Early pioneers of European descent started settling in southern Namibia in the 1800s. They were mainly Afrikaners infiltrating from South Africa, and German and British missionaries.
The major contribution of the English-speaking community to Namibia is undoubtedly the English language. When Namibia attained independence in 1990, English was selected as the official language, and today it is the main language of instruction in state-run schools throughout the country. After serving with German as one of three ‘official’ languages, Afrikaans was relegated to a secondary position. Prior to independence, however, it was the main language of instruction in state-run schools, and was the lingua franca spoken by approximately 90 per cent of all Namibians. Nevertheless, it is still a prominent language, as it is the first language spoken by Namibia’s Afrikaners, Rehoboth Basters and Coloureds.
More or less 100 000 Namibians of European descent currently live in the country, most of them in the urban, central and southern areas. They are mainly involved in farming, commerce, manufacturing and professional services. About two-thirds of them speak Afrikaans, one quarter German and the rest, according to the latest population census not more than 8 000, primarily English. The latter don’t all have English ancestry, many being descended from Italians, French and Portuguese people who settled in the country and adopted English as their home language.
The first British presence was established in Namibia in 1807, when the London Missionary Society, which had based itself along the Orange River in 1802, became active north of the river at Warmbad and Blydeverdacht. They and the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society transferred their rights to the Rhenish Missionary Society in the mid-1800s.
Historically Afrikaner was the name applied to the descendants of Dutch and French-Huguenot settlers who emigrated to South Africa at the end of the seventeenth century, entering the country by sea and landing at the Cape of Good Hope. The Afrikaans language as it is spoken today evolved from the Dutch dialect spoken by these settlers. According to some sources many Whites in the Cape regarded themselves as being rooted in Africa, and this concept found expression in the term ‘Afrikaner’. Namibia’s Afrikaners infiltrated gradually from South Africa during the 1800s. An interesting group was the so-called Dorsland Trekkers, one of several ‘treks’ of Afrikaners who moved northwards from the Great Marico in South Africa’s northern Transvaal over the Limpopo in search of new land. In the second half of the nineteenth century, after endless wanderings, some of them settled in Angola, where they lived for about 50 years, before moving to Namibia in the 1920s.
In addition to the Afrikaans language, Afrikaans cuisine too has permeated Namibian contemporary lifestyles in the form of biltong, droëwors, melktert, koeksisters, potjiekos and, most of all, the famous braaivleis; meat barbecued by the men over an open fire while the women prepare salads.
Namibia became a German Protectorate in 1884, a rule that lasted until 1915, when the Khorab peace treaty was signed on the farm Khorab near Otavi. While the period of German rule lasted barely thirty years and ended almost a century ago, the German influence on Namibia’s economy, infrastructure and culture has been and still is far-reaching. According to the 1991 census about 26 000 white German-speaking Namibians currently live in the country, many of whom have lived in Namibia for seven to eight generations.
German-managed institutions have contributed substantially to Namibian culture, including today’s National Art Gallery of Namibia (evolved from the Arts Association), the Namibia Scientific Society (Namibia Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft), sports clubs like the SKW, which hosts the annual carnival, WIKA, museums, theatre groups and instrumental and vocal musical societies.
As a result of the Angolan war in 1974 there was a considerable influx of Portuguese settlers in Namibia during the seventies. As Namibian independence drew closer, many of them left for South Africa or Portugal, leaving behind a small number, many of whom are involved in the business sector today.