Windhoek is in the centre of Namibia, about 650 km north of the Orange river. The city’s high altitude means that its immediate environment is not as arid as the rest of the country, and the surrounding hills protect it from dry desert winds. Windhoek is the commercial, industrial and administrative hub of Namibia.
Prior to colonization the settlement was known as Aie Gams by its tribal inhabitants, the Khoikhoin and Herero people. This name refers to the hot springs that permeate the region. In the mid nineteenth century Afrikaners entered Namibia and their leader, Jonker Afrikaner, named the city after his home in the Cape colony. German farmers settled in the region in the 1890s and greatly reduced the native population. In 1908 diamonds were discovered nearby and an influx of prospectors boosted the town’s population. In 1915 Boer forces under the command of Louis Botha occupied Windhoek. Under Boer rule the city became segregated, and compounds were built for black labourers. Namibia was later subject to the apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed apartheid was enforced more rigidly in southwest Africa than in cities such as Cape Town. The country declared its independence in 1990, and life in Windhoek changed dramatically.
German colonial buildings and modern office blocks dominate the city centre. The surrounding area is primarily for grazing sheep. Major roads and railways connect Windhoek to South Africa and the port of Walvis Bay. An international airport also serves the city. The economy is tied to the fur trade and livestock farming.
Places of Interest
One of the city’s more striking buildings is the Christuskirche, a Lutheran church that combines neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture. There is a display of meteorites in Post Street shopping centre, collected after a nineteenth century meteor shower. The Alte Feste, which was once a colonial fort, now houses a collection of cultural and historical artefacts. It also has a display commemorating the country’s independence. The Owela natural history museum gives an insight into traditional village life.