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Namibia - Colonial Era

As Namibia has one of the world's most barren and inhospitable coastlines, it wasnt until the middle of the nineteenth century that explorers, ivory hunters, prospectors and missionaries began to journey into its interior. Beyond these visitors, Namibia was largely spared the attentions of European powers until the end of the 19th century when it was colonized by Germany.

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. The colonial period was marred by many conflicts and rebellions by the pre-colonial Namibia population until the Great War, when it abruptly ended upon Germany's surrender to the South African expeditionary army. In effect, this transition only traded one colonial experience for another.

In 1883 the German Merchant Luderitz, of Bremen, established a trading station at Angra Pequefla (later Luderitzbucht) and secured by purchase the surrounding territory, which he named Luderitzland, and which he ceded to the German government in 1884. Germany declared a protectorate over the area in 1884. The United Kingdom recognized the hinterland up to 20 degrees east longitude as a German sphere of influence.

By treaties with the native chiefs the German government obtained territorial and mining concessions in the interior, and by treaties with Portugal and Great Britain in 1886 and 1890 respectively, the northern, eastern, and southern boundaries of the colony were fixed. Thse negotiations between the United Kingdom and Germany resulted in Germany's annexation of the coastal region, excluding Walvis Bay.

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.

The German administration was in the hands of a governor, assisted by district officers. In 1913 a legislative assembly, half elective and half appointive, was established. Prior to the native uprisings there was a colonial army of 800 men, exclusively Germans; in the early part of 1906, about 14,500 men were engaged in suppressing the rebellion, but a large number were later withdrawn; in 1913 the police and military force consisted of about 3000 men.

Colonial settlement provoked a series of uprisings at the beginning of the 20th century, in which the Herero and the Nama peoples were almost wiped out. By 1898 German supremacy had been practically established over the entire territory. In the fall of 1903 the Bondelzwarts, a Hottentot tribe in the southern part of the colony, rose in rebellion. They were pacified in January, 1904, but the removal of German troops from the north was followed by a formidable uprising of the powerful Herero nation. German colonists were massacred, and the existence of the colony was seriously threatened. Reinforcements were hastily brought from Europe, and in August, 1904, a concerted attack was delivered on the Herero forces concentrated in the Waterberg region. The natives were dispersed, and the struggle entered the guerilla stage.

In October 1904, however, the Hottentot tribes of the south, joined by Herero fugitives, declared war against the government, and for a year, under their chiefs Morenga, Witboi, Hendricks, and Morris, more than held their own against the Germans, who were hampered by the extremely difficult nature of the country and the lack of water and transportation facilities. The war lasted through 1905 and into 1906. Up to March of that year the cost of the war to Germany was more than $50,000.000 and nearly 2000 men dead and wounded, while 14,500 troops were still engaged in the colony. The sanguinary nature of the contest appears from the report that of the Herero nation, estimated at 100,000 before the war, only 11,000 surrendered. Of the rest some fled to Britisli territory, but the greater part had succumbed in the war or perished in the Kalahari Desert.

In 1907 the war broke out again, when Morenga escaped from British territory, where he was looked upon as a political refugee. He was hunted down and finally killed. This was probably the greatest step towards the complete subjugation of the colony. In 1908 diamonds were . discovered, and immediately a large crowd of adventurers rushed in. In 1909 over $5,000,000 worth of diamonds were shipped to Germany. In 1911-12 France and Germany nearly went to war over the latter's African possessions, and war was only averted by the former's concessions.

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, in which tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people lost their lives in fighting, fleeing into the desert, or concentration camps. German administration ended during the Great War following South African occupation in 1915.

During the Great War, South Africa, in pursuit of its own colonial ambitions, invaded and occupied German South-West Africa and was awarded a League of Nations Mandate. 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. The territory was administered as a de facto South African colony; many Afrikaners settled there and, after 1948, elements of apartheid were introduced.

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.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2022 20:12:59 ZULU