19. South Africa/Namibia (1920-1990)

Pre-Crisis Phase (December 17, 1920-May 4, 1922):  South Africa was granted a League of Nations (LON) mandate to administer the former German colony of South West Africa on December 17, 1920.  On January 9, 1922, the South African government submitted a draft self-government agreement to the Rehoboth Basters, a community of descendants of Cape Colony Dutch and indigenous African women located south of Windhoek.

Crisis Phase (May 5, 1922-May 4, 1925):  Government police unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Abraham Morris, a prominent member of the Bondelswarts Nama community, on May 5, 1922.  On May 20, 1922, the South African government issued an ultimatum to the Bondelswarts Namas to surrender Abraham Morris and four other men for trial.  Jacobus Christian, leader of the Bondelswarts Namas, declared military hostilities against the South African government on May 25, 1922.  Government troops clashed with Bondelswarts Namas near Driehoek on May 26, 1922, resulting in the deaths of one government soldier and 19 Bondelswarts Namas.  Some 370 South African government troops commanded by the South African Administrator of South West Africa, Gysbert R. Hofmeyer, attacked the Bondelswarts Namas at Guruchas Gorge on May 29-30, 1922, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 Bondelswarts Namas and two South African government soldiers.  South African government troops clashed with Bondelswarts Namas on June 2-3, 1922, resulting in the deaths of some 50 Bondelswarts Namas.  Jacobus Christian and some 150 armed men surrendered to government troops on June 7, 1922.  On September 20, 1922, the League of Nations (LON) adopted a resolution calling on the Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC) to investigate the matter.  The LON subsequently established a commission of inquiry.  The Meanwhile, the proposed self-government agreement for the Rehoboth Basters was rejected by 74 percent of the voters in a referendum in Rehoboth on August 9, 1923.  Nevertheless, the Rehoboth Council signed the treaty with the South African government on August 17, 1923.  Members of the Rehoboth community opposed to the treaty elected an alternative Peoples Council headed by Nicolaas van Wijk on April 23, 1924, and the Peoples Council declared the independence of Rehoboth from South Africa on December 1, 1924.  The South African government imposed martial law in Rehoboth on April 3, 1925, and South African government troops took control of the town of Rehoboth on April 5, 1925.  Some 406 individuals were tried in Windhoek on April 7-9, 1925, resulting in prison sentences for 319 of the individuals.  All of the individuals were released from jail on May 4, 1925.

Post-Crisis Phase (May 5, 1925-December 9, 1959):  On July 27, 1925, the South African government approved the South West Africa Constitution Act of 1925, which provided for limited self-government for South West Africa.  Elections were held in South West Africa on May 25, 1926, and the Deutscher Bund in Südwestafrika (“German Union in South West Africa”) won seven out of twelve elective seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The National Party of South West Africa (NPSWA) won three seats in the Legislative Assembly.  Only white Europeans, mostly British and German, were permitted to vote in the elections.  The Legislative Assembly convened with twelve elected and six appointed members in Windhoek on June 18, 1926.  Elections were held in South West Africa on July 3, 1929, and the United National South West Party (UNSWP) won eight out of 12 elective seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The Deutscher Bund in Südwestafrika (“German Union in South West Africa”) won four seats in the Legislative Assembly.  Elections were held in South West Africa on October 31, 1934, and the United National South West Party (UNSWP) won nine out of twelve seats in the Legislative Assembly.  Elections were held in South West Africa on February 21, 1940, and the United National South West Party (UNSWP) won ten out of twelve seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The National Party of South West Africa (NPSWA) won two seats in the Legislative Assembly.  Elections were held in South West Africa on May 19, 1945, and the United National South West Party (UNSWP) won 16 out of 16 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The United Nations (UN) decided to established a UN trusteeship over Southwest Africa, but the South African government rejected that decision on January 21, 1947.  On July 11, 1950, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an advisory opinion stating that South Africa was not obligated to convert Southwest Africa into a United Nations trust territory, but Southwest Africa would in that case remain a mandate administered by South Africa under the supervision of the UN General Assembly.  Elections were held in South West Africa on August 30, 1950, and the National Party of South West Party (NPSWP) won 15 out of 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The United National South West Party (UNSWP) won three seats in the Legislative Assembly.  On November 28, 1953, the UN General Assembly established the Committee on South West Africa to supervise the South African administration of the South West Africa mandate.  South Africa refused to cooperate with the UN committee.  Elections were held in South West Africa on November 16, 1955, and the National Party of South West Party (NPSWP) won 16 out of 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The United National South West Party (UNSWP) won two seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC) was established by several Namibian students and migrant workers in Cape Town, South Africa on August 2, 1957.  The primary purpose of the OPC was to advocate for the rights of Namibian migrant workers in South Africa.  On October 25, 1957, the UN General Assembly established a good offices committee to facilitate negotiations with the South Africa government concerning Namibia.  The Ovamboland People’s Organization (OPO) was established with Sam Nujoma as president in Windhoek on April 19, 1959.  The OPO advocated for Ovamboland (Namibia) independence from South Africa.

