic freedom as white Namibians.
It is impossible to summarise the resulting years of struggle in to a few short paragraphs. In 1964 the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) was formed with the belief that their struggle for independence and political/ social freedom was needed to create significant historical change in Namibia. Led by Sam Nujoma and with the backing of Namibia’s many varying tribes SWAPO established the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and an armed insurrection began. With Angola still struggling for their own independence from Portugal, PLAN were unable to call on them for supplies and weapons leaving them ill placed for an all out war. As a result they turned to small acts of terrorism until in 1975 Angola gained their independence allowing them to give more substantial support to SWAPO and PLAN. Throughout the 1980’s forces from South Africa and Angola fought and by 1988 SWAPO had lost over 50% of its combatants (18,000 down to 8,700). Continued political pressure from all over the world was continuing to isolate South Africa due to their barbaric apartheid rule yet they remained on top of the fight for control of Namibia. After multiple fights, involvement from Russia, Cuba and the USA, South Africa eventually concluded in 1988 that if they were to leave on their own terms rather than be beaten they would have more chance to set terms for Namibia’s independence and protect their business interests.
So, on the 8th of August 1988 a ceasefire was signed and agreed in Geneva, Switzerland and on March 21st 1990, representatives of 147 different states attended Namibia’s day of independence. Sam Nujoma, a man who had fought for over 30 years for this day to come was sworn in as the first President of Namibia while Nelson Mandela, who had just been released from Robin Island, watched on.
Not a bad summary from Dennis, admittedly backed up for some further detail by the internet, but a considerably more succinct history of his country than I could give on mine in return. As a result the rest of my journey in to Windhoek was spent discussing the recent weather and benefits of his new Ford Falcon.
As so often happens with cities in Africa, Windhoek appeared out of nowhere. The road we had followed from the airport appeared to me as the shaft of an arrow, pointed true and straight at its head; a set of hills 30km’s in the distance. Having wound our way through the hills I expected the road to flatten out again on the far side, instead it dropped away almost in to a bowl filled with a cornucopia of manic activity. Never had I seen a city to be such an antithesis to its environment. The harshness of the area was evident from the faded brown ground surrounding it, yet here in the middle of it all sat the heart of Namibia, a bustling capital housing over 10% of the countries meagre 2.5 million population.
If this shocked me it was nothing compared to what I found waiting for me in the city. But this was all to be discovered after I made it through my first meeting as a fully fledged grown up. Something which daunted me a lot more than the impending 3,500km journey around the country.
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