Namibia Achieves Independence After 75 Years of Pretoria's Rule
After 75 often restive years under South African control, Namibia was born today as the world's newest independent nation.
At a ceremony in Windhoek's sports stadium, the South African flag was lowered as many in the assembled crowd chanted ''Down! Down!'' Then the new blue, red, green and gold flag of the republic of Namibia was hoisted, shortly after midnight and slightly behind schedule, to jubilant cheers.
''In the name of our people, I declare that Namibia is forever free, sovereign and independent,'' said Sam Nujoma, the leader of the South-West Africa People's Organization, the main Namibian nationalist movement. Mr. Nujoma was then sworn in as the country's first President by the United Nations Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar.
''As of today, we are masters of this pastoral land of our ancestors,'' said Mr. Nujoma, whose guerrilla movement, popularly known as Swapo, fought a 23-year-long war against South African control. ''The destiny of this country is now in our own hands.''
South Africa's President, F. W. de Klerk, who came to hand over the territory personally, appeared solemn, in contrast to the broad smile displayed by Mr. Nujoma. Mr. de Klerk stood erect with his hand over his heart as the blue, white and orange flag of South Africa was taken down.
Mr. de Klerk declared that South Africa had lived up to its promise to give independence to the territory, which he and other South Africans long called South-West Africa. ''We extend a hand of friendship to our new neighbors,'' Mr. de Klerk said in urging that the bitterness of the past be put aside. ''Good-neighborliness is in our mutual interest.''
As recently as two years ago, South Africa had more than 50,000 troops committed to the war against Swapo. The black nationalist guerrilla group has been transformed into a political party that now dominates the elected Namibian Government. In 23 years of fighting beginning in 1966, the South Africans suffered thousands of casualties in an effort to hold sway over the territory of 1.3 million, and the Namibians suffered casualties in the tens of thousands.
Mr. de Klerk's predecessors sought to justify their efforts to hold onto Namibia as necessary to stem the advancing tide of post-colonial black Governments, a pattern that the South Africans feared would threaten their system of apartheid, or institutionalized racial separation. Pretoria's decision to let go of the territory ended a long and difficult history.
'We Africans' Found Answer
Today, President de Klerk spoke of the political settlement paving the way to Namibia's independence as ''the culmination of protracted negotiations in which we Africans found a solution to an African problem.''
South Africa had claimed the right to remain in Namibia under its 1920 mandate from the League of Nations, and in 1946 considered annexing it as a fifth province.
Germany declared what is now Namibia as its protectorate in 1884 and as its colony in 1890. In 1915, South Africa seized the territory from Germany during World War I and held onto it, initially under a mandate from the old League of Nations. Over the decades, it ignored repeated calls by individual countries and by the United Nations to free the territory.
Extensive diplomatic efforts were mounted to arrange Namibia's independence, with a near-miss in the late 1970's, when South Africa backed out of a United Nations Security Council plan for independence.
Finally in 1988, South Africa agreed to give up Namibia as part of a United States-brokered accord that also provided for the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. Elections for an assembly that would write a constitution were held late last year.
The agreement to end the conflict also paved the way for new domestic policies being pursued by South Africa. Those policies have so far led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the legalization of the African National Congress.
At the Namibian independence ceremony late Tuesday night and early today, Mr. Nujoma hailed President de Klerk for ''active statesmanship and realism'' in giving up Namibia.
''This, we hope, will continue to unfold in South Africa itself,'' Mr. Nujoma said. He alluded to demands there for black majority rule and to the pending meeting next month between Mr. de Klerk and a delegation from the African National Congress led by Mr. Mandela.
Here in the capital, the arrival of independence for this arid and sparsely populated region was greeted with a pealing of church bells and a cacophony of automobile horns.
Evolution of Decolonization
In proclaiming its freedom to an explosion of cheers and fireworks, Namibia ended the long wait as Africa's last colony, joining the march to self-rule in black Africa that began with Ghana more than three decades ago.
Mr. Nujoma alluded to this when he described Namibia as ''a new star that has arisen on the horizon of Africa.''
An intermittent rain limited the size of the turnout but did not dampen the enthusiasm of the amiable crowds that filled the 17,000-seat stadium.
''It's a blessing from above on our new country,'' a television commentator said of the rain, which is usually welcome in a dry country like Namibia.
Many Overseas Dignitaries
Foreign guests at the midnight ceremony included heads of state or senior Cabinet ministers from more than 30 countries. Among them were President Kenneth D. Kaunda of Zambia, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya. The United States was represented by Secretary of State James A. Baker 3d, and the Soviet Union by Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Other visitors included Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Mr. Mandela, the senior figure in South Africa's liberation struggle, arrived late Tuesday as an honored guest. The crowd that welcomed him included a contingent of black South Africans waving the banners of the African National Congress.
''The whole world, especially Africa, rejoices with Namibia,'' Mr. Perez de Cuellar said. ''What is a triumph for Namibia is a triumph for Africa and indeed the principles that are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.''
U.N. Transition Role
The United Nations monitored Namibia's yearlong transition to independence under Resolution 435, enacted by the Security Council in 1978.
When the transition got under way last April 1, border fighting broke out as Swapo guerrillas crossing the border from Angola were attacked by South African security forces who left the bases to which they had been confined.
After fierce clashes, a cease-fire and withdrawal of the guerrillas was arranged. The transition process subsequently unfolded smoothly. In elections in November, 97 percent of registered voters turned out to cast their ballots for a 72-member assembly that drafted a constitution.
The South-West Africa People's Organization won 57 percent of the vote in November, but failed to obtain the two-thirds margin it sought, which would have allowed it to write its own constitution. Nonetheless, Swapo's political leadership in the war against South Africa now makes up the top echelon of the independent Government.
Wealth and Poverty
The new Government has inherited prosperous towns, good telecommunications, many fine roads, mineral wealth, game areas, great natural beauty and other aspects of an advanced society. However, it also confronts a high illiteracy rate and extensive poverty that will be difficult to end, given the new country's now-limited economic means. Moreover, the economy is closely tied to South Africa's, and Namibia's potential deep-sea port, Walvis Bay, remains a South African-controlled enclave cut into the Namibian coast.
Although the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group, which had as many as 8,000 soldiers, policemen and civilians here last year, will leave before the end of the month, Mr. Perez de Cuellar promised today that the role of the United Nations ''in assisting the Government and people of independent Namibia will not cease.''
The new nation has accepted an invitation to become the 50th member of the Commonwealth. It was considered eligible because of its links with South Africa, a former British colony not welcome in the Commonwealth because of its apartheid policies.
It is also expected to become the 52d member of the Organization of African Unity and the 160th member of the United Nations.
Hifikepunye Pohamba, a Swapo official who will be the new Home Affairs Minister, told reporters that March 21 was chosen as the date for independence to express solidarity with South Africa's black majority in it struggle against apartheid. It is the 30th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, in which South African police killed many township demonstrators.
The only country not invited to Namibia's birth ceremonies was Israel, because of its reported military links to South Africa and in deference to the Arab nations who sent representatives.