Namibia’s democratic dispensation has been in effect since independence in 1990, and was hard-won after a century of colonialism and resistance to foreign occupation. The first colonial seizure was effected by Germany, which established control over a large area of the territory form the 1880s onward. South African troops conquered South West Africa (the colonial name for Namibia) during the First World War, and the territory became a mandate of the League of Nations, with control vested in South Africa. Growing internal resistance to South African rule, encouraged by decolonisation in large parts of the world, were reflected from the 1960s onward in intensified efforts through the United Nations to bring about independence for Namibia. This was finally achieved in 1990, after a year during which the UN settlement plan was implemented under the guardianship of a large UN contingent stationed in Namibia.
There were many acts of resistance to colonial occupation. One of the best known is the war of 1904-07 between the German forces, and the Herero and Nama people. This war is infamous for the catastrophic effect it had on the indigenous people. Estimates are that up to 80% of the Herero people, and up to 50% of the Nama people, were killed at this time. A major cause of this war was the occupation of large tracts of land for use by colonists. Land alienation continued and expanded under South African rule.
From the early 1960s, Namibians began to go into exile to wage the struggle against South African occupation. The policy of apartheid – institutionalised racism – was a primary focus of dissent and resistance. By the mid- 1980s, there were about forty thousand Namibians in exile, most of them associated with the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO). The armed struggle began in the mid-1960s, and intensified in the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly after Angola could be used as a base for the resistance forces. The South Africans responded by militarising Namibia, and by imposing martial law throughout large areas of the country. Human rights violations by the South Africans, such as the use of torture and detention without trial, increased the depth of resistance by Namibians to the colonial presence.
The national elections of 1989 were won by SWAPO, which increased its majority in the national election of 1994.
Former president Dr Sam Nujoma was the first president of the country and stayed on until February 2005.
A brief survey such as this cannot do justice to the complexities of alliances, and shifts of power and influence, that have characterised Namibia during the last two centuries. The interested visitor is advised to avoid some of the more specious and popular publications, which often repeat colonially-generated myths about Namibian history. Fortunately the better bookshops in Windhoek and elsewhere do sell publications that reflect serious and reputable attempts to engage in Namibian historiography. However, excellent as a number of these publications are, it can be said that Namibian history is still very much in the process of being written.