|Official Country Name||Republic of Namibia|
|Region (Map name):||Africa|
|Area:||825,418 sq km|
|GDP:||3,479 (US$ millions)|
|Number of Television Stations:||8|
|Number of Television Sets:||60,000|
|Television Sets per 1,000:||33.4|
|Number of Radio Stations:||41|
|Number of Radio Receivers:||232,000|
|Radio Receivers per 1,000:||129.1|
|Number of Individuals with Computers:||60,000|
|Computers per 1,000:||33.4|
|Number of Individuals with Internet Access:||30,000|
|Internet Access per 1,000:||16.7|
Background & General Characteristics
Namibia, formerly called South West Africa, is a mostly desert or semi-desert country just off the Atlantic Ocean in the southern part of Africa. It is a vast country that is sparsely populated with about 1.79 million people, but its population is expected to reach 2.30 million by 2025 and 3.75 million by 2050. Namibia is bordered by Angola and Zambia (north), the Atlantic Ocean (west), South Africa (south and southeast) and Botswana (east). Walvis Bay, which covers 434 square miles, is Namibia's main port for imports and exports. At one time, South Africa tried to take over Walvis Bay and make it a part of South Africa.
Most of Namibia's adult population is made up of indigenous Africans, mostly from the Ovambo, Damara, and Herero groups. There are also more than 50,000 Coloureds (people of mixed racial descent), more than 40,000 Afrikaners (people of South African descent), and more than 25,000 people of German descent.
Namibia had a troubled history. Initially, Hottentots (a short, racially mixed, brown-skinned people) invaded the country from South Africa; since they had guns, they conquered Herero and Damara territory. They were followed, in 1883, by the Germans who laid claim to what came to be called South West Africa. When Europeans met for what was called the "Scramble for Africa," Namibia was ceded to German control. With their superior firepower, German merchants, soldiers, and missionaries, established forts and settlements. They conquered or took over everything in their path, except for Walvis Bay, which the British had occupied and annexed to Cape Colony, one of the four provinces of South Africa. Using brute force, the Germans took land and cattle from the indigenous people. It is estimated that 65,000 Hereros were killed by the Germans, but German occupation did not last long.
During World War I, South Africa invaded German West Africa, intending to make the large country a part of South Africa. The League of Nations blocked that move, instead giving South Africa a mandate to look after the territory. However, South Africa ignored the League of Nation's wishes and, from 1920 to 1946, treated Namibia as if it were a part of South Africa. When World War II ended and the United Nations (UN) emerged as a successor to the League of Nations, South Africa refused to acknowledge that the UN had jurisdiction over Namibia. Instead it tried to engage in creeping annexation, treating Namibia as one of its provinces (states) and actually allowing legislators from the future Namibia to be chosen to represent their country in the South African Parliament.
Under increasing pressure from newly independent African countries and other countries that wanted to end colonialism, the UN took South Africa to the International Court of Justice, which issued unclear verdicts in 1962 and 1966. However, in 1972 the court finally declared that South African occupation of Namibia was illegal. Two years later, the UN Security Council nullified South Africa's attempts to annex Walvis Bay, the main Namibian port. Despite the court ruling and the Security Council's actions, the apartheid government—a system of legalized racial segregation that left control of the country in the hands of the white minority while the black majority was voteless and powerless—in South Africa continued to act as if nothing had changed. The situation indeed was changing; black South Africans were organizing themselves in an effort to end South African rule and to stop the creeping annexation that saw apartheid being exported to Namibia.
In 1960 the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) was born as a black nationalist movement to agitate for change in Namibia, including majority rule and independence. These ideas were anathema to South Africa's rulers who were doing their best to suppress the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, the country's domestic black nationalist movements. South African pressure forced African nationalist leaders to flee Namibia and flee into exile in Zambia and Tanzania. By 1966 SWAPO had turned to guerrilla war as the only way to drive South Africans out of Namibia. South Africa responded by escalating its efforts to suppress SWAPO and its allies. SWAPO leaders in the country were arrested and some were detained or jailed in South Africa proper, away from their supporters.
As SWAPO increased military pressure against South Africa, the United Nations continued to insist that Namibia was a trust territory being temporarily controlled by South Africa until one day its people would exercise their right to self-determination and independence. South Africa tried numerous strategies and subterfuges to remain in control over Namibia.
After neighboring Angola won independence from Portuguese rule on November 11, 1975, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) decided to support its SWAPO allies by providing them with bases for guerrilla training and weapons with which to fight South African occupiers. South Africa chose to support the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). As South African soldiers and their UNITA allies tried to take over Angola, the MPLA appealed for support from its socialist allies. Cuba's Fidel Castro sent in soldiers to support the MPLA government, leading to a decisive defeat for South Africa and the expulsion of its soldiers from Angolan soil. That forced South Africa to return to the negotiating table again, where she insisted that her troops would not leave Namibia until Cuban troops left Angola.
