United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United Nations stripped South Africa of authority over the South-West Africa mandate, formally transferring administration to a U.N. committee in 1967. Concurrently, the South-West Africa People’s Organization, or SWAPO, began guerrilla activities against South Africa and was recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate representative of the Namibian people. Namibian national independence was not achieved, however, until 1990.

Summary of Event

With decolonization sweeping across Africa, South Africa sought to incorporate South-West Africa (now Namibia) into its own territory. Pretoria considered its mandate to administer South-West Africa to be lapsed with the collapse of the League of Nations and had submitted this interpretation to the United Nations General Assembly for approval after World War II. As protests mounted against attempts at annexation and the extension of apartheid into South-West Africa, the legal question became stalemated in the International Court of Justice International Court of Justice (ICJ). On October 27, 1966, the General Assembly, filled with nations newly freed from colonial rule, revoked South Africa’s mandate on South-West Africa. United Nations;and South Africa[South Africa] South-West African mandate[Southwest African mandate] South Africa;mandate over South-West Africa[mandate over Southwest Africa] Postcolonialism;South-West Africa[Southwest Africa] Mandates, territorial [kw]United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa (Oct. 27, 1966) [kw]South African Mandate over South-West Africa, United Nations Revokes (Oct. 27, 1966) [kw]South-West Africa, United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over (Oct. 27, 1966)[Southwest Africa, United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over] United Nations;and South Africa[South Africa] South-West African mandate[Southwest African mandate] South Africa;mandate over South-West Africa[mandate over Southwest Africa] Postcolonialism;South-West Africa[Southwest Africa] Mandates, territorial [g]Africa;Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] [g]South-West Africa[Southwest Africa];Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] [g]Namibia;Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] [c]United Nations;Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] [c]Government and politics;Oct. 27, 1966: United Nations Revokes South African Mandate over South-West Africa[09010] Nujoma, Sam Kutako, Hosea Vorster, John Scott, Michael

South Africa had played a significant role in World War II on the side of the Allies, and Prime Minister Jan Christian Smuts Smuts, Jan Christian had been heavily involved in postwar settlements, including the creation of the United Nations. White South Africans expected to be rewarded by the annexation of South-West Africa and rejected the idea of making it into a U.N. trusteeship. With encouragement from Pretoria, the white legislative assembly in Windhoek voted for union in 1946, while a bogus polling of Namibian (South-West African) headsmen was made to appear supportive. In response, Herrero chiefs such as Hosea Kutako (a katjikururume, or wise old man), along with leaders of the Damara and Nama, put forth petitions against incorporation. The Ngwato regent of the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana), fearing for his own nation’s freedom, helped enlist the Reverend Michael Scott to petition for the Namibian cause at the United Nations. The General Assembly opposed South Africa’s efforts at annexation, but also gave the opinion that Namibians had not reached sufficient political maturity to consider the question themselves. Petition followed petition from Namibian nationalist organizations and churches condemning South Africa. On July 11, 1950, the ICJ issued a nonbinding advisory opinion confirming that the class C mandate should be considered still in force and that the United Nations had inherited the supervisory powers of the former Permanent Mandates Commission.

In South Africa, Afrikaners and English-speaking whites who feared the rising tide of African nationalism brought the National Party National Party, South African to power in 1948 on a platform of racial separation (apartheid) Apartheid and the territorial incorporation of South-West Africa. The following year, the National Party tried to win over elite opposition in South-West Africa by decreeing that whites could elect six representatives to the Cape Town parliament. South Africa also refused to send annual reports on the territory to the United Nations, and because of such unwillingness to cooperate with U.N. supervisory rules, subsequent opinions of the ICJ in 1955 and 1956 strengthened demands to revoke the mandate. Meanwhile, apartheid continued apace under Minister of Native Affairs Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd Verwoerd, Hendrik Frensch , who devised a series of so-called Bantu acts institutionalizing racial separation. Amid worldwide criticism of apartheid, South Africa withdrew from the British Commonwealth in 1961.

As apartheid was extended Human rights;South-West Africa[Southwest Africa] into South-West Africa, black inhabitants of what was known as the Old Location in Windhoek were forced to relocate to a non-freehold township, popularly called Katatura, meaning “we have no dwelling place,” while “coloureds” (bi- or multiracial persons) were separated and sent to Khomasdal. A protest of this injustice was organized for December 10, 1959, the anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights; thirteen demonstrators were killed and fifty-four were wounded in police repression. After the Old Location Massacre, the Ovamboland People’s Congress, originally established in 1957 by Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo to address the poor conditions of migrant laborers, became the South-West Africa People’s Organization South-West Africa People’s Organization[Southwest Africa Peoples Organization] (SWAPO), with Sam Nujoma as its president. Although SWAPO never was actually banned within South-West Africa, its leaders fled into exile, along with members of the rival South-West African National Union, and set up headquarters in Dar es Salaam. Initially, SWAPO devoted most of its efforts to seeking U.N. support, although with armed struggle being initiated in Angola, Mozambique, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), as well as within South Africa (the Sharpesville killings), recourse to military action became increasingly accepted as necessary.

