Namibia became one of several flashpoints for Cold War proxy conflicts in southern Africa during the latter years of the PLAN insurgency. The insurgents sought out weapons and sent recruits to the Soviet Union for military training. SWAPO’s political leadership, dependent on military aid from the Soviets, Cuba, and Angola, positioned the movement within the socialist bloc by 1975. This practical alliance reinforced the prevailing perspective of SWAPO as a Soviet proxy, which dominated Cold War ideology in South Africa and the United States. For its part, the Soviet Union supported SWAPO partly because it viewed South Africa as a regional Western ally.
Growing war weariness and the reduction of tensions between the superpowers compelled South Africa, Angola, and Cuba to accede to the Tripartite Accord, under pressure from both the Soviet Union and the United States. South Africa accepted Namibian independence in exchange for Cuban military withdrawal from the region and an Angolan commitment to cease all aid to PLAN. PLAN and South Africa adopted an informal ceasefire in August 1988, and a United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) was formed to monitor the Namibian peace process and supervise the return of refugees. The ceasefire was broken after PLAN made a final incursion into the territory, possibly as a result of misunderstanding UNTAG’s directives, in March 1989. A new ceasefire was later imposed with the condition that the insurgents were to be confined to their external bases in Angola until they could be disarmed and demobilized by UNTAG.
By the end of the 11-month transition period, the last South African troops had been withdrawn from Namibia, all political prisoners granted amnesty, racially discriminatory legislation repealed, and 42,000 Namibian refugees returned to their homes. Just over 97% of eligible voters participated in the country’s first parliamentary elections held under a universal franchise. The United Nations plan included oversight by foreign election observers in an effort to ensure a free and fair election. SWAPO won a plurality of seats in the Constituent Assembly with 57% of the popular vote. This gave the party 41 seats, but not a two-thirds majority, which would have enabled it to draft the constitution on its own.
The Namibian Constitution was adopted in February 1990. It incorporated protection for human rights and compensation for state expropriations of private property, and established an independent judiciary, legislature, and an executive presidency (the constituent assembly became the national assembly). The country officially became independent on 21 March 1990. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia at a ceremony attended by Nelson Mandela of South Africa (who had been released from prison the previous month) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state.
In 1994, following the first multiracial elections in South Africa, that country ceded Walvis Bay to Namibia.
Since independence Namibia has completed the transition from white minority apartheid rule to parliamentary democracy. Multiparty democracy was introduced and has been maintained, with local, regional and national elections held regularly. Several registered political parties are active and represented in the National Assembly, although the SWAPO has won every election since independence. The transition from the 15-year rule of President Nujoma to his successor Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2005 went smoothly.