Windhoek is the capital and largest city of Namibia. It is located in central Namibia in the Khomas Highland plateau area, at around 1,700 metres (5,600 ft) above sea level, almost exactly at the country’s geographical centre. The population of Windhoek in 2020 was 431,000 which is growing continually due to an influx from all over Namibia.
Windhoek is the social, economic, political, and cultural centre of the country. Nearly every Namibian national enterprise, governmental body, educational and cultural institution is headquartered there.
The city developed at the site of a permanent hot spring known to the indigenous pastoral communities. It developed rapidly after Jonker Afrikaner, Captain of the Orlam, settled there in 1840 and built a stone church for his community. In the decades following, multiple wars and armed hostilities resulted in the neglect and destruction of the new settlement. Windhoek was founded a second time in 1890 by Imperial German Army Major Curt von François, when the territory was colonised by the German Empire.
Theories vary on how the place got its modern name of Windhoek. Most believe it is derived from the Afrikaans word wind-hoek (wind corner). Another theory suggests that Captain Jonker Afrikaner named Windhoek after the Winterhoek Mountains at Tulbagh in South Africa, where his ancestors had lived. The first known mention of the name Windhoek was in a letter from Jonker Afrikaner to Joseph Tindall, dated 12 August 1844.
In 1840 Jonker Afrikaner established an Orlam settlement at Windhoek. He and his followers stayed near one of the main hot springs, located in the present-day Klein Windhoek suburb. He built a stone church that held 500 people; it was also used as a school. Two Rhenish missionaries, Carl Hugo Hahn and Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt, started working there in late 1842. Two years later they were driven out by two Methodist Wesleyans, Richard Haddy and Joseph Tindall. Gardens were laid out and for a while Windhoek prospered. Wars between the Nama and Herero peoples eventually destroyed the settlement. After a long absence, Hahn visited Windhoek again in 1873 and was dismayed to see that nothing remained of the town’s former prosperity. In June 1885, a Swiss botanist found only jackals and starving guinea fowl amongst neglected fruit trees.
A request by merchants from Lüderitzbucht resulted in the declaration in 1884 of a German protectorate over what was called German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika), now Namibia. The borders of the German colony were determined in 1890 and Germany sent a protective corps, the Schutztruppe under Major Curt von François, to maintain order. Von François stationed his garrison at Windhoek, which was strategically situated as a buffer between the warring Nama and Herero peoples.The twelve strong springs provided water for the cultivation of produce and grains.
Colonial Windhoek was founded on 18 October 1890, when von François fixed the foundation stone of the fort, which is now known as the Alte Feste (Old Fortress).] After 1907, development accelerated as indigenous people migrated from the countryside to the growing town to seek work. More European settlers arrived from Germany and South Africa. Businesses were erected on Kaiser Street (presently Independence Avenue), and along the dominant mountain ridge over the city. At this time, Windhoek’s three castles, Heinitzburg, Sanderburg, and Schwerinsburg, were built.
South African administration after World War I
The German colonial era came to an end after the end of World War I but South West Africa, and with it Windhoek, already fell in 1915. Until the end of the war the city was administered by a South African military government, and no further development occurred. In 1920, after the Treaty of Versailles, the territory was placed under a League of Nations Class C mandate and again administered by South Africa.
After World War II more capital became available to improve the area’s economy. After 1955, large public projects were undertaken, such as the building of new schools and hospitals, tarring of the city’s roads (a project begun in 1928 with Kaiser Street), and the building of dams and pipelines to stabilise the water supply. The city introduced the world’s first potable re-use plant in 1958, treating recycled sewage and sending it directly into the town’s water supply. On 1 October 1966 the then Administrator of South West Africa granted Windhoek the coat of arms, which was registered on 2 October 1970 with the South African Bureau of Heraldry. Initially a stylized aloe was the principal emblem, but this was amended to a natural aloe (Aloe littoralis) on 15 September 1972. The Coat of Arms is described as “A Windhoek aloe with a raceme of three flowers on an island. Crest: A mural crown Or. Motto: SUUM CUIQUE (To each their own)”.
Windhoek formally received its town privileges on 18 October 1965 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the second foundation of the town by von François.
Since Namibian independence
Since independence in 1990, Windhoek has remained the national capital, as well as the provincial capital of the central Khomas Region. Since independence and the end of warfare, the city has had accelerated growth and development.
The city is the administrative, commercial, and industrial center of Namibia. A 1992/93 study estimated that Windhoek provides over half of Namibia’s non-agricultural employment, with its national share of employment in utilities being 96%, in transport and communication 94%, finance and business services 82%.Due to its relative size Windhoek is, even more than many other national capital cities, the social, economic, and cultural centre of the country. Nearly every national enterprise is headquartered here. The University of Namibia is, too, as are the country’s only theatre, all ministry head offices, and all major media and financial entities.The governmental budget of the city of Windhoek nearly equals those of all other Namibian local authorities combined. Of the 3,300 US$-millionaires in Namibia, 1,400 live in Windhoek.
Windhoek’s three main access roads from Rehoboth, Gobabis, and Okahandja are paved, and are designed to be able to withstand the largest possible flood to be expected in fifty years. Sealed roads can carry traffic moving at 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph) and should last for 20 years.
In 1928, Kaiserstraße, now Independence Avenue, was the first paved road in Windhoek. Ten years later the next one, Gobabis road, now Sam Nujoma Drive, was also paved. Today out of ca. 40,000 kilometres (25,000 mi) of Namibia’s total road network, about 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) is sealed.
In 2014, The Roads Authority has planned to upgrade the Windhoek-Okahandja road to a dual carriageway. It costs about N$1 billion and is expected to be completed in 2021. Later on, they also plan to upgrade the Windhoek and Hosea Kutako International Airport to a dual carriageway. This is expected to be completed in 2022.
As everywhere in Namibia, public transport is scarce and transportation across town is largely done by taxi; there were 6,492 registered taxis in 2013.
Windhoek is served by two airports, with the closest one being Eros Airport, located 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) south of the city center for smaller craft, and the other being Hosea Kutako International Airport, 42 kilometres (26 mi) east of the city. A number of foreign airlines operate to and from Windhoek. Air charters and helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft rentals are also available.Airport with air traffic control tower (2017)
Hosea Kutako International Airport handles over 800,000 passengers a year. It has one runway without capacity limitations. The other international airport is located in Walvis Bay, with domestic airports at Lüderitz, Oranjemund and Ondangwa.
Eros Airport is the busiest airport in Namibia in terms of take offs and landings.This city airport handles approximately 150 to 200 movements per day (around 50,000 per year). In 2004, the airport served 141,605 passengers, the majority of which are light aircraft. Primarily, limitations such as runway length, noise, and air space congestion have kept Eros from developing into a larger airport. Most of Namibia’s charter operators have Eros as their base.
Expanding the town area has – apart from financial restrictions – proven to be challenging due to its geographical location. In southern, eastern and western directions, Windhoek is surrounded by rocky, mountainous areas, which make land development costly. The southern side is not suitable for industrial development because of the presence of underground aquifers. This leaves the vast Brakwater area north of town the only feasible place for Windhoek’s expansion.
Windhoek’s City Council has plans to dramatically expand the city’s boundaries such that the town area will cover 5,133.4 square kilometres (1,982.0 sq mi). Windhoek would become the third-largest city in the world by area, after Tianjin and Istanbul, although its population density is only 63 inhabitants per square kilometre.