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Walvis Bay reintegration was a necessity

2024-03-04  Eveline de Klerk

Walvis Bay reintegration was a necessity

WALVIS BAY – While celebrating 30 years of Walvis Bay’s reintegration into Namibia, residents are advocating more opportunities in terms of jobs and housing.

The harbour town, once at the heart of a contentious dispute, became a focal point of geopolitics when it was annexed by the then apartheid ruled South Africa as its territory. 

In a controversial move on 31 August 1977, the administration of the territory was shifted to the Cape Province, seemingly to prevent its potential loss to a Swapo-led government. In July 1978, the United Nations, through Resolution 435 unequivocally called for the reintegration of Walvis Bay into Namibia. 

But despite Namibia’s independence on 21 March 1990, South Africa retained control of the harbour town of Walvis Bay until mounting international and local pressure compelled its final relinquishment at midnight on 28 February 1994.

Today, after 30 years of the reintegration, those who witnessed the historic event reflected on that tumultuous period.

Daniel Imbili (73) remembers the bitter period in their lives which made freedom of movement sound like a distant dream at the time.

 “We were cornered in our own country for four years, unable to freely visit relatives even in nearby Swakopmund due to stringent checkpoints,” he said.

Imbili credited the negotiation team, including then Prime Minister and now late president Hage Geingob, who appointed incumbent President Nangolo Mbumba as Namibia’s chief executive officer in the Walvis Bay Joint Administrative Authority in the last quarter of 1992.

President Mbumba and the late Nathaniel Maxuilili and Rikumbi Kandanga worked tirelessly in securing Walvis Bay’s reintegration to Namibia. 

Imbili stated that South Africa’s reluctance stemmed from economic interests, particularly in the harbour and fishing industry revenues, which have been transformed to such an extent that the town is regarded as a logistics hub.

“The influx of people seeking opportunities drastically altered the town’s dynamics, intensifying political competition and underscoring the need for effective leadership, cognisant of local realities,” he noted.

Imbili added that despite the socio-economic hardships, high unemployment rate and a lack of housing, Walvis Bay has indeed transformed into a formidable town.

Businessman Nande Muatunga also reflected on the reintegration process, recalling offering his home to Mbumba and judge president Petrus Damaseb on the eve of the historic event. 

He said negotiations                                                                                                                      were multi-faceted, with committees ensuring a smooth transition, albeit with challenges like inadequate lodging facilities. “Walvis Bay has evolved over time, albeit not uniformly, grappling with issues such as unemployment, housing shortages, and educational disparities in the aftermath of integration”. 

Mautunga remains optimistic, however, asserting that concerted efforts can address these pressing concerns, transforming aspirations for adequate housing from distant dreams to tangible realities within the town’s grasp. 

He now advocates for unity, urging stakeholders to prioritise service delivery over political agendas, and emphasises the importance of public engagement to foster understanding among newcomers. 

Martha !Owoses, whose grandfather was a contract worker, said despite the stringent rules by the South Africans, her old man could work and provide for his family. 

“We remember going to the old compound to watch movies in black and white. We remember the buses which used to take our old people to town for work, and the strong smell that hung over Walvis Bay,” she continued. However, she lamented that the town in its current state does not provide enough opportunities for young people, while housing and the lack of schools is also a challenge.

“My wish is that we create opportunities for young people. In that way, they would also positively contribute to the town’s development,” she observed.





2024-03-04  Eveline de Klerk

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