Namibia

Institutionalization of Ethnic Categories

Key Dates
Note about Namibia
Details/Documentation

Sources

Key Dates

  • 1885: Bechuanaland becomes British protectorate
  • 1966: Botswana gains independence from Britain

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Note about Namibia

Owing to the fact that Namibia was administered essentially as a fifth province of South Africa from 1920-90, during that period, and in the immediate aftermath, South Africa’s institutions would be most relevant – which implied that race was very highly institutionalized and ethno-linguistic categories were also well institutionalized during that period.

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Details/Documentation

Race

Namibia was administered by South Africa until it gained independence in 1990. As such, South Africa’s apartheid regime shaped much of Namibia’s 20th century history. We do not find substantial evidence of institutionalized race following Namibia’s independence.

Race was counted on the census continuously throughout the 20th century but was not asked on the 2001 census, the only post-independence census to date.

After 1949, in accord with developments in South Africa, voting and leadership occurred along racial lines. The South West Africa Affairs Amendment Act 23 gave the white community the right to elect six representatives to the South African parliament and four to the senate (Strand 1991: 11).

Native reserves were created in the early 20th century.  A 1962 homeland policy outlined by the Odendaal commission aimed to create eleven racially separate “homelands” in Namibia, one white and ten black, but this policy was never fully implemented (Strand 1991: 11)

Beginning at least in 1920, the Vagrancy Proclamation Act made it illegal for Africans to leave reserves except when going to work for a white. Pass laws for Africans were enacted in 1922, which made it illegal for an African over the age of 14 to travel within, enter, or leave the territory without official permissions (Strand 1991: 10).

Various extreme policies in areas of education, voting, and land tenure made clear demarcations along racial lines (D’Amato 1966), consistent with the South African apartheid style of government.

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Language

Prior to independence, various institutions made ethnic distinctions along ethno-linguistic lines, but after independence we find very little evidence of institutionalization.

Language has been enumerated on every census since 1951.

Like in South Africa, beginning in the 1960s, a system of ethnically-based “homelands” or “bantustans” was established and several of these were granted official autonomy– though such recognition was not legitimated in the international arena, nor among the citizens so designated (Kossler 2000:458-62). These structures were eliminated at independence.

Throughout the 20th century, Namibia’s Caprivi region – territorially quite insulated from the rest of the country – was generally administered differently under colonial rule, including being recognized with “homeland” status in 1977. But the state has not granted autonomy to this region.

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Religion

We find limited evidence of institutionalized religious categories in Namibia. Religion has been enumerated on every census since 1951.

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Caste

None found

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Indigenous

None found

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Other ethnic, including tribe

None found

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Sources

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