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Namibia, formerly South West Africa, republic in south-western Africa, bordered on the north by Angola and Zambia, on the east by Botswana and South Africa, on the south by South Africa, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The total land area is 824,269 sq km (318,252 sq mi). The capital of Namibia is Windhoek.


The land area of Namibia falls into three physiographical regions: a low-lying coastal belt, a central plateau, and the Kalahari desert. The coastal belt consists of the Namib Desert. It extends along the entire Atlantic coast and ranges from 100 to 160 km (60 to 100 mi) in width. To the east, the central plateau rises abruptly at the Great Escarpment. The plateau averages about 1,100 m (3,600 ft) above sea level, but rises in several mountainous areas to elevations greater than 1,800 m (5,900 ft). Along the eastern border is the Kalahari, a highland area containing vast sandy tracts, which extends into neighbouring Botswana.

Rivers and Lakes
The only permanent rivers are the Orange, Cunene, Cubanga (Okavango), and Zambezi, all of which form Namibia’s borders. The territory has virtually no other surface water.

Natural Resources

Namibia is rich in mineral resources, among which are diamonds, uranium, copper, zinc, and lead. There is enormous potential for hydroelectric power, with the water volume of the Okavango river system exceeding that of all the rivers in South Africa.


The climate is generally hot and dry. The average annual rainfall in the Namib Desert along the coast is 51 mm (2 in). Inland, annual rainfall increases from 152 mm (6 in) in the south to 559 mm (22 in) in the north. Most rain falls in summer (October to March). The average annual temperature on the coast is 16.7° C (62° F); inland it is 21.1° C (70° F).

Plants and Animals

Vegetation is scanty in both the Namib and Kalahari deserts. Woodland savannah covers the central plateau. True forests are found only in the north-east. Wildlife is abundant and includes elephant, rhinoceros, lion, giraffe, zebra, and hartebeest.



Namibia has a population of 1,797,677 (2001), with a population density of about 2 people per sq km (6 per sq mi). Windhoek, with a population of 169,000 (1997 estimate), is the country’s largest city as well as its capital.

Black Africans constitute about 86 per cent of the population of Namibia; whites, including a large German community in Windhoek, about 6.5 per cent; and people of mixed descent (“Coloureds”) about 7.5 per cent. The Ovambo, an agricultural people who live primarily in the north, make up about 50 per cent of the black African population. The Ovambo speak a Bantu language. Other groups include the Damara, the Herero, the Dama, the Khoikhoi, and the San (Bushmen).


The white population and most of the black population are Christians; the remainder mostly adhere to traditional faiths.


English, Afrikaans, and German are the official languages, and each African ethnic group has its own language.


The adult literacy rate was estimated at 91.9 per cent in 2001. In 1998 there were around 400,325 students in primary schools and 115,237 students in secondary schools. In 1997, 9.1 per cent of the country’s gross national product (GNP) was spent on education.


Namibia had a GNP (World Bank estimate) of about US$3,211 million in 1999, equivalent to about US$1,890 per capita. The economy is still mainly controlled by the minority white population, and promised land reforms are yet to be implemented. Unemployment among blacks remains high. In mid-1996 an agreement was reached with South Africa to cancel debts incurred by Namibia prior to independence.

Agriculture and Fishing

The principal occupations are livestock-raising—primarily cattle, Karakul sheep, and goats—and subsistence agriculture, which is largely confined to the north where rainfall is heaviest.

The waters off Namibia’s coast are rich in marine life, which thrives in the cold waters of the Benguela Current. However, uncontrolled fishing by foreign fleets, during South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia, severely depleted fish stocks, and the catch dropped during the 1970s and 1980s. The annual catch in 1997 was 291,164 tonnes. Pilchard, anchovy, hake, and mackerel are the principal species caught.


Mining contributes the largest share of gross domestic product (GDP), about 11.2 per cent in 1995. Diamonds normally account for two thirds of the value of mineral production and about one third of export earnings. Annual output in 1999 was about 1,995,000 carats, mostly of gem quality. Other important mineral products include uranium, copper, tin, lead, silver, vanadium, tungsten, and salt.

Currency and Banking

In 1993 the official monetary unit was changed from the South African rand to the Namibian dollar (N$7.592 equal US$1; 2001). The new currency is linked to the rand on a one-to-one basis.

Commerce and Trade

Most of Namibia’s trade is with South Africa. The economy is heavily dependent on the extraction and processing of minerals for export. Namibia is the fourth-largest exporter of non-fuel minerals in Africa. It is also the world’s fifth-largest producer of uranium, with the largest uranium mine, and the second-largest producer of lead.


There is a network of about 63,258 km (39,307 mi) of roads and 2,382 km (1,480 mi) of railways. In 1997 there were 47 passenger cars per 1,000 people. Namibia boasts the region’s only deep-water port, at Walvis Bay, which it finally won from South African control in 1994. There are also port facilities at Lüderitz.


The former executive body, the 12-member Ministerial Council, as well as the 72-member National Assembly, were totally dissolved in 1983. In June 1985 South Africa installed a new government with an 8-member Cabinet, a 16-member Constitutional Council, and a 62-member National Assembly. An administrator-general, appointed by South Africa, had the power to veto legislation passed by the National Assembly, and South Africa continued to control defence and foreign affairs. The independence constitution of 1990 established a republic led by a president who may serve no more than two five-year terms of office. (The constitution was amended in November 1998 to allow President Nujoma to serve a third term of office.) The charter also provided for a multi-party system and a bicameral parliament.

