Posts Tagged ‘namibia postage stamps’

Talk of snail mail! That’s putting it very mildly. Are the loved ones back home all right? Are mother and father still alive? Will the head office send the urgently needed bibles or won’t they? German missionaries in Namibia had to wait two years before they received an answer to the letters they sent to the home country. Every now and then they waited in vain. Around 1840 the mailing route was not only very long but also dangerous…

At that time, of course, postal services did not even exist. The missionaries sent their letters by runner or asked travellers to take them with. The first postal runner service in today’s Namibia was established in 1814 between the missionary stations of Bethanien and Warmbad. As more missionaries arrived and started to work in the central and northern parts of the country, they formed a loose network of   occasional runner services. These days it is hard to imagine the value that a letter from home had for them, the great joy that it brought…

Postal runner, artist: Heinz Pulon, issued 1988
Postal runner, artist: Heinz Pulon, issued 1988

Letters to Germany had to be sent via Cape Town and the colonial power, Great Britain, because German ships had as yet no particular reason to call at the coast of South West Africa on a regular basis. Essentially there were two routes for sending mail to the Cape: by land through the south of the country and all the way to Cape Town, or the somewhat closer town of Port Nolloth, and the Baiweg (Bay Way) from the interior to Walvis Bay; ship traffic from Port Nolloth and Walvis Bay to Cape Town was erratic.

The surface route was the biggest challenge. Namibia’s first postmen were real heroes who certainly deserve to be honoured by means of a postage stamp. They covered hundreds of kilometres on foot, in the murderous heat of the summer and bitterly cold winters. They were able to take up to 17 kg of mail. The mailbag was tied to a stick which they carried on their shoulder; a bag with their provisions was attached to the other end of the stick. They took around 12 days to get from Windhoek to Walvis Bay. On foot they were faster and more reliable than saddle oxen or ox carts. Horses were not suitable in those early days because they often succumbed to horse sickness.

Apart from the exertion postal runners also had to withstand many dangers. One of the runners, who was the communication link between the mission stations of Bethanien, Warmbad and Kommagas (approx.50 km west of Springbok), disappeared one day. Tracks were found shortly afterwards which led to the assumption that he had fallen prey to a lion. One of his successors met with the same fate. In that case, however, neither the postal runner’s mortal remains nor the mail was found. People were also a threat. During the armed conflict between Nama and Herero sealed documents were viewed with suspicion by both warring parties, even though the missionaries did their best to remain neutral and mediate between the two.

Postal runner on the route Tsumeb – Ondangwa with post bag and pouch of provisions. Photo: Walter Moritz

Due to the distances and dangers mailing was far more expensive that it is now. In addition to the postal charges from Cape Town to Germany via Britain, the wages for the runner as well as his provisions had to be paid – in British Pounds, then the valid currency at the Cape, and in kind.

Incidentally, the postage stamp as proof that the sender had paid the delivery costs was developed at about the same time when the missionaries were lamenting the fact that they had to wait for answers for two years. On 1 May 1840 the ‘Penny Black’ was issued in Britain, a printed piece of paper with an adhesive film on the reverse – the world’s first postage stamp. Sir Rowland Hill, a member of parliament who developed the concept for postal reform and submitted it to parliament, is seen as the inventor of the postage stamp.

The term ‘stamp’, however, refers to a method of prepayment which is 160 years older than the postage stamp. More than 330 years ago, in 1680, a merchant called William Dockwra and his partner Robert Murray established a postal service in London. A hand-stamp on the mail piece showed that it had been paid for.


von Schumann, Gunter und Kube, Sigrid: Der Anschluss an die Welt. Die Geschichte der Post und Telekommunikation 1888-2005; in: Klaus Hess und Klaus Becker (Hg.): Vom Schutzgebiet bis Namibia 2000, Göttingen 2002, S. 468-479

Postman, by Namibian Artist Joe Madisia, 1997

Contact address for collectors: Philately Services, Private Bag 13336, Windhoek; Tel +264 (0)61 2013097/99, philately@nampost.com.na


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Postage stamps not only represent a financial value, they have patriotic value as well: often they pay tribute to their country’s outstanding personalities, depict country-specific aspects of nature and architecture or commemorate important events in the history of the nation. Namibia is no different, and Namibia’s postage stamps are without doubt among the most beautiful in the world.

In order to amplify public awareness of the meaning and beauty of our stamps, Namibia Post Limited and Gondwana Collection Namibia, the group of nature reserves and lodges, have started a newspaper series in four daily newspapers, called ‘Stamps & Stories’. One particular stamp will be singled out every week and the story behind that stamp will be told.

The first two episodes of ‘Stamps & Stories’ will be dedicated to the beginnings of postal services in Namibia when letters were transported by ‘postal runners’. “They were real heroes”, says Gondwana’s managing director, Mannfred Goldbeck. “Not only because of the vast distances and the hardship they endured in the summer heat and the freezing temperatures of winter, but also because of the dangers”. Postal runners lived dangerously indeed: one died near Otavi from the poison on the tip of an arrow, another one was shot dead near Omaruru under tragic circumstances and yet another fell prey to a lion near Warmbad.

“Every significant event in Namibia, before and after independence, was commemorated with stamps”, says Festus Hangula, CEO of NamPost. And Gondwana’s managing director Mannfred Goldbeck adds, “Illustrating the country’s history hardly gets more vivid than that”. Especially since stamps not only feature events such as independence in 1990 or the landing of Portuguese seafarers at Cape Cross in 1486, but also Namibia’s peoples, animals, plants and attractions. In the ‘Stamps & Stories’ series stamps will therefore tell a fascinating story about a specific aspect of Namibia every week.

The cooperation of NamPost and Gondwana on ‘Stamps & Stories’ has several reasons. NamPost celebrates its 20th anniversary next year. And the series of stories, published on the NamPost website, also serves to advertise Namibia’s stamps to collectors worldwide. “Sales to collectors, but also stamps bought by tourists for their postcards and letters, make a considerable contribution to our revenue”, says NamPost’s CEO Festus Hangula.

Gondwana plans a theme restaurant for its new accommodation facilities north of Sossusvlei, dedicated to the history of telecommunications and postal services. “We intend to make postage stamps the focal point because they are both decorative and informative”, Goldbeck explains. “What we have in mind are information boards on Namibia’s nature and history with large-size stamps and the story which the stamp represents told in brief and gripping texts”. The material for the information boards first has to be researched, of course. That accomplished, doesn’t it make perfect sense to publish the stories in an advance series of articles? What is more, a selection of ‘Stamps & Stories’ will be published as a book next year – to coincide with NamPost’s anniversary.

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