New Internationalist


April 1983

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Map of Namibia

Leader: The UN recognises the liberation movement SWAPO, led by Sam Nujoma, as the legitimate representative of the Namibian people, and it is generally agreed that SWAPO would win a free election. However, in practice, Namibia is ruled by South Africa, in defiance of the International Court of Justice.

Economy: is $1,260 per year(1979), but average personal incomes for Africans only $188. Debt service payments around 15% of exports.

Main exports: uranium, diamonds, other minerals, beet karakul pelts.

Rate of inflation (average 1971-1981): 11.20,.

People: Around 1.3 million / town dwellers 30%.

Health: Life expectancy (1970-75 UN figures) 41 years.

Culture: Religion: 50% Lutheran. 20% Roman Catholic, 10% Anglican.

Ethnic groups: South Africa claims 11. including 70.000 whites (but excluding military).

Languages: Oshivambo by half the population. SWAPO’s official language is English. 6 or 7 others.

Colonising Powers: Germany to 1916. Thereafter South Africa under League of Nations mandate. Mandate revoked in 1966.

NAMIBIA — land of contrasts’ says the tourist brochure. Yes indeed. In Windhoek on a Saturday afternoon, the descendants of Germans and Boers sip ice-cold lager on the terraces of spacious houses squatting under the rocky hilltops. On the other side of town in Katatura much of the beer is warm and homebrewed. Knots of people sit in sandy yards, shaded by their two-roomed houses. The contrast is a familiar one— for Namibian ‘apartheid’ is shaped by the South Africans who control it

In the textbooks, African colonies were acquired so European powers could gain useful raw materials and then like mature children finally granted independence in the 1960s. But Namibia doesn’t fit that standard view. It remains an illegal colony of South Africa, with its major products —diamonds, uranium, high fashion karakul coats and lobster tails— still symbolising the extraction of wealth at the expense of self-sufficiency.

To maintain its occupation, South Africa has one soldier in the country for every white Namibian. Church sources report persistent harassment and torture of ordinary civilians, and the militia are much feared.

Trying to loosen the South African military grip on the country is the Namibian Liberation movement SWAPO. The guerrilla fighters are known locally as ‘our boys’.

The key to the conflict in Namibia is control of the land. Five thousand white families own huge ranches covering an area the size of East and West Germany combined, with a few black farmers confined to patches of land in between. But the majority of blacks are crowded into Ovamboland. the great northern plain, dotted with palm trees and watered by an annual flood from Angola

Throughout colonial times men had to leave Ovamboland to work on contract for a few months hundreds of miles to the south, leaving their families behind. Today the hundreds of unemployed miners in Ovamboland are symbols of the wider economic crisis that now grips Namibia. The diamond and uranium mines have cut back production and told workers finishing a contract to return home and wait -- six. nine months, who knows? — until they’ are recalled.

The world recession has severely damaged Namibia’s economy. The West is no longer prepared to pay for Namibian products— karakul is out of fashion and nobody’ is interested in diamonds. No diamonds, no government tax. And so, too, has fallen South Africa’s attempt to create a favourable local administration that would win popular support from SWAPO by spending their way into favour.

Despite the cost of the war the South African government stay’s on, afraid of the impact back home of ’losing’ Namibia. And glad of the base Namibia offers for its repeated military invasions of neighbouring Angola. Meanwhile the Western initiatives to negotiate South African acceptance of UN-sponsored elections has run into the sand — with no real progress made in the last five years.


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Only 12% of GDP goes to black Namibians
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80% of goods are imported, included half the food
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‘Poor – With many men absent, women do all domestic and agricultural work
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[image, unknown] Under South African occupation with limited powers for unpopular ‘puppet’ Namibian leaders
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Estimated by SA at 35%. Only 10% of African adults have completed secondary school
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Colonial occupation relying on torture and detention without trial

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‘At 41 years is appalling. Separate hospitals in Windhoek for whites, ‘coloureds’ and Africans.

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