The U.N. Special Committee visit to South-West Africa in 1962 failed to condemn South African occupation, bringing about great bitterness in the liberation movement. This disappointment was amplified in July, 1966, when the ICJ failed to render a substantive judgment on a case brought against South Africa by Liberia and Ethiopia five years earlier. SWAPO realized that even limited guerrilla attacks would serve as “diplomacy by other means” if it brought world attention to the plight of the Namibians. A twenty-three-year war Revolutions and coups;South-West Africa[Southwest Africa] Namibian revolution (1966-1989) for independence began when South African police attacked a guerrilla cell in Ongulumbashe on August 26, and in October, the General Assembly issued the long-awaited revocation, U.N. Resolution 2145 (XXI) Resolution 2145 (XXI), U.N. . In 1968, the United Nations recognized the country’s name change to Namibia. On March 20, 1969, the U.N. Security Council endorsed the revocation by 13-0 (France and the United Kingdom abstaining) and threatened further action if South Africa refused to withdraw from Namibia. Continued South African noncompliance led the Security Council in 1970 to call on all states to refrain from any diplomatic or consular relations that would imply South African authority over Namibia. However, without Security Council resolve for stronger action against South African occupation, independence for Namibia was to be delayed another twenty years.

To deflect mounting worldwide condemnation of apartheid, South African prime minister John Vorster sought to disguise institutional racism under the concept of “separate development.” In Namibia, he attempted to coopt opposition through the creation of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance Democratic Turnhalle Alliance , an ethnically oriented independence alternative to SWAPO. In the 1980’s, the struggle for Namibian independence became entangled in the Angolan Civil War, and Pretoria played upon Cold War fears in the United States and Europe that revolutionary decolonization would spread communism. After South African forces pursued SWAPO guerrillas into Angola, Cuban troops arrived to fight on the side of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. In international peace negotiations, a stipulated “linkage” between withdrawal of both foreign powers—Cuba and South Africa—further delayed the independence of Namibia.

The United Nations continued to denounce South African occupation of Namibia, most notably in the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 385 Security Council Resolution 385, U.N. (1976), demanding free elections, and Resolution 435 Security Council Resolution 435, U.N. (1978), mandating peace negotiations. Nevertheless, Namibian independence was ultimately achieved only after massive domestic uprisings and economic crises in Namibia, as well as Cuban-piloted Soviet MiG’s in Angola, convinced Pretoria that the war was too costly. Finnish diplomat Martti Ahtisaari (and later Finnish president) brought about a multiparty agreement in 1988, which led to cessation of hostilities, U.N.-supervised elections, and withdrawal of South African forces. Nujoma was inaugurated as Namibia’s first president on March 21, 1990.

Significance

While prior to World War II, the League of Nations had been controlled by the colonial powers, the passage of U.N. Resolution 2145 in 1966 demonstrated that the General Assembly of the United Nations could voice the majority political views of weaker nations. Relatively powerless guerrilla movements, such as SWAPO, recognized that the General Assembly could play a crucial public role in liberation struggles. Although Namibian independence was only achieved twenty-three years after the revocation, Resolution 2145 did succeed in focusing worldwide opinion upon the illegality of South Africa’s occupation and the inhumanity of the apartheid system. Nevertheless, in spite of subsequent U.N. and ICJ judgments against South Africa, some thirteen thousand Namibian and Angolan soldiers and civilians, along with more than seven hundred South African troops, would die before independence was finally achieved. United Nations;and South Africa[South Africa] South-West African mandate[Southwest African mandate] South Africa;mandate over South-West Africa[mandate over Southwest Africa] Postcolonialism;South-West Africa[Southwest Africa] Mandates, territorial

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dobell, Lauren. SWAPO’s Struggle for Namibia, 1960-1991: War by Other Means. Basel, Switzerland: P. Schlettwein, 2000. Analyzes the spread of nationalist resistance and appeals to international bodies, as well as internal struggles within the liberation movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dreyer, Ronald. Namibia and Southern Africa: Regional Dynamics of Decolonization, 1945-90. New York: Kegan Paul International, 1994. A study of regional forces influencing both the decisions of South Africa and SWAPO in the fight for Namibian independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dugard, John, ed. The South West Africa/Namibia Dispute: Documents and Scholarly Writings on the Controversy Between South Africa and the United Nations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. A compilation of legal decisions and scholarly analyses of the issues surrounding the history of the mandate from its creation through its revocation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kaela, Laurent C. W. The Question of Namibia. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Discusses the long struggle against the South African mandate and includes relevant resolutions of international bodies about the struggle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Katjavivi, Peter H. A History of Resistance in Namibia. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1990. A concise, topically organized defense of Namibia’s fight for independence, originally published by UNESCO in 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leys, Colin, and John S. Saul. Namibia’s Liberation Struggle: The Two-Edged Sword. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1995. Well-documented collection of essays on the diplomatic, political, and sociocultural issues involved in the war for independence, recounting both successes and failures in the struggle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Meara, Dan. Forty Lost Years: The Apartheid State and the Politics of the National Party, 1948-1994. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998. One of the most comprehensive works on the apartheid system, its career, and its disintegration.

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