A Review of Namibiana Resources on the Web

As I have mentioned in previous Blog posts for the CHI, the Namibia Digital Repository contains two main endeavors. First, it is a digitization project; countless hours have been spent standing in front of scanners digitizing books and papers, and many more have been spent setting up VHS players to record to hard drives. I have described the process of digitization in a previous post on 29, January, 2016.

This post describes the other goal of the NDR, agglomeration of existing digital resources regarding Namibia which are already on the web. A few qualifiers should be made. First, the goal of pulling existing resources – whether from university repositories, NGO web-sites or government publications – is not about replacing these repositories. It is about providing an additional home to the files. One of the less appreciated aspects of digitization and the digital humanities is the maintenance and organization of digital resources.1

If a website fails to pay its web-hosting fees, or fails to maintain its web presence, any online archiving will disappear from public access. Recent endeavors were taken by Matrix at Michigan State University to address this issue through archiving the website of the now-defunct NGO Kalahari Peoples Network. While no new data will be put onto the site, it is at least preserved.

Some of the collections archived through the NDR are done for similar reasons. They are meant to provide an additional home for existing published resources. This is done with proper attribution to the original website or repository so that interested visitors could follow up with the original home of the files.

This blog post serves as a sort of bibliographic resource for those seeking to conduct Namibia research on the web. Some of the websites featured in this post have been integrated in part or in whole into the NDR, but many have not. This is not intended to be exhaustive, but merely exploratory. To those who are reading this post, I would appreciate any unmentioned web-resources; please put any suggestions into the comments, or contact me.

Namibia in Switzerland: The Basler Afrika Bibliographien

The Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB), located in the heart of Basel, Switzerland, forms a major backbone of Swiss African Studies, and Namibian Studies abroad. [Side Note: The BAB will be co-hosting the 2017 European Conference on African Studies]. Founded and supported to this day by the Carl Schlettwein Stiftung, the BAB facilitates Swiss students researching in Africa, and African students researching in Switzerland and Southern Africa. Because of Schlettwein’s dual citizenship (Namibian & Swiss), the institution – and by extension the Universität Basel – has a distinct Namibia focus.

The BAB is well known for its publishing activities, starting in the 1980s with old-school bibliographic materials (many written by the recently-retired Namibian archivist Werner Hillebrecht). During the apartheid years, it was very difficult for individuals to conduct research on or in Namibia, and the BAB became a starting point for a number of scholars. They had, and still have, the largest Namibia library and archive outside of Namibia.

In the post-independence years, the BAB had moved some of its focus to publishing dissertations on Namibia. Scholars who receive support from the Carl Schlettwein Stiftung are required to offer to the BAB first publications rights to their dissertations, and a number of them are published in their now-renowned “Basel Namibia Studies Series”. The series is remarkable because of how available (and affordable) the texts are in Namibia; you can find them in most bookshops, and they have become some of the go-to resources for those starting research. They also, importantly, publish primarily Namibian authors.

Regarding a digital presence, the BAB provides free digital copies of their “Working Papers Series”, many of which have been cataloged in the NDR. Many of these are papers presented at the BAB, or else they are papers written by authors receiving support in some regard from the Basler Afrika Bibliographien or the Carl Schlettwein Stiftung. The BAB also makes available digital copies of its finding aids for the archival holdings. Furthermore, scholars can access the library search engine online, which can immensely help one conduct research or make interlibrary loan requests. Many of the “new generation” of BAB librarians and scholars (such as Dag Henrichsen and Reto Ulrich) have taken to fostering digital partnerships with the University of Namibia (and the NDR, in some minor respects) to create working groups to engage in digitization and cataloging efforts.

The Nordic Countries and the Anti-Apartheid Movements

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Nordic Africa Institute, with support from several regional governments and foundations launched an effort to commission research projects documenting the role of the Nordic Countries in the Southern African liberation struggles. It culminated with a book series and an online archive. While some of the research projects were more successful and accomplished than others (compare the length of Tor Sellström’s Swedish collections with Christopher Munthe Morgenstierne’s Danish collections), each conducted countless interviews with Scandinavian activists and Southern African students, fighters, and politicians.

