Walvis Bay, meaning “Whale Bay” in Afrikaans, has had a chequered history. In fact, the Topnaars were the first settlers within Walvis Bay since the early Stone Age. For centuries the Topnaars have lived off the oasis created by the Kuiseb River and Delta. Although Walvis Bay was discovered by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Diaz in 1487, it was only founded in 1793 by the Cape Dutch.
After occupying the Cape, the British quickly seized control over Walvis Bay, more for administrative convenience and safe passage of ships. Fearing the increased interest of the Germans in the country, Great Britain annexed the habour and settlement area on 12 March 1878. Six years later Walvis Bay was transferred to the Cape Colony and in 1910 incorporated into the Union of South Africa. In the meantime, Germany had established sovereignty over what was then known as German South West Africa and declared a dispute with Britain over the area’s boundaries. The dispute was settled in 1911 and Walvis Bay was allocated an area of 1 124km².
When South African forces defeated the Germans in 1915, Walvis Bay was under martial law as part of South Africa. In 1922 the area was placed under the administration of the South West African Administration. This remained the status quo for more than 50 years. On 31 August 1977, the territory’s administration was once again transferred to the Cape Province in an apparent attempt to avoid losing Walvis Bay to a possibly hostile SWAPO-led government. The South African government re-imposed direct rule and reasserted its claim to sovereignty based on the original British annexation. Walvis Bay, the only deep sea harbour on the Namibian coast, remained under South African rule after Namibia’s independence and only in 1994 was it returned to Namibia.