The two chambers of the legislature are the 26-member National Council, comprising two members from each of the 13 regional councils who each serve for six years, and a 78-member National Assembly. Of these, 72 are elected by proportional representation and six are nominated by the president; all serve five years each. There is a prime minister, chosen by the president, who heads a 22-member Cabinet.

Political Parties

During the period of South African rule, the security and apartheid laws of South Africa were extended to Namibia, and black nationalist parties were barred from participation in government. This barrier was removed as independence approached, and the black nationalist South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) won a majority of the votes in elections for a constituent assembly in November 1989. The party was also victorious in the first post-independence elections held in December 1994, and again in the elections of 1999. The most important minority parties are the multi-racial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), the Congress of Democrats (CoD), and the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Health and Welfare

In 1997 there were 3,482 people per doctor and an infant mortality rate in 2001 of 72 deaths per 1,000 live births. Around 3.9 per cent of the country’s GDP was spent on health care in 1995.

International Organizations

Namibia is a member of the UN, the Commonwealth, and the Organization of African Unity.


Cave paintings that may be more than 25,000 years old attest to the presence of hunter-gatherer groups in the country during the late Pleistocene period, but the earliest identifiable inhabitants are the San, who were in the area by the beginning of the 1st century ad. The Nama-speaking Khoikhoi arrived in about ad 500. The Ovambo and the Herero migrated to the area much later.

European Presence

Between a landing by Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias in 1488 and the creation of German South West Africa in 1884, most of the few Europeans who visited the territory were explorers, missionaries, or hunters. The next three decades of German rule were marked by bloody suppression of black Africans in rebellion, notably the once dominant Herero, whose revolt in 1904 was finally crushed four years later at the cost of around 60,000 lives.

In 1915, during World War I, the German colony was conquered by military forces of the Union (now Republic) of South Africa. Germany renounced sovereignty over the region in the Treaty of Versailles, and in 1920 the League of Nations granted South Africa a mandate over the territory. Germany has continued to supply aid in the post-independence period.

In 1946 the UN General Assembly requested South Africa to submit a trusteeship agreement to the UN to replace the mandate of the defunct League of Nations; South Africa refused to do so. In 1949 a South African constitutional amendment extended parliamentary representation to South West Africa. The International Court of Justice, however, ruled in 1950 that the status of the mandate could be changed only with the consent of the UN. South Africa agreed to discuss the trusteeship question with a special committee of the General Assembly, but the negotiations ended in failure in 1951. South Africa subsequently refused to accede to UN demands concerning a trusteeship arrangement, but it permitted a UN committee to enter Namibia in 1962 in order to investigate charges of atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples. The committee found the charges against South Africa to be baseless.

Occupation by South Africa

When South Africa began taking steps to establish apartheid in the mandated territory, Ethiopia and Liberia took the case to the International Court of Justice, but the court dismissed the complaint in 1966 on technical grounds. In October of that year the apartheid laws of South Africa were extended to Namibia. The UN continued to debate the question, and in June 1971 the International Court of Justice ruled that the South African presence in Namibia was illegal.

South Africa, however, ignored the ruling and continued to govern the territory, whose mineral resources provided a significant contribution to South Africa’s foreign exchange earnings. As a result, SWAPO, a black African nationalist movement led by Sam Nujoma, escalated its guerrilla campaign to oust the South Africans. The major Western powers, principally the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and West Germany (now part of the united Federal Republic of Germany), became deeply involved in the Namibian question in the late 1970s.


South Africa continued to resist eviction until December 1988, when it agreed to allow Namibia to become independent in exchange for the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. Open elections for a 72-member constituent assembly were held under UN supervision in November 1989, with SWAPO emerging as the majority party. The assembly approved a new constitution and elected Nujoma as the first president. Namibia attained independence on March 21, 1990, although South Africa continued to administer an enclave containing the principal seaport, Walvis Bay, until February 1994. In Namibia’s second round of free elections in 1994, SWAPO won two thirds of the seats.

Namibia continued to strengthen links with post-apartheid South Africa; Nelson Mandela visited the country in 1994.

In mid-1996 Namibia’s debt to South Africa was cancelled; appeals to South Africa to put further investment into Namibia continued. Also in 1996, Nujoma was accused of refusing to apologize for the detention and torture of people by SWAPO in the 1980s. The government then published a list of people who had died in the struggle for independence, which included detainees.

In presidential elections in May 1997 Nujoma was re-elected as leader of his party, SWAPO. In regional elections held in February 1998 SWAPO polled strongly, capturing 27 of 45 constituencies. Civil unrest increased in 1999 in the north-eastern Caprivi region, where secessionist forces of the Caprivi Liberation Army engaged in guerrilla fighting. In December 1999 Namibia and Botswana brought the Caprivi Strip dispute to the International Court of Justice, which ruled that the disputed Kasikili Island belongs to Botswana.

Presidential elections in December 1999 brought a landslide victory for President Nujoma and SWAPO. Nujoma won 77 per cent of the vote, easily defeating three rival candidates. SWAPO captured 55 of the 72 seats in the National Assembly. Nujoma was sworn in for his third term in office in March 2000, when Namibia celebrated the first decade of independence. His new Cabinet at this time remained much the same as before, led by Prime Minister Hage Geingob.