Crisis Phase (December 10, 1959-August 25, 1966):   Government police killed 12 protesters, including Anna Kakurukaze Mungunda, in Windhoek on December 10, 1959.  The leaders of the OPO fled into exile.  The Ovamboland People’s Organization (OPO) was renamed the Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) on April 19, 1960.  Ethiopia and Liberia filed a complaint against South Africa concerning Namibia with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on November 4, 1960.  Elections were held in South West Africa on March 8, 1961, and the National Party of South West Party (NPSWP) won 16 out of 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The United National South West Party (UNSWP) won two seats in the Legislative Assembly.  On April 7, 1961, the UN General Assembly condemned the South African government for its “attempts at assimilation” of Southwest Africa.  On December 19, 1961, the UN General Assembly dissolved the Committee on South West Africa, and established the Special Committee for South West Africa to prepare the territory for full independence.  After the establishment of its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), in 1962, SWAPO received military assistance (training, weapons, and ammunition) from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba, China, North Korea, Algeria, and Tanzania.  On December 14, 1962, the UN General Assembly dissolved the Special Committee for South West Africa.  On November 13, 1963, the UN General Assembly imposed voluntary military sanctions (arms embargo) and economic sanctions (petroleum embargo) against the South African government.  Elections were held in South West Africa on September 15, 1965, and the National Party of South West Party (NPSWP) won 18 out of 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  On July 18, 1966, the ICJ dismissed the case initiated by Ethiopia and Liberia, suggesting that Ethiopia and Liberia had no legal rights concerning Namibia.

