Independent Namibia's development was in many aspects hampered by its unique transport situation until quite recently [1]. This situation was characterised by its unbalanced and one-sided transport infrastructure towards South Africa. Nakop as past and partly still at present "Namibia's gateway to the outside world" was and is a first order handicap for the country and represents a dangerous Noose or Lifeline situation for Namibia [2]. There is nothing natural about this pattern. As the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) in its founding Lusaka Declaration of 1980 stressed, the regional dependence in transport and communications on South Africa is the result of "planned strategy not geographic logic nor free market forces".

This scenario only started to change with the advent of the independent Republic of Namibia on 21 March 1990. It is with a sense of pride that it can be stated that the Republic of Namibia through her Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication has instituted a quiet revolution in order to tie Namibia up in the regional framework of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). At independence it immediately initiated the formidable task to turn Namibia's transport position axes from an unfavourable, towards South Africa directed, north-south direction into a much more favourable short east-west direction. This new transport main axis connects Namibia's land-locked eastern neighbours to Namibia's Atlantic West Coast. In order to realise this new transport pattern five major roads projects have been implemented with the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari highways at the centre of this new transport configuration.

However, many characteristics of the Namibian unbalanced and biased transport scene are still valid for its railway system. Railways are embedded in the South African - Namibian lifeline/noose transportation situation. Therefore, before dealing more specifically with the Namibian railway system, some more generalising introductory remarks are warranted.

Over 50% of the population is concentrated in the northern areas which were, at least before the construction in the late 1970's and early 1980's of high standard arterial roads and aerodromes commenced, in order to meet the war efforts of the South African Government, excessively short of transport links. This picture started to change with the independence of Namibia. Many new roads were built and other roads upgraded in these formerly neglected regions. But, these regions are still not connected by railway lines to the rest of the country nor is Namibia connected by any railway line to its neighbouring countries in the north and east.

The modern, mostly "white-owned and influenced" economic activities are mainly concentrated to four different centres:

- The Grootfontein-Otavi-Tsumeb triangle in the north

- The central region with Windhoek in the centre

- Walvis Bay-Swakopmund-Arandis in the central coastal areas and

- Oranjemund on the extreme southern coast.

The rest of commercial production is scattered and increases the physical predicaments, mainly large distances and cost of transport. These were aggravated by a cost ineffective dominance of rail, as opposed to sea transport, in external trade movements, even though rail is a much more expensive transport mode than sea transport. In many cases, it still passes via Nakop to and from South Africa which is a longer route than the route to the sea via the Namibian harbour of Walvis Bay or any other future Namibian port [3].

Although a detailed analysis of the Namibian economy is beyond the scope of this study, some reflections on the economy are necessary in order to put the Namibian transport sector regarding railways into proper perspective.

The Namibian economy is based on the extraction and export of its mineral, agricultural and fishing resources. These resources were in the past mainly exploited and controlled by non-Namibian concerns which export these resources unrefined or only roughly refined. The primary economy created approximately 50% of the total Namibian "GDP". Mineral export range from bulky minerals like copper and lead, which are more attuned to rail transport, to diamonds. Mines demand infrastructural means notably transport and telecommunication links. To take but one example, traffic to and from the Tsumeb Corporation copper plant alone provided no less than 30% of export and a not insignificant share of import rail traffic [4].

Major imports into Namibia include oil, coal, mining equipment, iron and steel, generators, heavy machines and cars, cement, grain, many food items and other consumer goods etc. Most of the foreign trade is with, and even more, runs through South Africa. The underdevelopment of the secondary sector is reinforced by the virtual absence of processed products, other than fish and meat and some other odd goods. This is essentially due to the deliberate South African policy in the past to retain the Namibian market for its own products. The South African connection is still dominant. Many of the agricultural and fishing exports go to South Africa. Indeed the orientation of the economy underlines past developments of the transport system in Namibia which is essentially South African bound. Almost the entire cargo between Namibia and South Africa moves still by rail or road and not via sea routes.

Much of the transport and communications equipment was South African supplied and/or designed according to South African standards. Thus the entire Namibian transport network could be highly vulnerable to South African cut off of spare parts. The institutional and administrative setting, and indeed the overall policy framework, was very much intertwined with the South African system. A new Namibian transport policy is, however, in the making since independence [5]. The operating establishments of many transport enterprises are indirectly either part of the South African economy or subsidiaries of African companies. Their transformation into real independent national institutions still entails financial, personnel and other problems.

In 1983 exports totalled about 1.200.000 t and imports about 3.200.00 t. Of this total external trade about 1.000.000 t were handled by ports - about 98% by Walvis Bay. These included the total Namibian requirements of petroleum products. The remaining 2.900.000 t make-up of the traffic were dominated by low value products: ore and concentrates, salt, fishmeal on the export side and coal, cement, fertiliser, grain on the import side. This factor combined with large distances between producers and consumers make transport costs very high as perceived by Namibian producers and users.

The transport sector contributed approximately N$ 125 million [6] - 6% to the GDP, on a turnover of perhaps N$ 250 million in the mid 1980s. This was largely accounted for by the wages and salaries of about 12.500 employees, about 2% of the economically active population but over 6% of wage and salary employment excluding domestic servants.

The next chapter of this study deals with the development of the Namibian railway network so far. It will be exhibited that Namibia's railway can only develop its full socio-economic impact geared to national unity within Namibia and in a greater southern Africa if it is linked with its neighbours in the east and the north-east.

WB00823_.GIF (134 bytes)

[Table of Content ]

forward.GIF (132 bytes)