HISTORY OF NAMIBIA
Tribes and how they evolved
The San and Damara (the first two groups to settle in Namibia) as well as the Nama who only settled in southern Africa and southern Namibia during the first century B.C occupied Namibia until the great Bantu migrations in the 15th and 16th Centuries caused Bantu tribes to move into Namibia from the North East. After about 1600, the Ovambo migrated from Central Africa into the northern part of Namibia and settled on the river Kunene. Today, the Ovambo are the largest ethnic group in Namibia.
During the 18th century, the Herero tribes settled in Central Namibia. They had come from the Kaokoveld in the North West and moved further into the country.
During the first half of the 19th century, the Orlaam filtered into Namibia. Around 1868, the Baster settled south of Windhoek, in the region of Rehoboth. The Baster were, as the name indicates, a people of bastards from Boors and Nama women who were pressurized by the Boors, south of the Oranje River. The Baster were the last pre-colonial immigrants.
In 1486, Portuguese explorer and seafarer Diego Cão raised a stone cross on the Namibian coast of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Cape Cross. Cão sailed under orders of King Johann II of Portugal. He was to sail around Africa on the sea, however he did not succeed. In 1487, Portuguese captain Bartholomew Diaz also erected another stone cross in what is now Lüderitz Bay.
As early as the 17th Century, the lagoon of Walvis Bay was used as a shelter for European whaling ships. In 1793, the Dutch government occupied the Cape Region, Walvis Bay, Angra Pequena (now Lüderitz Bay) and other coastal regions.
In 1893, German warship captain Becker discovered the cross erected by Cão and had it replaced first by a wooden replica, which he replaced two years, later by a replica made of granite. Today, the original cross is exhibited at the Museum of German History in Berlin.
Having already occupied the Cape of Good Hope in 1795, the British Crown occupied the islands on the Namibian coast in 1867 and in 1878, took over Walvis Bay.
In 1883, salesman Adolf Lüderitz from Bremen, through his agent Heinrich Vogelsang, acquired large pieces of land around Angra Pequena (Lüderitz Bay) from Nama chief Joseph Fredericks. Lüderitz planned the foundation of a German colony in South West Africa, in order to prevent the growing flood of emigrants from being completely lost to other countries. Later, he also acquired the big strip of land from the Oranje.
When Britain failed to protect German settlements in South West Africa, Germany interpreted this as an abandonment of British tenure on the Herero and Nama areas and in 1884 declared South West Africa to be a German protectorate. The German Empire showed its preparedness to protect the region by sending three warships to the African coast On the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884, Germany, Portugal and Britain settled for arbitrarily set borders of Namibia.
In 1889, the first German protective troops under Curt von François were sent to South West Africa. The troops were set up in police fashion and was not meant for combat. The Hereros’ hostile position was a special problem for the Germans.
In 1890, Curt von François made Windhoek the capital of the German administration. The protectorate troops were continuously increased. The Nama and Herero fought the Germans several times as well as the ethnic wars in the country but after 1907, the Nama and Herero tribes were as good as exterminated. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Herero had died up to that date. About 2,500 Germans had lost their lives in the fights. All Black people were denied the right to own land or cattle, the tribal areas and occasional property were confiscated. Many members of the tribes died in concentration camps, survivors were “resettled” in reservations. Tribes in more remote areas like the Ovambo, Damara, Himba and the Rehoboter Baster were affected by this development.
During World War I, on September 9th, the South African Union declared war against Germany. By October, the Union’s troops had not only occupied the south of the country but Lüderitz Bay and the North East of the Caprivi Strip, as well. On March 20th 1915, the protection troops cleared the South of the country, on 7th of April, they cleared the centre and Windhoek. On the 9th of July, the Germans under Oberstleutnant Franke signed a ceasefire. Five weeks later, the complete area was occupied by Union troops. In the peace treaty of Versailles of 1919, Germany lost all entitlements to colonial property. South West Africa became mandatory territory of the League of Nations. After numerous evictions, 6,700 Germans were allowed to remain in the country.
In 1920, the League of Nations made Namibia mandatory territory of the South African Union. The mandate came with some conditions: South Africa was not allowed to erect military bases in the country or to recruit natives into military service. They also were bound to support the economic and social development of the country.
However, South Africa seamlessly continued the German habits and considered Namibia a colony. The black population was repelled further into reservations. There, they received no help at all to develop or prosper. The Black population’s right to own cattle was limited, their access to pastures was made difficult. White settlers from the Cape were coaxed to move there with economic enticements and they came and claimed huge areas of it.