In addition to the book series, the research collective digitized poster, buttons, songs, and Scandinavian activist communications, in order to provide researchers (and just folks who were involved with the movements) with a way to investigate and relive the past struggles. One of the most interesting finds was a VHS recording of an Icelandic choir‘s Ode to the South African liberation struggle.

This specific archive should be utilized in conjunction with the general academic repository of the Nordic Africa Institute, which (although it is currently more strapped for cash than usual) provides support for Scandinavian researchers studying African subjects, and for African students studying in Scandinavia. The NAI has taken a more Namibia focus (though not to the extent of the BAB) because of the research directorship of Henning Melber, a radical German-Namibian scholar and the first white member of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), Namibia’s anti-apartheid movement. He was also the director of the Uppsala-based Dag Hammarskjöld Stiftung.

Namibia’s Legal Assistance Centre: Making Law Public

The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) was founded in 1988 in Ongwediva by the white liberal lawyer Dave Smuts and others to address imminent legal concerns of the late apartheid period, particularly regarding violence in northern Namibia, where the war was just coming to a close. Now headquartered in Windhoek, the LAC takes on free-of-charge hundreds of public interest cases every year, particularly in issues regarding gender, education, and access to public services.

The attorneys and employees of the LAC also take on a distinct legal education focus, publishing many educational pamphlets, reports, and posters in nearly all widely-spoken Namibian languages, not just English, Afrikaans, and Oshiwambo. These reports and publications form the backbone of their online repository. I have archived some of these publications in the NDR, but there are just too many to archive all of them right now. Take a look at their repository here.

Labour and Democracy in Namibia: LaRRI and the NID

One of the more interesting and dynamic organizations in Namibia is the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), an NGO advocating on behalf of Namibia’s trade unions, which formed a major part of SWAPO’s support base during the liberation struggle (and to this day, although times are changing). Originally directed by the German-Namibian teacher and union organizer Herbert Jauch, it has now moved fully into Namibian hands under the directorship of Dr. Michael Akuupa, hailing from Kavango Region.

LaRRI provides labour education classes for members of Namibian unions, and even offer a certificate program in conjunction with the Durban Workers’ College in South Africa and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung. They also engage in a large number of research projects (recently diminished because of funding) on specific labour issues in Namibia. Crucially, each of these publications is based on a large amount of statistics and data, such as wages of service-station workers, treatment of domestic workers, and the status of the Namibian Basic Income Grant. They became rather well-known in Namibia and internationally after their published research on Namibian Export Processing Zones, especially the controversial Ramatex Factory. They have made many of their publications available on their website, and on the personal website of Herbert Jauch. They continue to maintain an office and a library in Katutura.

Moving from labour to politics and democratization, the Namibia Institute for Democracy (NID), also maintains a website with a small amount of digitized publications, because of funding issues, they haven’t been publishing as much as they used to, but they continue to excel in their voter education programs and school outreach services.

University Repositories: A Great Place to Start

Unlike in the United States, where M.A. Thesis and PhD Dissertation publication has been largely privatized under UMI/ProQuest microfilms, or else behind a university password, many European and Southern African university repositories can be accessed free-of-charge. Occasionally, there is a one-year embargo on access to some of these works (especially if they are going to be published), but if you know where to look, you can find what you need. Below is a short list of some university repositories (or in the Swedish case, a trans-university repository), which contain theses related to Namibia.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely exploratory. There are countless other repositories out there, but these are some of the best of them. I recommend all who are doing research on Namibia to consult them, as well as try to interlibrary-loan print versions of theses as well. Some of the dissertations I have digitized were “pre-digital” and to my knowledge, my copies are the only digitized versions one the web.


I hope that this list has provided a bit of information for the readers on available digital repositories, websites and collections to help the researcher investigate “Namibia on the Web”. I’d love any other suggestions in the comments or emailed to me.

1For more on this subject, in practice, see the efforts of the Grenada National Archives: https://grenadanationalarchives.wordpress.com/grenadas-endangered-archives/