Historical Background

United Nations plan

UNTAG activities


Historical background

Namibia -- formerly known as South West Africa -- was the only one of the seven African Territories once held under the League of Nations Mandate System that was not placed under the Trusteeship System. The General Assembly recommended in 1946 that South Africa do so, but South Africa refused. Instead, South Africa informed the United Nations in 1949 that it would no longer transmit information on the Territory, on the grounds that the Mandate had lapsed with the demise of the League. In 1950, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that South Africa continued to have international obligations towards the Territory, and that the United Nations should exercise the supervisory functions of the League of Nations in the administration of the Territory. South Africa refused to accept the Court's opinion, and continued to oppose any form of United Nations supervision over the Territory.

In 1966, the Assembly declared that South Africa had failed to fulfil its obligations under the Mandate. It terminated that Mandate, and placed the territory under the direct responsibility of the United Nations. In 1967, the Assembly established the United Nations Council for South West Africa to administer the Territory until independence. It thus became the only Territory which the United Nations, rather than a Member State, assumed direct responsibility. In 1968, the Council was renamed the United Nations Council for Namibia, when the Assembly proclaimed that, in accordance with the wishes of its people, the Territory would be thenceforth known as Namibia. Later that year, in the face of South Africa's refusal to accept the Assembly's decision and cooperate with the Council for Namibia, the Assembly recommended that the Security Council take measures to enable the Council to carry out its mandate.

In its first resolution on the question, the Security Council, in 1969, recognized the termination of the Mandate, described the continued presence of South Africa as illegal, and called on South Africa to withdraw its administration immediately. In 1970, the Security Council declared for the first time that all acts taken by South Africa concerning Namibia after the termination of the mandate were "illegal and invalid". This view was upheld in 1971 by the ICJ. The Court stated that South Africa's presence was illegal, and that South Africa was under obligation to withdraw its administration. South Africa, however, continued to refuse to comply with the United Nations resolutions, and continued its illegal administration of Namibia, including the imposition of apartheid laws, the bantustanization of the Territory, and the exploitation of its resources.

The Council for Namibia enacted in 1974 a Decree for the Protection of the Natural Resources of Namibia, under which no person or entity could search for, take or distribute any natural resources found in Namibia without the Council's permission. Any person or entity contravening the Decree could be held liable for damages by the future government of an independent Namibia. Also in 1974, the Council established the Institute for Namibia, located in Lusaka, Zambia. The Institute, which operated until after independence, provided Namibians with education and training equipping them to administer a free Namibia. In 1976 the Security Council for the first time demanded that South Africa accept elections for the Territory under United Nations supervision and control. In the same year, the General Assembly condemned South Africa for organizing so-called constitutional talks at Windhoek, Namibia's capital, designed to perpetuate the colonial oppression and exploitation of Namibia. It decided that any independence talks must be between South Africa and the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), which the Assembly recognized as the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people. The Assembly also launched a comprehensive assistance programme in support of Namibia's nationhood, involving assistance by United Nations organizations and specialized agencies.

In 1977, the Assembly declared that South Africa' s decision to annex Walvis Bay -- Namibia's main port and vital economic avenue -- was illegal, null and void and an act of colonial expansion. At a special session on Namibia in 1978, the Assembly expressed support for the armed liberation struggle of Namibian people, and stated that any settlement must be arrived at with the agreement of SWAPO and within the framework of United Nations resolutions.

United Nations plan

In 1978, Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States submitted to the Security Council a proposal for settling the question of Namibia. According to the proposal, elections for a Constituent Assembly would be held under United Nations auspices. Every stage of the electoral process would be conducted to the satisfaction of a Special Representative for Namibia appointed by the Secretary-General. A United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) would be at the disposal of the Special Representative to help him supervise the political process and to ensure that all parties observed all provisions of an agreed solution. The Security Council requested the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative for Namibia and to submit recommendations for implementing the settlement proposal. By resolution 435 (1978), the Council endorsed the United Nations plan for Namibia and decided to establish UNTAG.

In 1980, South Africa accepted the plan proposed by the five Powers and in 1981 participated in a pre-implementation meeting at Geneva. However, South Africa did not agree to proceed towards a ceasefire, one of the conditions set by the United Nations for implementing resolution 435. Negotiations were again stalled when South Africa attached new conditions which the United Nations did not accept, in particular one which linked the independence of Namibia with the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.

In the following years, the Secretary-General and his Special Representative travelled extensively throughout southern Africa, discussing problems, clarifying positions, exploring new concepts and exchanging views with all parties. Various countries promoted talks on the issue -- among them the five Western sponsors of the 1978 proposal and Zambia. Gradually the unresolved matters yielded to the give and take of negotiations.

The Secretary-General reported in 1987 that all outstanding issues relevant to the United Nations plan, including the choice of an electoral system, had been resolved. Only the condition linking independence to troop withdrawal remained an obstacle. On 22 December 1988, a tripartite agreement among Angola, Cuba and South Africa, mediated by the United States, was signed at United Nations Headquarters. The agreement committed the signatory States of a series of measures to achieve peace in the region, and opened the way to the United Nations independence plan. Under the agreement, South Africa undertook to cooperate with the Secretary-General to ensure Namibia's independence through free and fair elections

At the same time, Angola and Cuba signed an agreement on the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. In accordance with this agreement, the United Nations sent an observer mission -- the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM) -- to Angola to verify the withdrawal of Cuban troops.

UNTAG activities

The starting date for the implementation of the independence plan was 1 April 1989.

UNTAG was made up of people of 124 nationalities. The authorized strength of its military component was 7,500 all ranks (maximum deployment 4,493 all ranks), supported by almost 2,000 international civilian and local staff. UNTAG's 1,500 police officers ensured a smooth electoral process and monitored the ceasefire between SWAPO and South African forces, and the withdrawal and demobilization of all military forces in Namibia. During the elections, UNTAG was strengthened by some 1,000 additional international personnel who came specifically for the elections.

Namibia was divided into 23 electoral districts. Registration centers were set up all over the country. Some 2,200 rural registration points were covered by 110 mobile registration teams. Registration of voters began on 3 July 1989. When the process ended on 23 September, 701,483 Namibians had registered, and more than 34,000 had been helped to repatriate by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- of some 41,000 registered with that agency.

The elections, held from 7 to 11 November 1989 to choose the 72 delegates to the Constituent Assembly, saw a voter turn-out of 97 per cent. UNTAG monitored the balloting and the counting of votes. On 14 November, the Special Representative for Namibia declared that the elections had been free and fair. SWAPO obtained 41 Assembly seats. The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance obtained 21 seats, and five smaller parties shared the remaining 10.

By 22 November 1989, South Africa's remaining troops had left Namibia. The Constituent Assembly met for the first time on 21 November to draft a new Constitution, which was unanimously approved on 9 February 1990. On 16 February the Assembly elected SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma as President of the Republic for a five-year term. Namibia became independent on 21 March 1990. On that day, in Winhoek, the United Nations Secretary-General administered the oath of office to Namibia's first President . On 23 April 1990, Namibia became the 160th Member of the United Nations.

(c)United Nations


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