Although the written history of Namibia is relatively recent, the land itself is steeped in ancient significance. Considering that approximately three-quarters of global human history is unaccounted for, Namibia’s lands have preserved numerous accounts of ancients times – through fossils, the Petrified Forest site, and most notably, through its famed rock art. Namibia’s archaeological evidence stretches from about 3-million years ago and is one of the longest sequences recognised. As a result, the majority of Namibian history is unaccounted for in written works considering that humans have inhabited these lands for hundreds of centuries; leaving archaeologists attempting to document as much as possible.
Rock art is possibly the most visible relic of prehistoric times – specifically in southern Africa. The art of the Apollo 11 cave in the Karas region is considered as some of the earliest art found in Africa, dated to between 25,500 – 23,500 BC. Situated in the Huns Mountains of south-western Namibia, these caves were home to seven slabs of rock depicting animal figures. The spectacular Brandberg mountain, rising to 1900m above the surrounding dunes, houses one of the largest collections of rock art in the world with over 43,000 paintings at over 1000 sites. Rock art is a major tourist attraction in Namibia, resulting in the famed Twyfelfontein site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, receiving over 30,000 visitors a year.
The name of the country is derived from the Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world. The area was first known as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika), then as South- West Africa, which highlighted the colonial occupation of Germany and South Africa – the latter as a dominion state of the British Empire – before Namibia’s independence in 1990.
In 1884, the country became a German Imperial protectorate and remained a German colony until after World War One. The League of Nations mandated the country to South Africa in 1920 and imposed its laws as well as South Africa’s apartheid policy from 1948.
The UN took direct responsibility over South-West Africa in 1966 after uprisings and resistance from African leaders. The South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) was recognised as the official representative of the Namibian people in 1973 but stayed under South African administration. After internal resistance intensified, South Africa introduced an interim administration in Namibia in 1985, which lasted until Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990.