Food & Daily life

Growing towns and cities

The majority of Namibian towns and villages are located on the central plateau, where the land is elevated and rainfall is higher. The capital of Windhoek lies in the middle of the country, 1654 metres above sea-level.

Partly for historical reasons – see History & Politics – about half of Namibia’s population lives in the far north.

The number of people moving to the towns has increased since independence in 1990. Restrictions on movement were removed and many exiles returned from abroad. However, rapid growth has led to problems in providing basic services for everybody. And with the influx of people looking for work, there is high unemployment and increased crime.

Under South African control and apartheid, white Namibians lived in the town centres, while blacks and mixed-race people lived in outlying areas.

Rural living

Most of central and southern Namibia, an area formerly known as the ‘Police Zone’, was given to white settlers. Today, large commercial farms or ranches operate across the region, which is scattered with Western-style towns. Many Namibians live and work on livestock ranches in the south.

House shapes

In rural communities, houses are often made from traditional materials such as sticks, logs, earth and thatch. Buildings may be round, square, or beehive-shaped and in some areas, clusters of huts are enclosed in wooden palisades.

In the north, land is rarely owned by individuals. Families inherit rights to farm specific plots or pay community fees for using land. In pastoral areas, all members of the community have access to land for grazing and water. Conflict arises when wealthy individuals try to fence off land illegally.

Men and boys generally care for livestock and maintain homesteads; women and girls do most of the agricultural labour, food preparation, childcare, and housework.

European and traditional foods

In restaurants and eateries, meals are often European-style. German dishes such as Wiener schnitzel are particularly popular. The brewing tradition of the Germans is also apparent from the lager beers served. For example, Windhoek is a popular brand.

With its focus on livestock rearing, Namibia is very meat-minded. Steaks from various animals feature heavily on menus. However, fish is also plentiful. Local favourites include kingclip and kabeljou.

In rural communities, staple foods are often made from millet and sorghum. These include mealie pap, a stiff kind of porridge and kapana bread. Dried meat and meat with millet (oshifima ne vanda) are common, as are dairy products. Beans and greens are eaten with millet, but the range of vegetables is limited by the amount of rainfall.

Indigenous cooking often uses the fruits, leaves and nuts from wild or native plants. Insects such as caterpillars are eaten as delicacies.