Namibia, land of the Kalahari Desert and the ancient hunter-gatherer San and Nama tribes, among Earth’s earliest human communities. Namibia, celebrating her “30th birthday” on 21 March of this year — just thirty years since the country (re)gained its independence, first from Germany and then from South Africa, and began writing a new story.
More than half of Namibia’s population consists of the Bantu-speaking Ovambo; other ethnic groups of significant number include Kavango, Herero, Himba, and Damara, the latter of which seem to exist nowhere else. While smaller in number, the San are descendants of one of the world’s First Peoples, dating back 150,000 years. They have long been the object of discrimination and marginalisation, typical treatment of ‘vagrants’ of nomadic lifestyle — in re: land and water access vs ownership, and ‘rootedness’ vs a perceived lack of national loyalty. Today their uniqueness is increasingly recognised, though discrimination remains.
Namibia is today 80-90% Christian, brought about by colonisation and missionary influence; more than 50% identify as Lutheran. An approximate 10-20% still follow indigenous beliefs and practices, though when syncretism is considered, this number would undoubtedly be much higher.
The “first mass genocide of the 20th century” took place in Namibia 1904-1908, when Herero peoples began a rebellion against 300 years of German colonisation. Among other tactics, the German-led government and military oversaw the poisoning of wells in the Namib Desert — and although the struggle continued for 4 years, by 1905 75% of the Herero population, previously 60-80,000, were dead and the majority in concentration camps. The Germans finally left the country by 1914 as a direct result of WWI — though South Africa almost immediately invaded, and ruled Namibia for the next 75 years under its system of apartheid.
The black African nationalist movement for independence in southern Africa formed in 1964 as South West Africa People’s Organisation [SWAPO], controversial still today with many of its members tried for ‘treason’ and ‘terrorism’ by the South African government of the time. SWAPO further formed the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia [PLAN], which began the fight for freedom.
Namibia’s struggle for independence finally succeeded, and the country regained its freedom just 30 years ago — still very much in the minds of the population. Today the country is a democratic republic, with a population of 2.5 million, median age of 21, and a birth rate of 3.2. Women hold 36% of parliamentary seats; 40% of women over age 25 have a secondary education, and more than 58% are in the labour force. Life expectancy is at 65 and continues to improve while both infant mortality and HIV rates continue to decline.
The economy of Namibia continues to improve overall, though the income disparity reflects a similar widening trend as in much of the world; the overall poverty rate since independence has decreased from 53% to 23%, though the people of Namibia are struggling with climate change impact in the form of droughts, flooding, and disease outbreak, and overall food and water scarcity. While there’s still much room for progress, the continued increase in social, cultural, and economic status has prompted some to refer to Namibia as one of the most promising countries in Africa.