Moving to Namibia?
Namibia: A Country Overview
Namibia and Its People
Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia, is often referred to by expats as “Africa for Beginners”. Due to its relative safety compared to other African countries and its colonial past, especially in downtown Windhoek, you may sometimes forget you are living in Africa, and not somewhere in Europe! Namibia’s name is derived from the Namib Desert, one of the country’s most distinctive geographical features.
This country in southwestern Africa is bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the north by Angola and Zambia, to the east by Botswana, and to the south and east by South Africa. Although it shares no official border with Zimbabwe, at their closest point they are separated by less than 200 meters of riverbed.
Namibia’s Political History
Namibia, then known as German South-West Africa, was governed as a German colony from 1884 until the end of World War I, when it became a South African territory. On 21 March 1990, following the Namibian War of Independence, Namibia gained its independence from South Africa. The sovereignty of Walvis Bay and the Penguin Islands (which include an Albatross Island!) was officially ceded to Namibia on 28 February 1994 upon the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Since independence, Namibia has successfully made the transition from white minority apartheid rule to a stable multi-party parliamentary democracy. The country is divided into 14 administrative units, which are further subdivided into 121 constituencies.
Main Expat Destinations
Namibia only has one real city of any considerable size — Windhoek, the capital — and that still only has a population of about 325,000. The next largest cities by population are Rundu (63,000), Walvis Bay (62,000), Swakopmund (45,000), and Oshakati (32,000). However, these population figures are from 2011 and have probably risen since then. Hence, updated statistics from official sources in Namibia are hard to come by.
Windhoek is the political, economic, and cultural center of the country. If you move to Namibia, chances are you’ll end up here. The city offers all the comforts of urban civilization — different restaurants, museums, clubs, and shopping malls — but it is far from being a bustling metropolis. Those accustomed to the wide cultural and culinary options of other world capitals should prepare themselves for an initial period of adjustment. Due to its historical links with Germany, Windhoek has a very European feel. Despite its small size, it is home to a wide range of people from a multitude of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Culture and Demographics
Namibians are a warm, friendly, and open people, who are very proud of their country, and with good reason. While still a developing country, Namibia has come a long way, and all modern technologies and amenities can be found in its bigger cities and towns.
Namibia has a population of about 2.5 million people. About half of the population lives in urban areas. Namibia is a diverse melting pot of different cultures and tribes, which can especially be seen in cities like Windhoek. About half of the population is comprised of people from the Bantu ethnic group. The Herero and Himba people, as well as the Damara and Khoisan, also make up a large part of the population. White people, mostly of German, British, and Portuguese descent, as well as Afrikaners, make up about 6.4% of the population. There is also a sizeable Chinese minority in Namibia.
The influence of the colonial period can be seen in Namibian’s religious affiliation. Approximately 80%-90% of the population identify themselves as Christians and 50% of these are Lutherans. The other 10%-20% follow indigenous religions.
Language and Ethnicity
Upon independence, the Namibian government consciously chose to take a different path than South Africa, and declared English as the country’s sole official language. English is now the language of government and business, and can be found on product packaging and public signs. Up until independence, German and Afrikaans also enjoyed official status.
Despite the official status of the English language, Afrikaans is still the more widely-used lingua franca spoken across the country between people with different native languages. Among the younger generation, however, fluency in English is increasing rapidly. In Windhoek and the bigger towns, you will probably get along just fine with English, but learning a few phrases in Afrikaans will be very useful if you will be spending much time in rural areas.
The results of the 2011 census show that Oshiwambo, a Bantu language, is spoken in 49% of Namibian households. Nama/Damara (11%) is the second most commonly spoken native language, followed by Afrikaans (10.4%), Kavango (9%), Otjiherero (9%), English (3.4%), and German (1.4%).
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