In 1946, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts called for an incorporation of Namibia as the fifth South African province. The UN rejected this demand and pointed out that South Africa only held Namibia in trust. In response, South Africa denied to acknowledge the UN as the rightful successor of the League of Nations, which had mandated South Africa, the administration of Namibia in 1920. Even a sentence of the International Court of Justice did not change South Africa’s opinion on this subject.
In 1951, South Africa enforced its politics of racial discrimination by expanding South African Apartheid laws to Namibia.
After calls by UN for South Africa to withdraw from Namibia failed Angola and Cuban troops aided PLAN (the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia) founded by SWAPO the current government to defeat South Africa. The parties resolved that the United Nations’ resolution No. 435 should become effective on November 1st 1988.
In 1989 elections proceeded calmly, SWAPO got an absolute majority. Sam Nujoma was nominated for President. Late in 1989, the elected parties introduced a blueprint for a constitution. In January 1990, March 21st of the same year was pronounced Independence Day, Sam Nujoma was elected first President of Namibia. A democratic constitution was passed in February 1990.
In order to achieve also economic independence from South Africa, Namibia introduced its own currency, the Namibian Dollar, in 1993. It was linked to the Rand for a transitory period.
In 1994, South Africa gave Namibia back its enclave Walvis Bay. This gave Namibia access to its own economically important sea harbour.
Pre – Independence Media
The first newspaper established in Namibia was the Allgemeine Zeitung which was founded on 22 July 1916 under the name “Der Kriegsbote” (The War Envoy). This paper reported in German and mainly on the events of the First World War. After Germany was defeated and lost German South-West Africa (now Namibia) to South Africa the name was changed to Allgemeine Zeitung on 1 July 1919. After this change the focus was still on publishing for the German nationals in Namibia.
In the year of 1937 the Newspaper was bought by the publisher “John Meinert Ltd.” Who were already publishing the Windhoek Advertiser, a daily English language newspaper established in 1919 in Windhoek to promote the activities of the British in the region (Today, it the Democratic Media Holdings owns some shares). Then the newspaper was released daily, except for Sundays, with a circulation of 1,800 copies. Most readers were Germans from Windhoek and surroundings. At that time the tagline was changed to indicate the intent to support German national interests. From 1939 for a short while the Newspaper was released under the name “Deutscher Beobachter” (German Observer).
At the same time, smaller newspapers were released, such as Der Farmer (The Farmer), “Das Volksblatt” (The People’s Paper) owned by the Workers Association of South Africa, the “Karakulzüchter” (The Karakul Stockman) founded in 1933 and the Heimat (Home) a German paper for Africa’s evangelical community.
In 1987, Diether Lauenstein became the new owner of Allgemeine Zeitung, before the Newspaper was sold to Democratic Media Holdings (DMH) in 1991. The managing editor since 2004 has been Stefan Fischer who modernized the design leading to an increase demand. DMH also prints and releases Die Republikein, which is a daily Afrikaans, English, and German language newspaper, established in 1977 in Windhoek, Tempo, a German and English language newspaper, established in 1992, published in Windhoek on Sundays and the Namibian Sun.
The pre-independence media in Namibia was mainly used to propagate and prop up the apartheid policies of the Pretoria regime. News was used to demonize those seeking to bring about a more democratic society, and penalties were in place to punish those who violated the minefield of laws designed to protect those in power and to shield them from the spotlight of relentless media scrutiny. During the days of South African control, all forms of media were restricted. Various laws, including those governing defense, prisons, the police, the ubiquitous Internal Security Act, as well as emergency regulations, severely restricted what journalists could report, publish, photograph, or record. They could not report prison, police, or military stories or anything about unrest or guerrilla activities or SWAPO. Anything considered likely to undermine the Pretoria regime was also untouchable as far as journalists were concerned. The Pretoria regime deliberately tried to use the print media, just as it did with radio and television, as part of a total onslaught campaign against SWAPO. The media was ruthlessly gagged.
Foreign media was not allowed to operate. The only media given access were South African newspapers, especially the pro-apartheid publications. The media that operated in Namibia was subjected to the same restrictions and obstacles faced by their counterparts in South Africa. At that time, being found in possession of foreign publications, especially those from communist countries, could result in a prison sentence.
