In the shadow of apartheid: The Windhoek Old Location


  • Henning Melber University of Pretoria, South Africa



South West Africa, Apartheid, Windhoek, Old Location, Namibia, Separate development


The so-called Old Location was established during the early years of the 20th century for most of the African population groups living in Windhoek, the capital of then South West Africa. It confined them to a space separate from but in close vicinity to the city and was the biggest urban settlement for Africans in the country. As from 1960 the residents were forced to relocate into a new township at the margins of the city against their will. This brought an end to inter-group relations, which the Apartheid system and its definition of “separate development” replaced by a stricter sub-division of the various population groups according to classifications based on ethnicity. Protest against the relocation escalated into a violent confrontation in late 1959. This contributed to a post-colonial heroic narrative, which integrates the resistance in the Old Location into the patriotic history of the anti-colonial liberation movement in government since Independence.

Presenting insights based mainly on archival studies, this article is an effort towards a social history of the hitherto little acknowledged aspect in the urbanisation processes of the Territory under South African administration. It maps the physical features of the location and assesses its living conditions. Some of the dynamics unfolding between the late 1940s and 1960 also document the plural ethnic interactions, the local governance and the social life of its inhabitants as well as their protest against the forced resettlement. It thereby revisits and portraits a community, which among former residents evokes positive memories compared with the imposed new life in Katutura.


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