An updated and well-researched chronology of Namibian history is long overdue. In particular, a chronological and properly indexed delineation of the pre-colonial and mandate periods following World War I, and of the period leading up to Namibia’s independence, has long been lacking. This chronology depicts "Namibia’s Road to Freedom"; the country’s striving for freedom and independence is the red thread woven through the rich tapestry of its history since long before the onset of formal colonialism in 1884. The advent of colonialism in the last quarter of the 19th century serves as the starting point for this research, and the seemingly endless yarn of facts and figures that flowed from the colonial presence is followed to its logical conclusion – the birth of the Republic of Namibia on 21 March 1990. Community awareness of ancient historical roots, associated with oral traditions about the origins and migrations of many Namibian communities play an important role in the revival of their cultures in post-independent Namibia and is reflected in this chronology.

The author, being an engineer by profession as well as a historian, has applied an "engineering approach" to this chronicle, which serves to advance its accuracy.

Chronologies tend to be tiresome to read, but they are informative and useful, particularly if they incorporate a comprehensive index, as this one does. This chronology can be used as a reference source in researching, for instance, what events took place in a specific year, the delimitation over time of Namibia’s boundaries, the full spectrum of United Nations resolutions adopted on Namibia, or the leadership and dates of birth and dissolution of political parties and other interest groups. It must be noted, however, that the chronologies of Namibian history produced to date, including this one, are inevitably problematic in that, because the country’s archaeology is still in its infancy, a comprehensive account of its pre-colonial history cannot be produced with any certainty. For this reason also, historical evidence on the whereabouts, lifestyle and development of many Namibian communities is scarce, if not totally lacking.

This chronology has been divided up as follows. The first section chronicles the pre-historical period from the southern African Middle Stone Age to approximately 1200 AD, at which time the first archaeological evidence of human-made pathways in Namibia came into being. The next section takes us into the period of the explorers, hunters and traders who resided in Namibia between 1486 and 1800. This period is followed by the pre-colonial period of the missionaries, and the section on the missionary period is divided into two sub-sections: the period of missionaries arriving to work in Namibia, and that of the missionaries interfering in Namibian politics. We then enter the formal colonial period, which began with the advent of German rule in 1884. This formal colonial period is divided into four sub-periods: the initial period of occupation from 1884 to 1889, the period from 1890 to 1903 which saw the initiation of active resistance against the German administration (nineteen uprisings by various Namibian communities against the Germans during this period, all in all there have been thirty uprisings against the German/South African colonial authorities between 1890 and 1959), the period from 1904 to 1906 when the resistance culminated in central and southern Namibia, and finally the period from 1906 to World War I when the Germans consolidated their power. The next section chronicles the period of South African rule in Namibia, and this period is divided into five sub-periods: the period of South African military rule from 1915 to 1918, the period from 1918 to 1945 when Namibia became a Mandate of the League of Nations, the period from 1946 to 1956 when the United Nations endeavoured to make Namibia a UN Trusteeship Area, the period from 1956 to 1974 when the struggle against South Africa commenced, and finally the period from 1975 to 1987 which saw a succession of South African interim administrations and the start of the attenuated process leading to independence. The next section covers the period immediately preceding independence in 1990. The Chronology is continued for the first ten years after independence until the year 2000. Due to the fact that the author as an elected Member of Parliament and Minister of the Government was directly involved in the founding years of the new emerging state, his projects use up a relatively wide room. They have not only to be regarded as part of Namibian history but also his personal memoirs.

The historical researcher is presented with several unique problems in relation to the earlier periods of Namibian history. Apart from the fact that information sources on these periods are fragmentary, contradictory, or just non-existent, the Gothic-like handwriting of German missionaries and officials makes the available sources exceptionally difficult to work with. It is particularly difficult to trace reliable data on the pre-German period and the period prior to 1890, and although the German and South African colonial periods from 1898 onwards are well documented, in many cases the documentation is strongly biased in favour of the relevant colonial interests, so its veracity is not easily ascertainable.