Independence & Post Independence Media
Everything changed with Namibia’s independence. Its constitution guaranteed press freedom, including the ownership and publication of privately owned newspapers. There is an explicit guarantee, under Article 21, that freedom of speech and expression includes the press and other media. However, the government has the power to restrict these freedoms in the interests of public order, decency, morality, national security, contempt of court, or defamation.
Because of the power government has in this law there has been some clashes between the government and the private media. Several times, critical journalists were admonished and also the judiciary has been brought into play a few times in the past to suppress unpleasantly critical articles.
After independence most of the newspapers that existed before independence still exist in Namibia. Namibia boasts of other newspapers apart from the ones named to have existed before independence like: The Namibian, an independent English and Ovambo newspaper based in Windhoek, the Namibian News, a government newspaper published by the Ministry of Finance in Windhoek, the Namibia Economist and the government-owned Namibian News are the country’s most influential newspapers. The “New Era” and the party publication “Namibia Today” are both government owned weeklies with a small readership.
Other publications include Namibia Review, a monthly English magazine published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, with a circulation of 10,000; and Abacus, a weekly, free English newspaper with a circulation of 30,000.
It is worth noting that, the government-owned Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) is the country’s leading domestic news agency. It also works with the Pan African News Agency for receiving and distributing news and information within the country.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is responsible for formulating guidelines on how the media should act. It also runs the NBC, the successor to the South African Broadcasting Corporation; the NBC is responsible for radio and television services and is the sole provider of all electronic media services, a state-owned national broadcaster. Owners of radio or television sets are required to buy an annual listeners’ license. These fees go to the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, which is subsidized by the government.
Although NBC is also the national radio broadcaster, the government has allowed the emergence of privately-run stations such as Radio Kudu, which specializes in music; Radio Wave, a private contemporary music station; Radio Energy, another music outlet; Radio 99, another private music station; Channel 7, a private religious station based in Windhoek; and Katutura Community Radio, also based in Windhoek, which rebroadcasts some British Broadcasting Corporation programs.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
Since independence, the media in Namibia has enjoyed much more freedom. Foreign publications and journalists are now welcome, as are media and journalists from neighboring countries. The government, however, discourages foreign ownership of the media. The Voice of America, South Africa radio, and the British Broadcasting Corporation are among listeners’ favorites.
NB: A major player in the country’s print media is Democratic Media Holdings, a business enterprise run by the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), the country’s official opposition party. DTA is a grouping of whites and others opposed to SWAPO. South Africa would have preferred to see the DTA win Namibian’s independence elections because DTA was more compliant and more willing to do Pretoria’s bidding. The print media are also concentrated in the capital of Windhoek where at present three dailies and four weeklies are published.
The news mainly deal with local and national topics. Lay-out and printing quality of the newspapers are not fully up to world standards due to small print runs and budgets.
Namibian TV programmes are of a deplorable quality. Many Namibians watch South African TV from SABC via satellite respectively international channels via MNET.
Under apartheid, on all issues concerning prisons or national security, the media deferred to the government. No stories could be reported on those issues without first getting a government comment or denial. This is no longer the case; the media reports freely, for the most part. Under the new political dispensation, the media has become a major player in institution building and in the dissemination of news and information.
The future looks bright for Namibian journalists, except those in the electronic media who remain under government control. It’s common throughout most of Africa that radio and television remains under strict government control. Namibia is not yet an exception.
Considering the overwhelming majority the governing party holds, and the weakness of the opposition, the freedom of the press ought to be an absolutely unconditional guarantee. Public control is, after all, the only remedy against the disease of corruption.
- Allgemeine Zeitung – profile in short, Retrived March 24, 2016.
- Carsten von Nahmen: Deutschsprachige Medien in Namibia – Vom Windhoeker Anzeiger zum deutschen Hörfunkprogramm der Namibian Broadcasting Corporation: Geschichte, Bedeutung und Funktion der deutschsprachigen Medien in Namibia 1898 – 1998. Windhoek: Namibia Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, 2001.
- Der Märkische Bote: „Weiße Geschichten in Druckschwarz“, last view at 27 March 2016.
- Hartman, Adam (December 8, 2008). “Namibia: Namib Times Celebrates 50 Years”. AllAfrica Global Media. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
- Karl Bömer: Handbuch der Weltpresse: Eine Darstellung des Zeitungswesens aller Länder. Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main: Armanen-Verlag, 1937.