Since the edition of the five volumes of the "Dictionary of South African Biographies" between the 1960s and 1980s, a well-researched Handbook of Namibian Biographies is long overdue. In Namibia, as in all civilised countries, students and scholars have long since felt the need for a work of reference presenting the life histories of all those who have since the earliest times made a contribution of importance to the course of Namibian history. One of the most important preliminary decisions was the order in which the Handbook of Namibian Biographies entries were to be published. For simplicity reasons I chose the orthodox method to complete the entries in, as they are available at the time of publication, in the succession of each letter of the alphabet.

The author, being an engineer by profession as well as a historian, has applied an "engineering approach" to this chronicle, which serves to advance its accuracy.

Historiography like chronologies and biographies tend to be tiresome to read, but they are informative and useful. This handbook can be used as a reference source in researching, for important personalities during the course of Namibian history. It must be noted, however, that the Handbook of Namibian Biographies has inevitably many shortcomings and must be regarded as a first stepping stone only. In compiling a biographical databank on a national basis the most difficult problem is to determine which historical figures are to be included and what their relative importance is to be. With the publication of the Handbook of Namibian Biographies this process of selection has be no means been completed. However careful one’s choice, no name or length of entry can ever be expected to meet with general approval. Criticism and differences of opinion about inclusions or omissions, which in many cases are dictated by a lack of data, and about the "weight" allowed to individual entries are bound to arise. In choosing the names to appear in the Handbook of Namibian Biographies, I tried to keep in constant view the whole prospect of individual achievement and influence on the Namibian historical scene. In some instances, personalities have been included who, though they never or only very briefly visited Namibia, had, through their political or scientific activities, a considerable influence on the course of Namibian history. The 2335 entries in the Handbook of Namibian Biographies include a few exceptionally long contribution, but are estimated to be less than one fifth of the total number of entries of which the main series will consist. Each entry presented its own peculiar problems. In many cases I had to be satisfied with far less than the ideal, mainly due to a lack or incomplete data. None the less, I have endeavoured to use primary historical sources wherever possible, to have the entries reflect the latest state of research, and, with the strict limitations imposed by space, to present not merely a chronicle, but a particular impression of the personality and actions of the subject of each entry. The evaluation of an important career in the history of country like Namibia, with its great variety of different cultures and language groups and its numerous examples of political and military conflict since the seventeenth century, is a formidable task. Even the most objective appreciation will have weaknesses and prejudices. It is only to be expected that the content of some entries will dissatisfy some. This is regretted but is nevertheless unavoidable. In some respect the Handbook of Namibian Biographies is at a considerable disadvantage because it has no precursor which could serve as a basis for a national biographical handbook, and the Handbook of Namibian Biographies had to be started from the very beginning and must be regarded, as mentioned early, as a first stepping stone only. In this regard there are clearly many deficiencies, which will be improved with future editions of this handbook.

The historical researcher is presented with several unique problems in relation to the earlier periods of Namibian history. Apart from the fact that information sources on these periods are fragmentary, contradictory, or just non-existent, the Gothic-like handwriting of German missionaries and officials makes the available sources exceptionally difficult to work with. It is particularly difficult to trace reliable data on the pre-German period and the period prior to 1890, and although the German and South African colonial periods from 1898 onwards are well documented, in many cases the documentation is strongly biased in favour of the relevant colonial interests, so its veracity is not easily ascertainable.

The early history of Namibia cannot be distinguished from the period of the early European explorers, adventurers, traders and missionaries who opened this country up to the outside world in the 19th and early 20th centuries and who, in doing so, created the basis for Namibia’s colonial status which lasted all the way up to 1990.

African society is little understood and under evaluated. Who are the Africans, where are they coming from? Which are the moving forces of Namibian history? I would like to argue that the moving forces are not ethnic or racial in nature but social and economic. As implied above, one major shortcoming of Namibia’s historical records has to be borne in mind: the indigenes were considered to be nothing but objects of European intervention. They do not turn up as makers of history, and the impression is created that they lived "outside" the country’s history. The handbook before you makes an honest attempt to rectify this bias, but it has to be understood that this effort is merely an additional stepping stone in the cumulative effort to write up the very complex history of this young nation state. Another major shortcoming of the records is that references to the role of Namibian women in the making of their country’s history, and in bringing about its liberation, are all too rare, and this topic is deserving of much additional research in the future. Women’s oppressed status in Namibian history is clearly manifested in the fact that they are not mentioned in most of the historical sources. Their work is not valued according to its scope, importance, or degree of skill.

My thanks goes to Werner Hillebrecht of the National Library of Namibia for guiding me to the appropriate reference sources. I would like to especially express my gratitude to my daughter, Susanne Hipp, née Dierks, for her invaluable suggestions and stimulating ideas. She also looked closely at the final version for English style and grammar, correcting both and offering suggestions for improvement.

Any erroneous facts or assessments, and any omissions, must be charged to my account.


 Dr. Klaus Dierks                                                                          Windhoek, August 2004