As Namibia celebrates 31 years of independence this month, we reflect on the many achievements the country’s sporting fraternity has scored over the years. Despite the endless infights between its leaders, football remains the toast of Namibian sport, having become a regular participant in major continental competitions.
Having made appearances at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Burkina Faso and the 2008 Afcon in Ghana as well as the 2019 Afcon in Egypt, Namibia in 2018 turned a new leaf by qualifying to her first ever African Nations Championship (CHAN) finals held in Morocco and again followed up with another qualification to this year’s CHAN finals held in Cameroon.
But not only has the country’s football made promising inroads at continental level, but at regional level, Namibia’s junior sides have also enjoyed their fair share of success. In 2015, the Brave Warriors made history when they clinched their first ever Cosafa Cup and that success was replicated a year later by the U/17 side, which won the 2016 Cosafa Cup. Also in 2016, the Brave Warriors won the Plate final of the Cosafa Cup.
Just last year, the country’s U/20 side reached the final of the Cosafa Cup but unfortunately lost to Mozambique. But by virtue of reaching the 2020 Cosafa U/20 Cup final, Namibia automatically qualified for the this year’s U/20 Africa Cup of Nations recently held in Mauritania.
Not only that, but Namibia also played her part in advancing the positive narrative of developing African football through shared growth and prosperity when it secured and successfully hosted the 2014 CAF African Women’s Championship in Windhoek at both the Independence and Sam Nujoma stadiums.
At home, there has been tremendous efforts to develop the game through various youth competitions such as the annual Newspaper Cup, Skorpion Zinc U/17 Cup, the NFA Built It Youth Cup and more recently the MTC HopSol Youth Cup; to mention but a few. All these youth competitions, coupled with others, have over the past 31 years played a fundamental role in shaping the development agenda of Namibian football.
On the rugby front, Namibia ranks among the most successful rugby playing nations on the continent, having consistently qualified to the last six Rugby World Cups and also winning multiple Rugby Africa Gold Cups over the last three decades.
The Welwitschias, as Namibia’s senior rugby side is known, have won the Rugby Africa Gold Cup no less than four times and since making her debut at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales, Namibia has since never missed out on any World Cup – qualifying to the 2003 edition in Australia, 2007 in France, 2011 in New Zealand, 2015 in England and 2019 in Japan.
Namibia has also managed to maintain a top-30 world ranking over the years and is a regular competitor in numerous South African provincial competitions such as the Vodacom Cup, the Supersport Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup, which all serve as important platforms for Namibian players to gain much-needed exposure and also get scouted by clubs in that country.
The country’s junior rugby sides have also enjoyed relative success in Africa and women’s rugby has also taken its rightful place at the development agenda of the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU), as more resources and technical expertise are being shifted towards that area.
Namibian netball has also made great strides on the continent and beyond, with the national senior team, the Desert Jewels, appearing to have finally shaken off some unwanted rust on their diadems with the historic triumph of the 2019 M1 Nations Cup in Singapore – a historic first for Namibia.
Not only did the Desert Jewels make history with their M1 Nations Cup success, but the often underfinanced Namibian ladies signalled the country’s return to former glory days when Namibia was ranked among the crème de la crème of African netball, especially in the southern nook of the continent.
Netball Namibia (NN), the local netball presiding body, has also been doing wonders on the development side of the game through the Debmarine Netball Regional Championship, which brings together the best of the best from all 14 regions.
NN also recently secured a three-year sponsorship worth N$4.2 million from MTC to assist with the establishment of a premier netball league and the development of netball countrywide.
Moving on to boxing, local boxing has also enjoyed great success over the last three decades, which has seen the likes of legendary Harry Simon, Paulus Moses, Paulus Ambunda and Julius Indongo all bringing home multiple world titles and inspiring the next generation of Namibian boxers.
Promising young fighters such as Jeremiah Nakathila, Mikka Shonena, Sakaria Lukas, Harry Simon Jnr and many others have constantly been demonstrating that the future of local boxing is indeed bright and that they are prepared to carry the baton further.
Meanwhile, credit should also go to legendary promoter Nestor Tobias and others such as Kiriat Kamanya of Salute Boxing Academy, Joseph Benhard of Kilimanjaro Boxing Club, Kinda Nangolo of Kinda Promotions and to new kid on the block Imms Moses of AC Boxing Promotions for bringing a new lease of life to local boxing while also giving upcoming and veteran boxers an opportunity to showcase their talents.
Still on the success of the past 31 years, Namibia’s Paralympic athletes continue to be the pride and joy of the nation as they continuously stamp their authority in the international Paralympics arena. And ever since Johanna Benson stole the headiness at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London when she demolished a field of strong competitors to win Namibia’s first ever Paralympic gold in the women’s 200m race, local Para-athletes have continued putting Namibia on the world map with great pride.
At the 2016 Paralympics, Namibia managed to win seven medals which included one gold, two silver and two bronze medals, while the previous year at the 2015 Athletics World Championships staged in Doha, local Para-athletes collected seven medals, including two gold medals, three silver and two bronze.
Meanwhile in 2017 in London, local Para-athletes continued to defy the odds as they went on to bag three medals which comprised of two gold medals and one bronze medal; to mention but some of the successes on that front.
In athletics, the country also enjoyed great success starting with legend Frank Fredericks who made history as the first Namibian to win Olympic and World Championship medals. Running in the 100m and 200m events, he won four silver medals at the Olympic Games (two in 1992 and two in 1996), making him Namibia’s only able-bodied Olympic medallist to date.
Fredericks also won gold medals at the World Championships, World Indoor Championships, All-Africa Games and Commonwealth Games. Another athlete that has kept the fire burning over the years is long-distance veteran runner Helalia Johannes.
At an advanced age of 40 and still paddling on a remarkable career spanning over 16 years, the soft-spoken Johannes continues to cement her name in the marathon event and remains a force to be reckoned with in world long distance running.
Over the years, Johannes added more souvenirs to her already glittering cabinet with countless victories at the World Athletics Championships, at the Military World Games, the All-Africa Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon and the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge; to mention but a few.
On the cricket front, in 2019 Namibia won the World Cricket League Division 2 tournament to gain One Day International (ODI) status for the first time since her participation at the 2003 World Cup, which was a massive milestone for the country. All in all, Namibian cricket has embarked on a transformative journey that has seen Cricket Namibia (CN) introducing a raft of youth leagues, a women’s league and school cricket initiatives – all aimed at further fostering the game.
Moving on to hockey, in 2017 Namibia’s women indoor hockey team qualified for the 2018 Indoor Hockey World Cup, and gained a top-10 world ranking to become the first major Namibian sport code to reach that feat.
Golden girl… Namibia’s first ever Paralympics gold medallist Johanna Benson.