Conflict Phase (August 26, 1966-August 8, 1988): SWAPO’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), launched a rebellion against the South African government beginning on August 26, 1966.  On October 27, 1966, the UN General Assembly terminated South Africa’s mandate over Namibia, and declared the territory to be the direct responsibility of the UN.  In the same resolution, the UN General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee for South West Africa to “recommend practical means by which South West Africa should be administered so as to enable the people of the Territory to exercise the right of self-determination and to achieve independence.”  On May 19, 1967, the UN General Assembly established the United Nations Council for South West Africa to “administer South West Africa until independence.”  The UN General Assembly also created the position of UN Commissioner for South West Africa.  Konstantinos Stavropoulos of Greece was appointed as acting UN Commissioner for South West Africa on June 13, 1967.  On December 16, 1967, the UN General Assembly appealed for the withdrawal of South Africa from Namibia.  On February 9, 1968, Andimba Herman Toivo Ya Toivo, founding member of the OPC and a member of SWAPO, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and sent to Robben Island prison near Cape Town, South Africa.  On March 12, 1969, the UN Security Council called for the immediate withdrawal of South Africa from Namibia.  The UN General Assembly condemned South Africa on October 31, 1969 and December 1, 1969.  Agha Abdul Hamid of Pakistan was appointed as acting UN Commissioner for Namibia on December 1, 1969.  The UN Security Council condemned South Africa on January 30, 1970.  Elections were held in South West Africa on April 20, 1970, and the National Party of South West Party (NPSWP) won 18 out of 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that South Africa’s administration of Namibia was illegal on June 21, 1971. The UN General Assembly provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the SWAPO on December 11, 1973.  Sean MacBride of Ireland was appointed as UN Commissioner for Namibia on December 18, 1973.  Elections were held in South West Africa on April 24, 1974, and the National Party of South West Party (NPSWP) won 18 out of 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  On December 17, 1974, the UN Security Council demanded that South Africa withdraw its troops from Namibia.  Elections to the Legislative Council were held on January 13-17, 1975. SWAPO boycotted the elections. The UN Security Council called for UN-supervised elections in Namibia on January 30, 1975, but the proposal was rejected by the South African government.  Botswana provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the SWAPO on December 2, 1975. On January 30, 1976, the UN Security Council approved a resolution, which called for the South African withdrawal from Namibia and UN-supervised elections in Namibia. The Western Contact Group (WCG), which consisted of representatives from the US, Britain, France, West Germany, and Canada, was established in April 1977. The WCG attempted to negotiate with South Africa a plan for Namibian independence along the lines of the UN Security Council framework. Martti Ahtisaari of Finland was appointed as UN Commissioner for Namibia on January 1, 1977. Organization of African Unity (OAU) foreign ministers expressed its support for SWAPO and condemned South Africa on February 28, 1978. The WCG submitted a “proposal for a settlement of the Namibian situation” to the UN Security Council on April 10, 1978 (the UN Security Council endorsed the proposal on July 27, 1978). SWAPO rebels attacked the Ruacana hydroelectric power station in Namibia on May 3, 1978. Government troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola on May 4, 1978, resulting in the deaths of 12 government soldiers and some 1,000 Namibian refugees. Foreign Minister Siteke Mwale of Zambia condemned South Africa, and expressed support for SWAPO on May 6, 1978. OAU foreign ministers condemned South Africa, and appealed for the withdrawal of South African troops from Namibia on May 9, 1978. OAU foreign ministers expressed support for SWAPO on July 18, 1978, and OAU heads-of-state expressed support for SWAPO on July 22, 1978. On November 13, 1978, the UN Security Council condemned the government of South Africa for its decision to unilaterally hold elections in Namibia in December 1978.  Elections were held in South West Africa on December 4-8, 1978, and the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) won 41 out of 50 seats in the Legislative Assembly.  South African government troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola on March 6-15, 1979. UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim appealed for a ceasefire on March 15, 1979. The UN General Assembly imposed economic sanctions against the government of South Africa on June 1, 1979.  Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) heads-of-state expressed support for SWAPO and condemned the government of South Africa on September 8, 1979.  South African government troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola on October 28, 1979.  The UN Security Council condemned the government of South Africa on November 2, 1979.  South African government troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola on June 7-30, 1980. OAU foreign ministers condemned the government of South Africa on June 30, 1980. The UN General Assembly condemned the government of South Africa on March 6, 1981. OAU foreign ministers condemned South Africa’s occupation of Namibia on June 26, 1981. Some 5,000 South African troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola from August 23 to September 30, 1981. Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania condemned the government of South Africa on August 27, 1981. Niger condemned South Africa on August 28, 1981.  Brajesh Mishra of India was appointed as UN Commissioner for Namibia on April 1, 1982. South Africa dissolved the Namibian National Assembly on January 18, 1983. NAM heads of state expressed support for SWAPO on March 12, 1983. OAU heads-of-state condemned South Africa’s occupation of Namibia on June 12, 1983. South African troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola beginning on December 6, 1983. Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome & Principe condemned South Africa’s occupation of Namibia on December 19, 1983. The UN Security Council appealed for the withdrawal of South African troops from southern Angola on December 20, 1983 and January 6, 1984. Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker of the US and President Kaunda of Zambia mediated negotiations between South African and Angolan officials beginning on January 26, 1984, and the countries signed a ceasefire agreement on February 16, 1984. OAU heads of state condemned the South African occupation of Namibia on November 15, 1984. OAU foreign ministers condemned the South African occupation of Namibia on July 26, 1986. South African troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola on November 13, 1986, resulting in the deaths of 39 SWAPO rebels and two South African government soldiers. Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) heads-of-state condemned South Africa’s occupation of Namibia on January 28, 1987.  Bernt Carlsson of Sweden was appointed as UN Commissioner for Namibia on July 1, 1987.  South African troops attacked SWAPO targets in southern Angola on October 3, 1987. OAU foreign ministers condemned South Africa on May 23, 1988.  South Africa and SWAPO agreed to a ceasefire on August 8, 1988. Some 20,000 individuals, including some 800 South African government soldiers, were killed during the conflict. Some 50,000 individuals were displaced during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (August 9, 1988-March 21, 1990): South Africa, Angola, and Cuba signed an agreement on December 22, 1988, which provided for Namibian independence.  On February 16, 1989, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 632, which established the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) to ensure free and fair elections, to monitor the ceasefire agreement, to monitor the withdrawal of South African military forces from Namibia, and to assist local government police in maintaining law and order.  UNTAG consisted of some 4,500 military personnel from 50 countries commanded by Lt. General Dewan Prem Chand of India, as well as 1,500 civilian police personnel from 25 countries commanded by Commissioner Steven Fanning of Ireland.  Some 350 individuals were killed in military hostilities between South African military forces and SWAPO rebels from April 1 to May 13, 1989.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and UNICEF, assisted with the repatriation of some 43,000 refugees, mostly from Angola and Zambia.  Elections were held on November 7-11, 1989, and SWAPO won 41 out of 72 seats in the Constituent Assembly.  The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) won 21 seats in the Constituent Assembly.  UNTAG-electoral component, which consisted of 1,400 personnel from some 30 countries, supervised the electoral process between July 3 and November 14, 1989.  The Commonwealth of Nations (CON) sent seven personnel to provide electoral assistance from September 24 to October 10, 1989.  The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) sent observers to monitor the elections, and the IPU mission issued its report on December 20, 1989.  South African military troops completed their withdrawal from Namibia on November 22, 1989.  The Constituent Assembly convened on November 21, 1989, and the constitution was approved on February 9, 1990.  Sam Nujoma was elected president by the National Assembly on February 16, 1990.  Namibia formally achieved its independence from South Africa on March 21, 1990.  UNTAG was disbanded on March 21, 1990.  Eighteen UNTAG personnel, including 11 military personnel, 4 civilian police personnel, and three international civilian staff members, were killed during the mission.