South Africa finally agreed to Namibian independence, giving up her dreams of absorbing Namibia and using it as a buffer zone to keep Africans from the north outside Pretoria's boundaries. When South Africa agreed to end its illegal occupation of Namibia, the SWAPO returned home to contest the country's elections. SWAPO won a majority in the 75-member National Assembly in the 1990 elections, dashing South Africa's hopes that a government more friendly to South Africa would emerge. On March 21, 1990, the country became independent and officially changed its name from South West Africa to Namibia. Sam Nujoma, who was born in 1929 and became SWAPO leader in 1962, became Namibia's first democratically elected president in 1990.
The Namibian constitution guarantees and protects press freedom. Generally, the media in Namibia is freer than in many other African countries, although clashes have increased between the SWAPO government and the Fourth Estate. Namibia boasts four daily newspapers: The Namibian , an independent English and Ovambo newspaper based in Windhoek, with a circulation between 10,000 and 25,000, whose editor, Gwen Lister, is also active in press freedom issues in Southern Africa; the Namibian News , a government newspaper published by the Ministry of Finance in Windhoek; the Namibia Economist ; and the Allgemeine Zeitung , a German newspaper published in Windhoek, established in 1916 (Editor-in-Chief Eberhard Hofmann).
Other Namibian newspapers include Die Republikein (The Republican), a daily Afrikaans, English, and German language newspaper, established in 1977 in Windhoek (Proprietor Democratic Media Holdings), with a circulation between 10,000 and 25,000; Tempo , a German and English language newspaper, established in 1992, published in Windhoek on Sundays (Proprietor Democratic Media Holdings, Editor Des Erasmus), with a circulation in the 10,000 to 25,000 range; and the Windoek Advertiser , a daily English language newspaper established in 1919 in Windhoek (Proprietor John Meinert (Pty.) Ltd. with some Democratic Media Holdings shareholding), with a circulation of less than 10,000. The privately owned Allgemeine Zeitung and the government-owned Namibian News are the country's most influential newspapers.
Other publications include Namibia Review , a monthly English magazine published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, with a circulation of 10,000; and Abacus , a weekly, free English newspaper with a circulation of 30,000.
A major player in the country's print media is Democratic Media Holdings, a business enterprise run by the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), the country's official opposition party. DTA is a grouping of whites and others opposed to SWAPO. South Africa would have preferred to see the DTA win Namibian's independence elections because DTA was more compliant and more willing to do Pretoria's bidding.
The government-owned Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) is the country's leading domestic news agency. It also works with the Pan African News Agency for receiving and distributing news and information within the country.
The print media in Namibia is far freer in the 2000s than it has been in the past. During the days of South African control, all forms of media were restricted. Various laws, including those governing defense, prisons, the police, the ubiquitous Internal Security Act, as well as emergency regulations, severely restricted what journalists could report, publish, photograph, or record. They could not report prison, police, or military stories or anything about unrest or guerrilla activities or SWAPO. Anything considered likely to undermine the Pretoria regime was also untouchable as far as journalists were concerned. The Pretoria regime deliberately tried to use the print media, just as it did with radio and television, as part of a total onslaught campaign against SWAPO. The media was ruthlessly muzzled.
Everything changed with Namibia's independence. Its constitution guaranteed press freedom, including the ownership and publication of privately owned newspapers. There is an explicit guarantee, under Article 21, that freedom of speech and expression includes the press and other media. However, the government has the power to restrict these freedoms in the interests of public order, decency, morality, national security, contempt of court, or defamation. Generally, Namibians have had far more press freedom than many of their neighbors, although there have been some clashes between the government and the private media.
By African and Third World standards, Namibia is relatively well off. Its gross national product (GNP) per capita was U.S. $2,030 in 1994. The national currency is the Namibian dollar. The national languages are English, used for all official purposes and business, Afrikaans, Damara, Herero, German, Ovambo, and Kavango. Wind-hoek, with a population of about 150,000 people, is Namibia's capital and largest city.
Namibia is a semi-arid and semi-desert country, with rainfall ranging from 2 inches to 19.8 inches per year. The agricultural basis of its economy depends on cattle, fish, sheep, corn, millet, fruit, and sorghum. Mining also anchors the economy. Namibia has diamonds, uranium, lead, gold, copper, zinc, tin, silver, tantalite, pyrites, vanadium, cadmium, tungsten, and germanium.
