In the early 1960s, as the South African apartheid government was ramping up its ‘homeland’ policy, the government commissioned a study into the creation of possible ethnic homelands in what was then South West Africa. Following the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, what was formerly German South West Africa became a Class C Mandate protectorate of the Union of South Africa. Part of South Africa’s charge by the League of Nations was to govern South West Africa as though a part of South Africa, but with an eye towards moving the territory towards its own independent status.
To what extent South Africa governed the territory as a “fifth province,” or as a separate state in the economic service of South Africa remains debated by scholars. A crucial moment in South Africa’s governance was the publication of The Commission of Enquiry into South West Africa Affairs 1962-1963, colloquially known as the “Odendaal Plan”; after the chairmen of the commission, F. H. Odendaal. In a few months of field research in the Territory in 1962, the Commission made a broad examination, with particular emphasis on different types of economic viability and infrastructure available for both whites and “natives.” The most notable recommendations made by the Odendaal Plan called for the creation of homelands to separately house different ethnic groups in South West Africa. As noted in the Commission’s findings, “as far as it is practicable a homeland must be created for each population group, in which it alone would have residential, political and language rights to the exclusion of other population groups” (p 55). Effectively this suggested the forced removal of certain groups from one part of the Territory to another and even the purchasing of white-owned farms in areas designated to become homelands. The current Kunene Region (where this project is focused) became, with the implementation of the Odendaal Plan, composed of the homelands Damaraland and Kaokoveld (see image below). Damaraland, as the name suggests, was to be home to the Damara people, while Kaokoveld was meant to be comprised of so-called “Kaokovelders,” what today would be recognized as encompassing certain Hereros, Himbas, and Tjimbas – though even in the text of the plan the language is ambiguous. While many white-owned farms were purchased (including the farm Wereldsend where this research is based) following the Odendaal recommendations, ethnic groups were never entirely relocated en masse. However, the general apartheid-era strategy of dividing “native” populations was felt across present-day Namibia. In effect, the South African government sought to strengthen, not lessen, its bureaucratized and centralized control of its colonial hinterland. Yet even this extension of control was uneven. South Africa governed the Territory differently north and south of the “Red Line” separating the Police Zone of the South from the Northern Sector. Throughout apartheid the Northern Sector remained mostly beyond the control of the South African government. It is particularly noteworthy, for this research, that the Odendaal Plan took little notice of life in Kaokoveld and was generally content to allow traditional forms of government to continue, as “these [northern] areas were not affected [by the German colonial regime] and were functioning within the respective [ethnic] groups when the Union of South Africa took over the territory of South West Africa” (75). Even in this supposedly comprehensive government review, Kaokoveld remained an unknown region. It is noteworthy that present-day Kunene straddles the Red Line – with its southern extent falling within the Police Zone and the northern part beyond it. The effects of farm purchases and, in particular, the South African economic policies of the era have lasting effects in today’s Kunene, and the Red Line is still present in the form of a veterinary fence running across the country. Disentangling the effects of these colonial era policies is one of the main goals of this research.