Namibia: Apartheid, resistance and repression (1945-1966)
Updated August 2009
In 1946 the newly formed United Nations (UN) refused South Africa permission to annex South West Africa and required that, as with other League of Nations mandate territories, it become a trusteeship under the supervision of the UN Trusteeship Council to prepare the territory for eventual independence (Saunders 2008, 826; UNESCO 1974, 140). South Africa did not accept that mandate supervision had passed from the League of Nations to the United Nations and refused to submit to more onerous supervision of its administration by the UN, much less the possibility of the end of White rule in the territory, arguing that "with the death of the League the mandate system was also at an end and therefore its sovereignty over Namibia was now unrestricted" (Longmire 1990, 208; Dale 1980, 64). The UN sought a ruling from the International Court of Justice clarifying the legal status of the territory and in 1950 the Court ruled that SA was not obliged to place the SWA under UN trusteeship, that it remained a South African mandate, but it could not be annexed to South Africa nor could the status of the territory be unilaterally changed by South Africa (Longmire 1990, 208, 209; Saunders 2008, 826). Effectively the territory remained a mandate territory under a much looser UN supervision and the possibility of independence was dropped (Saunders 2008, 826; Dale 1980, 64).
The National Party government that came to power in 1948 followed a policy that all but incorporated South West Africa as a fifth province of the Union, allocating the White population six seats in Parliament and providing it with a constitution that ignored its mandate status (Longmire 1990, 208, 209). The focus in the post-War period was to accelerate the economic development and exploitation of the territory, hitherto largely neglected, and integrated the territory economically, socially and politically into the Union of South Africa (Green & Kiljunen 1981, 30; Longmire 1990, 208, 209). Thus the policy of Apartheid that was developed and implemented in South Africa was extended also to South West Africa. The Wage and Industrial Conciliation Ordinance, No. 35 of 1952 criminalised strikes and enabled the deportation of striking contract workers to the reserves from which they had been recruited (Melber 1983, 153, 154). Other legislation systematised racial segregation in urban areas, enabled control of the movements of Africans in urban areas, and between urban and rural areas, and that enabled the creation of the elaborate bureaucratic machinery to enforce these laws were also extended to the territory (UNESCO 1974, 142). The Ministry of Bantu Affairs was given centralised control over Africans and the Bantu Education system aimed at indoctrinating Africans to accept social inferiority, political subordination and economic servitude was implemented (UNESCO 1974, 142).
The Report of the Odendall Commission, which was published in 1964, recommended that 39.6% of the land be allocated to reserves set aside for the ten indigenous groups identified by it; the reserves demarcated reflected neither current patterns of residence at the time nor did they correspond with historical areas of origin and while it increased the amount of land available to Africans it reduced the quality (Kiljunen, ML 1981, 95, 96; UNESCO 1974, 143). Moreover, implementing the creation of the reserves required that large numbers of people would have to be moved, if the Commission's recommendations were to be fully implemented then, "74 per cent of the Herero would have to move, 87 per cent of the Nama, 94 per cent of the Damara, and 95 per cent of the Bushmen" (UNESCO 1974, 143). Whites, who formed 11.5% of the population, were to be allocated 44% of the land and 16% was to remain state land, while the urban based Cape Coloureds (primarily post-War immigrants from the Cape Province) were to be provided for separate townships in the towns (Kiljunen, ML 1981, 95, 96; UNESCO 1974, 143). The government accepted the Report and the Development of Self-Government for Native Nations of South West Africa Act of 1968 was passed to give effect to it, and a series of partially elected Legislative Assemblies were set up between 1968 and 1976, with varying degrees of self government power delegated to them during the course of the 1970s, for the various groups with the exception of the Herero, San, Himba and Tswanas (Kiljunen, ML 1981, 97; UNESCO 1974, 144).
