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Assessment for Basters in Namibia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Basters in Namibia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Namibia Facts
Area:    825,418 sq. km.
Capital:    Windhoek
Total Population:    1,600,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Basters face a low risk of rebellion. They have a limited history of protest, low levels of group cohesion and do not face any significant repression. In addition, Namibia is a stable democracy. The only factor that might enhance discontent is group grievances relating to lost autonomy. If not addressed at some level, this could encourage protest and perhaps even rebellion. The relative newness of Namibia's democracy might encourage protest about issues that are not yet apparent.

Analytic Summary

The Basters live mainly in and around the Rehoboth region in central Namibia (GROUPCON = 3). Basters are the descendants of French or Dutch men who had liaisons with indigenous Khoi women (hence the name Basters—from Bastards) in the Cape Colony of South Africa in the 18th century. The group speaks a different language, Afrikaaners, from the majority of Namibians and have distinct social customs (CUSTOM = 1).

Basters fled South Africa in the late 19th century to escape persecution. They have a history of autonomy. In 1868, they settled in Rehoboth after taking the land from the Nama. In 1872, they declared it a republic. In 1884, when Germany colonized Namibia, the Basters signed an autonomy agreement and continued to rule their own affairs. When South Africa annexed Namibia from Germany after WWI, the Basters signed another self-rule accord (1923). South Africa granted Basters other self-governing rights in 1976. When Namibia gained independence in 1990, the late leader of the Basters denied the new constitution and declared Rehoboth autonomous. In a referendum administered by Basters later that year, 84% voted to retain control of their land. Namibia denied the claim. In 1996, the Supreme Court upheld a lower level court ruling that the government did not take Baster land illegally (AUTLOST = 4).

The group does not suffer any significant economic, political or social disadvantages (POLDIS03 = 0, ECDIS03 = 0). The Basters have two principal grievances. First, they are seeking widespread autonomy (AUTGR403 = 3). In 1999, the newly elected Baster leader reiterated the claim that Basters should administer themselves. Second, Basters want their land protected from redistribution policies aimed at giving land to poor black Africans. Since independence, there has been a national debate surrounding land reform. In 1994, a Land Reform Bill was passed by parliament. It allowed the government to purchase any land on the market at any price determined by the Minister of Land, Resettlement, and Rehabilitation. The legislation also gave the government the right to force farmers to give up land, but only if they were not fully utilizing it or if they had an extensive number of farms. As of yet, no major implementation of these policies has occurred. The government lacks the cash to purchase land for redistribution and willing sellers are hard to find. Furthermore, the government seems loath to act more aggressively for fear of capital flight and economic dislocation. Thus, the land distribution in the country is much the same as it was at independence. However, the war for independence was in large part fought for greater access to land, and Baster land is in dispute because it was gained by displacing the Nama. Therefore, the fear of land distribution is prevalent in the Baster community, particular given the situation in neighboring Zimbabwe. The group is also seeking greater recognition of its group and language. Basters are unhappy about the fact that affirmative action policies have not been extended to the group.

The Basters are represented by umbrella organizations, such as SWAPO, and conventional political parties (GOJPA03 = 2). In 2001-2003, there were no reports of intergroup or intragroup conflict (INTERCON01-03 = 0, INTRACON01-03 = 0). In this period, there was limited verbal protest regarding recognition of the group's cultural rights (PROT01-03 = 1). There were no incidents of rebellion (REB01-03 = 0).


Cliffe, Lionel. 1994. The Transition to Independence in Namibia. Boulder: Lynne Reiner Publishers.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Published Yearly by the U.S. State Department.

New York Times, 4 April 1989, "Fearful Namibian Tribe Raises Flag of Freedom".

Saul, John and Colin Leys (Eds). 1995. Namibia's Liberation Struggle: The Two Edged Sword. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Washington Post, 7 August 1989, "Namibia's Chronic Rebels Renew Secession Threats".

Various articles Lexis/Nexis especially Reuters, BBC, Africa News Service 1980-2003.

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