The starting point for all research on the pre-colonial period is the work of Heinrich Vedder. Frequently, however, it is necessary to read his texts with caution because they do not derive directly from any primary historical source. The narratives of the early travellers and the reports of the missionaries and traders expand on Vedder’s work, and particularly important sources of this nature are the diaries of Carl Hugo Hahn and Emma Sarah Hahn, as well as the Andersson papers. Other data referring to the pre-colonial period can be found in the records of the Rhenish and London Missionary Societies. Regarding the missionary reports, the outstanding works of Wesleyan missionary Benjamin Ridsdale should be mentioned. Reliable reports on the pre-colonial period from travellers, traders and settlers are very scant. However, important data is accessible in publications of the Van Riebeeck Society in Cape Town, in the records of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, in the extensive 1915 treatises of E. Moritz, and in the Jahresberichte (Annual Reports) of the Rhenish Missionary Society. A few isolated sources obtainable from the Cape Archives, such as the reports of Palgrave, Special Commissioner of the Cape Government in the 1870s, and from the Cory Library in Grahamstown, also provide some useful data.

The early history of Namibia cannot be distinguished from the period of the early European explorers, adventurers, traders and missionaries who opened this country up to the outside world in the 19th and early 20th centuries and who, in doing so, created the basis for Namibia’s colonial status which lasted all the way up to 1990. An evaluation of the manifold records of the German colonial period from the 1890s to 1915, as well as some secondary literature, was carried out with a view to documenting the colonial character of Namibia’s history, whose grim consequences for Namibian indigenes were their being dispossessed of land and assets and deprived of human rights.

The mandatory rule of the Union of South Africa and later the Republic of South Africa in many respects perpetuated the objectives of the German colonial power. The construction of a comprehensive chronological picture of South African rule from 1920 to 1989 necessitated an investigation of the records in the Windhoek State Archives, such as the reports of the Union of South Africa to the League of Nations, and the findings in the case on Namibia brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Efforts were also made to verify as many facts as possible by comparing these reconstructive works with the personal experience of the author, who has been involved in Namibian politics since 1977. A special effort was made to assess the history of all political parties in Namibia since 1919, with more than a hundred and eighty such parties, political organisations and lobby groups having come into existence between that year and the year of independence. The first ten years after Namibia’s independence reflect not only a fascinating period of the country’s history, but also the personal memoirs of the author who, as member of the Namibian Government and Parliament, played an active role in coining the first era after the hard won freedom.

Where a precise date of an event could not be established, the event is listed under the relevant year. The click sounds of the Khoesan, the #Nu-Khoen and the Khoe (Nama) are represented by the following symbols: ! (cerebral click), | (dental click), || (lateral click) and # (palatal click).

African society is little understood and under evaluated. Who are the Africans, where are they coming from? Which are the moving forces of Namibian history? I would like to argue that the moving forces are not ethnic or racial in nature but social and economic. As implied above, one major shortcoming of Namibia’s historical records has to be borne in mind: the indigenes were considered to be nothing but objects of European intervention. They do not turn up as makers of history, and the impression is created that they lived "outside" the country’s history. The chronology before you makes an honest attempt to rectify this bias, but it has to be understood that this effort is merely an additional stepping stone in the cumulative effort to write up the very complex history of this young nation state. Another major shortcoming of the records is that references to the role of Namibian women in the making of their country’s history, and in bringing about its liberation, are all too rare, and this topic is deserving of much additional research in the future. Women’s oppressed status in Namibian history is clearly manifested in the fact that they are not mentioned in most of the historical sources. Their work is not valued according to its scope, importance, or degree of skill.

An additional problem is the difficult or even impossible access to the files of contemporary political parties and trade unions.

My special thanks go to André du Pisani of the University of Namibia and Gunther von Schumann of the Namibia Scientific Society for their invaluable suggestions and stimulating ideas, and to Werner Hillebrecht of the National Library of Namibia for guiding me to the appropriate reference sources.

Perri Caplan and Sally Harper looked closely at the final version for English style and grammar, correcting both and offering suggestions for improvement.

Any erroneous facts or assessments, and any omissions, must be charged to my account.

Dr. Klaus Dierks                                                                                         January 2003

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