The effect of this was to further entrench the migrant contract labour system, with the reserves acting as reservoirs of labour, while creating a privileged class of tribal functionaries and chiefs that acted as agents of state rule, but effectively power remained with the South African government (Kiljunen, ML 1981, 97, 98). The flip side of this policy was that every effort was made to prevent the development of a permanent group of urbanised Africans based in the cities through tight movement control, segregated housing, restrictions on property ownership and the provision of minimal sub-standard services (Tvedten 2004, 400). The intensification of the contract labour system was the result of a quest for cheap, manageable and docile labour to service the burgeoning economy in the hands of White settlers and South African corporations, especially for the fast growing mining industry (Clarence-Smith & Moorsom 1975, 381; Innes 1981, 69, 70). For the people of the highlands and southern South West Africa, this represented the tightening of a system they had long laboured under, but for the people of the north, especially of Ovamboland, it meant the extension of administrative control in a new way (Clarence-Smith & Moorsom 1975, 381). The pressures of population growth, the deterioration of traditional means of production and the stagnation of the Angolan economy made northerners ever more dependent on employment in the economy of the south (Clarence-Smith & Moorsom 1975, 381).
The elaboration of Apartheid, with its ruthless economic exploitation, social degradation and personal poverty and humiliation, provoked resistance from the African people subjected to it. As early as 1948 resistance to the contract labour system emerged when over 2000 Ovambo contract workers in Tsumeb went on strike following the killing of a worker by a white foreman (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148). In 1949 a union was formed for canning workers at Lüderitz, followed by another for contract workers from Ovamboland and three large strikes followed in 1952 and 1953 in Lüderitz and Walvis Bay (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148). The South African government vigorously clamped down on the incipient trade union movement, using security legislation, especially the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 to arrest trade unionists, ban meetings and outlaw trade unions (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148; Melber 1983, 154). The reign of terror unleashed was sufficient to quell the trade union movement, but sporadic strikes continued to occur, despite the authoritarian repression that they were met with (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148; Melber 1983, 154).
Political resistance to Apartheid until the 1950s were ethnically based and organised by traditional authorities, but the emergence of the trade unionism, student organisations and local political groups laid the basis for more sophisticated resistance that was to coalesce into a national movement (Kiljunen K, 1981, 147; UNESCO 1974, 146). The burgeoning of African nationalist movements throughout the continent and resistance to Apartheid in South Africa stimulated political resistance (Kiljunen K, 1981, 147, 148). In 1952 the South West African Student Body was founded by youth studying at South African colleges and schools which in 1955 developed into the South West African Progressive Association, the territory's first political party (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148). In Cape Town, under the leadership of Herman Toivo ya Toivo, contract workers formed an organisation that developed into the Ovambo People's Congress in 1957 (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148; Melber 1983, 155). However, Toivo ya Toivo was deported to South West Africa and placed under house arrest so leadership devolved on Sam Nujoma and, renamed the Ovambo People's Congress, it became increasingly focused on national issues and national mobilisation (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148).
1959 proved to be a turning point, when protesters resisting forced removals and the abolition of their freehold rights in Windhoek were fired on by the police, resulting in 54 people being wounded and 11 others killed, provoking an increase in militancy in the incipient nationalist movement (Kjeseth 1989, 10; UNESCO 1974, 142). One expression of this was the transformation of the Ovambo People's Organisation into the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) in 1960 and the broadening of its platform from economic issues revolving around the end of the contract labour system to the end of racial discrimination, respect human rights and independence for South West Africa (Kiljunen K, 1981, 148, 149; Melber 1983, 155). Though SWAPO expanded rapidly to form branches throughout the territory, it was subject to state repression from the beginning; its first president, Sam Nujoma and other leaders and activists were forced into exile (Kiljunen K, 1981, 149; UNESCO 1974, 140). The intransigent and heavy handed repression of dissent by the South African government increasingly narrowed peaceful avenues of resistance, as early as 1962 SWAPO activists began to undergo military training, in 1966 SWAPO formed the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and an armed struggle to gain independence was launched (Longmire 1990, 209; Kiljunen K, 1981, 149).
In the international arena patience with South Africa's conduct in South West Africa was wearing thin. Exiles and expatriates launched a campaign to sensitise members of the UN and, when it was formed in 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (UNESCO 1974, 140). Applications by Liberia and Ethiopia to the International Court of Justice for an order compelling South African to comply with the terms of its mandate and to submit to UN trusteeship in 1960 led to a ruling in 1966 that the applicants had no legal standing to submit to the Court on the matter (Longmire 1990, 209; Dale 1980, 65). The UN General Assembly then voted to terminate SA's mandate through Resolution 2145 (Longmire 1990, 209; Saunders 2008, 826). South Africa, for its part, ignored the resolution (Longmire 1990, 209).
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