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The birth of a new nation

It is three minutes before midnight on the 20th March 1990 and the Windhoek stadium is packed. About 30 000 people have come to be part of this historic moment: the independence of Africa’s last colony, Namibia.

For many of us, it’s been a long day. We’ve been waiting in the stadium since 12 o’ clock in the morning. We’ve sat through first the heat and the rain — but luckily we’ve got our SWAPO and ANC umbrellas with us!

All eyes are on the clock in the stadium. It seems to move as slowly as a snail. Then the long hand and the short hand of the clock meet, and for a short while seem to stand still. At last the long hand moves over to the right and…. the moment has come!

The wet, cool night grows into the morning of another day. But this is no ordinary day. This day — 21 March 1990 — marks the birthday of a new nation, the Republic of Namibia.


The who’s who of the world’s leaders are here for the celebrations — from Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) to James Baker, the United States Secretary of State; Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak who is also the president of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU); Kenneth Kaunda, president of Zambia and of the Frontline States; and the presidents of Angola, India, Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Sahara Republic, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana, and Afghanistan. President F.W. de Klerk is also here.

Other leading figures include the Soviet Union’s Eduard Shevardnadze, Hans Dietereich Genscher of West Germany, Javier Perez de Cuellar, General Secretary of the United Nations and our own Nelson Mandela, deputy-president of the ANC.

Learn and Teach is sitting with some of our South African leaders such as Archie Gumede of the UDF, Joe Slovo of the SACP, Frank Chikane of the SACC, and Archbishops Hurley and Napier of the Catholic Church. We chat as we watch the nation getting ready for its big day. Archbishop Hurley says with a glow in his eyes: “It is wonderful, unbelievable. I did not believe it would happen.” We feel that he is speaking for all of us.


The Presidential Guard marches in style onto the field, its ranks made up of soldiers from SWAPO’s liberation army, PLAN, and ex-SWAPOL members.

They look very smart in their new uniform — navy blue trousers and jackets, green berets, white gloves and belts. They cross the field and line up to wait for the first president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, to inspect them.

Suddenly, there is the sound of sirens and blue lights flashing. The motorcade bringing Nujoma has arrived! As he gets out of the car, the crowd roars. Hundreds of photographers from all corners of the world rush over to see who can get the best picture of the Namibian president.

The Master of Ceremonies tries to bring some order. He announces that it is now time for the speeches. The crowd settles down to wait for the UN’s Perez de Cuellar to speak.

He tells the people that “the moment is solemn and full of joy and hope, because a new state is about to be born and about to take its rightful place in the community of nations”. To shouts and cheers, he invites Namibia to be the 160th member of the United Nations.

President F.W. de Klerk speaks next. He says that he has come as “an advocate of peace” and an “African”. He tells the crowd: “We are tired of violence. We now hope for a new period of peace for the whole region of southern Africa. We want to live side by side with Namibia as good neighbours.” At the end of his speech, he addresses the Namibian people in Afrikaans. The crowd clap loudly.

A few people we speak to say they are a bit disappointed with De Klerk’s speech. They hoped he would say that South Africa would give Walvis Bay back to Namibia. But nothing is said. We wonder if there will be real peace between the two countries if Walvis Bay is not returned. \


Now comes the moment of greatest joy for the whole crowd — the lowering of the South African flag. As the band plays ‘Die Stem1, the blue, orange and white flag is taken down. There is wild applause and shouts of “Down! Down!” An old white man is seen crying, his face in his hands. Why is he crying? Is it for the passing of the old South West Africa or the birth of a new Namibia? We will never know.

Suddenly, there is a glow of light. A young Namibian athlete runs into the stadium, the torch of freedom held proudly in his hand. Namibia is free at last!

It’s time now for the hoisting of the Namibian flag. To the beautiful sounds of Nkosi Sikel i’Afrika the flag is slowly raised. The people clap hands in joy. Many stare at their new flag with a lump in their throats and think of the long and difficult road they have travelled to reach this day of freedom.

The flag is made of four colours. A pamphlet we are given explains what each colour means. In the top left corner is the colour blue, which stands for the clear Namibian sky, the Atlantic ocean and water and rain. Painted on the blue is a golden sun, which stands for life and energy and is the colour of the Namib desert.