Life expectancy in Namibia is 60 years for women and 58 years for men, which is higher than normal for most Africans. However, this relatively high longevity is now under attack by HIV/AIDS, which is also decimating other African countries.
Another serious problem facing Namibia is illiteracy. Although education has been free, universal, and compulsory to age 16 since 1990, illiteracy is still high because South Africa neglected the education of black children. Illiteracy is 38 percent, most of it among the indigenous people, thus affecting their ability to read and understand newspapers. In 1998 Namibia had 400,325 students in primary schools, 115,147 students in secondary schools, and 90 students in vocational institutions. Newspaper readership will likely increase as literacy rises.
Although it has not always been happy with how the written media has covered it, the Namibian government has generally been tolerant. There have been few restrictions, although libel laws can be used to deter the media. The constitution protects press freedom, so there have been no arrests or torture of journalists. When it comes to radio and television, however, the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) is the sole provider of all electronic media services, a state-owned national broadcaster. Owners of radio or television sets are required to buy an annual listeners' license. These fees go to the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, which is subsidized by the government.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
When it was under South African control, foreign media was not allowed into South Africa. The only media given access was South African newspapers, especially the pro-apartheid publications. The media that operated in Namibia was subjected to the same restrictions and obstacles faced by their counterparts in South Africa. At that time, being found in possession of foreign publications, especially those from communist countries, could result in a prison sentence.
Since independence, the media in Namibia has enjoyed much more freedom. Foreign publications and journalists are now welcome, as are media and journalists from neighboring countries. The government, however, discourages foreign ownership of the media. The Voice of America, South Africa radio, and the British Broadcasting Corporation are among listeners' favorites.
When it comes to electronic media, the Namibian government has been tighter. According to the latest figures, there were 215,000 radio receivers in 1995 and 232,000 in 1997. During the same period, television receivers went up from 39,000 to 60,000. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is responsible for formulating guidelines on how the media should act. It also runs the NBC, the successor to the South African Broadcasting Corporation; the NBC is responsible for radio and television services. Desert TV is a privately owned station in Windhoek.
Although NBC is also the national radio broadcaster, the government has allowed the emergence of privately-run stations such as Radio Kudu, which specializes in music; Radio Wave, a private contemporary music station; Radio Energy, another music outlet; Radio 99, another private music station; Channel 7, a private religious station based in Windhoek; and Katutura Community Radio, also based in Windhoek, which rebroadcasts some British Broadcasting Corporation programs.
The pre-independence media in Namibia was used to propagate and prop up the apartheid policies of the Pretoria regime. News was used to demonize those seeking to bring about a more democratic society, and penalties were in place to punish those who violated the minefield of laws designed to protect those in power and to shield them from the spotlight of relentless media scrutiny. Under the new political dispensation, the media has become a major player in institution building and in the dissemination of news and information. The press has taken on more of a watchdog role. Perhaps the change in the new order of things was best summed up by Hidipo Hamutenya, then Namibia's minister of information and broadcasting, when he said: "Our media must also provide a feedback channel to the government by timely and adequately reporting on development countrywide. They must … closely monitor the implementation of the various economic development projects and programs throughout the country." His call was for the media to become a partner in development, to be the Fourth Estate, and to hold the government accountable to its people—a role too few African media outlets are permitted or encouraged to play.
Education & Training
Before independence, journalists were trained in various African countries, especially Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania. There were no domestic training opportunities during the days of minority rule. Now such opportunities exist, as well as courses instituted by Britons and Canadians. Short courses, training seminars, and workshops are also regularly offered in Namibia and in the surrounding countries for the common training of Southern African journalists. Other Namibians go overseas or to South Africa for advanced training, some of which has been underwritten by UNESCO and the United States Information Agency.
Under apartheid, on all issues concerning prisons or national security, the media deferred to the government. No stories could be reported on those issues without first getting a government comment or denial. This is no longer the case; the media reports freely, for the most part. The future looks bright for Namibian journalists, except those in the electronic media who remain under government control. It's common throughout most of Africa that radio and television remains under strict government control. Namibia is not yet an exception.
"Africa." Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations , 7th edition. Worldmark Press, 1988.
Africa South of the Sahara , 31st edition. Europa Publications, 2002.
British Broadcasting Corporation. "Country Profile: Namibia." Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara , 2002.
Merrill, John C., ed. Global Journalism: Survey of International Communication, 2nd edition, New York & London: Longman, 1991.
Shivute, Mocks. "The Media in Post-Independent Namibia." In Communication & The Transformation of Society , eds. Peter Nwosu, Chuka Onwumechili, and Ritchard M'Bayo. Lanham, New York: University Press of America, Inc., 1997.
Tendayi S. Kumbula