[Sources: Africa Contemporary Record (ACR), 1978-1979, 1979-1980, 1981-1982, 1983-1984, 1986-1987, 1988-1989; Africa Diary, December 17-23, 1979; Beigbeder, 1994, 37-38, 151-163; Bercovitch and Jackson, 1997, 130; Brogan, 1992, 71-79; Brecher and Wilkenfeld, 1997, 74-79; Butterworth, 1976, 78-80; Clodfelter, 1992, 1019-1020; Degenhardt, 1988, 243-247; Dugard 1973; Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), March 2, 1978, May 8, 1978, August 28, 1981, August 31, 1981; Jessup, 1998, 504-506; Keesing’s Record of World Events, April 20-27, 1963, January 17-24, 1970, November 1989; Tillema, 1991, 115-118; UN Chronicle, March 1989, June 1989.]

 

Selected Bibliography

Cooper, Allan D. 1991. The Occupation of Namibia: Afrikanerdom’s Attack on the British Empire. Lanham, Md, New York, and London: University Press of America.

Dugard, John. 1973. The South West Africa/Namibia Dispute. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Fokkens, Andries M. 2012. “The Suppression of Internal Unrest in South West Africa (Namibia) 1921-1933,” Scientia Militaria, vol. 40 (3), pp. 109-146.

Goldblatt, I. 1971. History of South West Africa From the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century. Cape Town, South Africa: Juta & Company, Ltd.

Kerina, Mburumba. 1981. Namibia: The Making of a Nation. New York: Books in Focus, Inc.

Seiler, John. 1982. “South Africa in Namibia: Persistence, Misperception, and Ultimate Failure,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 20 (4), pp. 689-712.