A thin white strip of line separates the blue from the red. The colour red stands for the Namibian people, for their heroism and their determination to build a new future. White is the colour of peace and unity. Lastly, there is the colour green, the colour of Namibia’s plants and trees.


Perez de Cuellar stands up. It is his honour tonight to swear in Sam Shafiishuma Nujoma as president of the Republic of Namibia. For Nujoma — who started his working life on the railways — tonight is the victorious end of a long struggle and 26 years of exile.

Nujoma puts his hand on Namibia’s brand new constitution and promises to serve the people of Namibia to the best of his ability and to protect the country and people and all its wealth.

The crowd becomes quiet as it waits for President Nujoma to speak. Smiling from ear to ear, he tells his people: “This is the day we have been waiting for over a century. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the struggle and left their homes to live in exile. Today we are filled with joy and our ideals have come true.

“A new star is rising in the African continent”, he says to loud applause and cheers. He thanks the world and everybody who supported the struggle for an independent Namibia. He also remembers Namibia’s great fallen heroes such as Chief Samuel Maharero, Chief Hosea Kutako, and Chief Hendrik Witbooi.

Talking about South Africa’s part in the peace process that brought independence to Namibia he says: “President de Klerk is a statesman and a realist. That is why he gave up control over Namibia. We hope that this spirit of negotiation will lead to a solution in South Africa.”

He goes on to speak about national reconciliation. “SWAPO won an absolute majority in the November elections,” he says, “but we are prepared to govern with other people. Today we are masters of our own destiny. For this we need unity and national identity. We need unity of purpose and action. The constitution will protect all the people in our society.”

Then the skies light up. Fireworks of every shape and colour explode in the sky.

President Nujoma asks Hage Geingob to come and take the oath of office for the Prime Ministership. Hage joined Swapo in 1962. In 1987, he was awarded SWAPO’s highest honour, the Omgulumbashe Medal for Bravery and Long Service.


It is long past two o’ clock and the ceremony is now over. Like thousands of other people, we are too excited to even think about going to sleep. Instead, we watch the sun come up and join in the celebrations in Katutura township.

Early in the morning, a huge procession called the Grand March leaves Katutura and Khomasdaal townships. Brass bands, drum majorettes and brightly coloured floats lead the way as the march winds its way towards the centre of Windhoek and finally to the stadium. One float, sponsored by OK Bazaars, carries the message: “Namibia is OK!”

Later that day, everybody piles into the stadium again. President Nujoma is going to address the people about what lies in store for the new nation. He says that unemployment and under-employment is a big problem that the country has inherited from the South Africans. The huge international debt is another big problem..

Hosni Mubarak, president of the OAU speaks next. He calls for African countries to unite and help each other overcome disease, drought, poverty, wars and so on. He praises efforts to bring about world peace. He asks the superpowers like the USA and the USSR and Europe to do all they can to help the poor countries of the world. He reminds them: “The world is one world and we must share and live together”.

“Political independence,” he tells the people “is very important but it will not have much meaning if there is no economic and social development.”

We ask people in the stadium how they feel about independence. Everybody says that they are very happy that the “Boers” are going home. “Ons het baie, baie lank gesukkel terwyl die witmense het lekker lewe geeet. (We struggled for a long time while the white people had good lives),” says a taxi driver. He says he knows that the new country will face much hardship but that he does not mind because all Namibians will be trying to solve the problems together.

We leave the stadium late in the afternoon, happy and tired. Before us, we have the long journey back to Johannesburg. Plenty of time to talk and think. About the heroic struggle of the Namibian people, about all the people who laid down their lives in the struggle for liberation, about the hope and joy that the Namibian people are feeling.

We know that the time ahead is going to be difficult. It will take a long while before the new Namibia can put to right all the wrong that the South African government did to the people. But we are hopeful that the strong spirit of reconciliation will lead to a bright and wonderful future for our neighbours.

As we cross the border into South Africa, we turn and wave goodbye to this beautiful land and its people. From the bottom of our hearts, we wish them luck and success.

NEW WORDS a solemn moment — a serious moment an advocate of peace — someone who is trying to bring peace constitution – the laws of a country reconciliation — when people forget the bad things of the past and come together international debt — money that a country has borrowed from other countries and has to pay back


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