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The History of Windhoek

The first recorded settlements were established because of the springs in the area. In about 1849, the Oorlam Captain, Jan Jonker Afrikaner, settled in at the strongest spring in the present Klein Windhoek. At the time, the place was called "/Ai-//Gams" (Fire Water) by the Namas, and "Otjomuise" (Place of Steam) by the Hereros, both names being references to the hot springs.

Historians differ on how Windhoek got its name. Some believe that Afrikaner named Windhoek after the Winterhoek Mountains near Tulbagh in South Africa, where Afrikaner’s ancestors had lived.

In those days Windhoek was the point of contact between the warring southern Namas, led by Jonker Afrikaner, and the Hereros to the north.

In Windhoek, Afrikaner built a stone church for 500 people, which was also used as a school. Two Rhenish missionaries, Hugo Hahn and Heinrich Kleinschmidt, started working there in the 1840s; they were later succeeded by two Wesleyan missionaries. Gardens were laid out, and for a while Windhoek prospered, but wars destroyed everything.

After a long absence, Hahn visited Windhoek again in 1873 and was dismayed to see that nothing had remained of the former prosperity. In June 1885, a Swiss botanist found only jackals and startled guinea-fowl amongst neglected fruit trees.

Britain annexed Walvis Bay in 1878 and subsequently incorporated it into the Cape of Good Hope, although it was not interested in extending its influence to the interior. Through German colonial expansion, land was acquired by merchants in Luderitzbucht. This was followed by the declaration of the South West Africa territory as a German protectorate in 1884. The German colony came into being with the determination of its borders in 1890. Germany sent a protective corps (the "Schutztruppe") under Major Curt von Francois to maintain order; the garrison was stationed at Windhoek, where it was strategically situated as a buffer between the Namas and Hereros, while the twelve strong springs provided water for the cultivation of food.

The present Windhoek was founded on 18 October 1890 when Von Francois laid the foundation stone of the fort, which is known as the Alte Feste (Old Fortress).

Over the next fourteen years, Windhoek developed slowly, with only the most essential government and private buildings being erected. In Klein Windhoek, plots were allocated to settlers, who started small-scale farming with fruit, tobacco and dairy cattle.

After 1907, the town developed more rapidly, with more settlers arriving from Germany and South Africa. Businesses were erected in Kaiser Street (the present Independence Avenue), and house were built along the dominant ridge, including the three eye-catching castles.

The German colonial era came to an end during World War I, when South African troops occupied Windhoek on 12 May 1915 on behalf of Britain. For the next five years, South West Africa was administered by a military government, and development came to a standstill.

After World War II, Windhoek’s development gradually gained momentum as more money became available in the improving economic climate. Especially after 1955, large public projects were undertaken, such as the building of new schools and hospitals, the tarring of the town’s roads (this had already commenced in 1928), and the building of dams and pipelines to stabilise the water supply.

Since the mid-1980s, Windhoek has expanded consistently. Namibia’s Independence in 1990 brought considerable investment to the city centre, as well as expansion of the suburbs and a general upgrading of the infrastructure.


Cultural Groups

Windhoek accommodates an estimated 300 000 inhabitants, representing an ethnic cross-section of Namibia. Indigenous groups include the Owambo, Herero, Damara, Nama, Kavango, Caprivian, San, Batswana and Baster communities, as well as Afrikaners, Germans and other international groups.


Batswana (the plural of "Motswana") are the smallest population group in Namibia, with approximately 7 000 people. They are the off-spring of the Batswana from the Northern Cape Province or North West Province in South Africa, or descendants of a small group who came via the Kgalagadi area in Botswana. Most Batswana live in the remote areas of Omaheke Region, where they practice farming to the north and south of Gobabis. The spoken language is Setswana.

The Hereros/ Himbas

The Hereros and Himbas originated from East Africa, entering Namibia via Zambia and southern Angola. They inhabited Kaokoland for an estimated 200 years before the Hereros moved further south, while the Himbas remained. The Herero people are the second largest group, with an approximate 100 000 people. The spoken language is Otjiherero.


The Owambo are the largest ethnic group in Namibia. They are originally from the area north of the Etosha Pan. The Owambo practice a mixed economy of agriculture and animal husbandry, supplemented by fishing in shallow pools, known as "oshanas". The Owambo women practice home industries such as pottery, basketry and dressmaking. The spoken language is Oshivambo.


The Damaras are the oldest ethnic group in Namibia, numbering an estimated 90 000. They are generally small-stock farmers and small-scale miners. They are originally from Erongo Region in the north-west of Namibia. The Namas also number approximately 90 000 people. They are lighter in complexion and occupy most parts of the Karas Region and Hardap Region. The spoken language used by both groups is formally known as Khoekhoegowab.

The San

The San people, also known as the Bushmen, are regarded as the earliest inhabitants of Namibia; today they number only about 27 000 in Namibia. Their lifestyle was traditionally based on hunting and gathering. They are custodians of a rich tradition of stories, rock paintings and engravings, such as the famous White Lady painting of the Brandberg.


Caprivians live in the north-eastern part of Namibia which borders Zambia, Botswana and Angola. They share their language with the Lozi of Barotseland in Zambia. The Musubia and Mafwe are the largest Caprivian tribes, while others groups are the Mayeyi, Matotela and Mbukushu. Important elements of their economy are cattle farming, crop cultivation, fishing and hunting.


The Basters are mainly a combination of indigenous Khoisan people and white European settlers. The Baster community consists of about 60 000 people who speak Afrikaans and who are registered as Rehoboth Basters, as they prefer to be called.


Coloured are people from a mixed racial and cultural background. They are mainly Afrikaans speaking.

The Whites

There are about 75 000 white Namibians. Many of them are descendants of Europeans who came to Africa at various points over the last 350 years. Most of the whites in Namibia speak Afrikaans, while others speak German and English, and to a lesser extent, Portuguese. Most whites live in the central and southern parts of Namibia.


Windhoek is situated in a semi-desert climatic region. Rainfall occurs mostly in the summer months of January to March, with an average rainfall of 370 mm per year.

Days are mostly warm with very hot days during the summer months of generally cool and bring a welcome relief from the hot day.
The winter months of June, July and August are generally mild and sunny with cloudless skies. Minimum temperature range from 5 °C - 18°C.  Nights are usually cold although the temperature seldom drops below zero.

Wind is not a troublesome feature of the Windhoek Climate.  Mean speeds of less than 7 knots (3,3 m/sec) prevail 70% of the year.  These breezes favour no direction.  March and April are the calmest months, and August and September the windiest.

June through August are almost cloudless.  The country experiences a drought more or less once every decade.

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