Namibia Holiday & Travel - People of Namibia - The Whites
Approximately 100 000 Namibians of European descent currently live in Namibia, of whom about two-thirds speak Afrikaans, one quarter German and the rest mostly English, and to a lesser extent, Portuguese. Most of them live in the urban, central and southern parts of the country, and most are involved in commerce, manufacturing, farming, professional services and, to a diminishing extent, the civil service. English was selected as Namibia’s official language and Afrikaans, the common vernacular language, was retired to a secondary position after serving with German and English as one of three official languages for some 60 years.
The first European missionaries, adventurers and explorers began to settle in Namibia in the 1800s, initially in the south. They were mainly Afrikaners infiltrating gradually from South Africa, and settlers of British and German descent. An interesting group was the Dorslandtrekkers, one of several ‘treks’ of Afrikaners who moved northwards from the Groot Marico in South Africa’s northern Transvaal over the Limpopo in search of new places to live. In the second half of the 19th century, after endless wanderings, they settled in Angola, where they lived for about 50 years, before moving to Namibia in 1928.
In 1878 Britain annexed the area surrounding Walvis Bay. In 1884 Bismarck proclaimed German South West Africa a German protectorate, excluding the Walvis Bay enclave. In 1915 the South African Forces gained control of South West Africa and in 1920, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, South Africa took over administration of the country.
Following the Second World War, assisted by generous financial aid, a large number of farms were sold to settlers from South Africa, including returning soldiers. Due to the Angolan war in 1974 there was a considerable influx of Portuguese settlers in Namibia during the seventies. However, as Namibian independence drew closer, many left for Portugal or South Africa.
The number of whites living in Namibia who speak English as a home language is surprisingly small, not more than 8 000 according to the latest population census (2001). They don’t necessarily all have an English ancestry – many are descended from Jews, Italians, French or Portuguese people who came to settle in the country and adopted English as their home language. The major contribution of the English-speaking community to the country is undoubtedly the English language, which replaced Afrikaans, German and English as the official language. Today English is the main language of instruction in state-run schools throughout the country.
As a result of Namibia being administered by South Africa since the end of the First World War and Afrikaans being one of the Territory’s three official languages as well as the main language of instruction in state-run schools, at the time of Namibia’s independence in 1990, Afrikaans was the lingua franca spoken by approximately 90% of all Namibians. It is still a prominent language, as it is not only the first language of Namibia’s Afrikaners but also of the country’s Rehoboth Basters and Coloureds.
Although the period of German rule in Namibia ended almost a century ago and lasted barely thirty years, the German influence on Namibia’s culture, economy and infrastructure has been and still is extensive. According to the latest official census (1991), about 25 000 white German-speaking Namibians currently live in the country. By and large these are Germans who have lived in Namibia for seven to eight generations.