PROFESSOR Henno Martin is one of Namibia’s earliest outstanding figures in the history of geology. He is noted to have been an exceptional scientist, a painstaking observer and his geological mapping and research arguably laid the foundation for the present understanding of the Namibian geology.
Henno Martin was born on the 15th of March 1910, in Frieburg, Germany. He undertook studies in the field of natural science and geosciences at the universities of Bonn, Zurich, Göttingen and ultimately wrote his PhD thesis titled “Post-Archean Tectonic in Southern Central Sweden” in 1935.
Martin Henno and his colleague Hermann Korn migrated to then South West Africa in 1935. However, five years later after arriving in Namibia, the two fled and hid in the Namib desert to escape internment by the South African government.
They spent two years hiding and exploring the Namib Desert. In 1942, his colleague Korn got sick and they eventually handed themselves over to the South African administration. While in Namibia, Martin worked as a consulting geologist in water exploration.
He contributed enormously to the development of water sources in Namibia, such that Klaus Weber in a memorial address could not help but write that “the success he earned for providing water on farms made him well-known throughout the country even before the publication of his best-seller ‘Sheltering the Desert’ was published.
Similarly, the Geological Society of Namibia also noted that it was Henno Martin who “selected hundreds of water boreholes throughout the country, including those in and around Windhoek, which provided the city with its first large-scale, reliable source of water”.
Besides Henno Martin’s work in the field of water exploration in Namibia, he also worked as the Director of the Geological Survey of Namibia from 1947 to 1967 and thereafter he became the first director of the Precambrian Research Unit at the University of Cape Town from 1963 to 1964.
He later went on to lead the Geology Unit at the University of Göttingen in Germany where he continued his research on Namibian geology. Martin’s remarkable achievements in geological research in Namibia cannot be captured at its best without citing Klaus Weber’s memorial letter.
In appreciation of Martin’s illustrious accomplishments, Weber wrote that “Martin’s first great scientific achievement, research on the Naukluft Nappe Complex worked out with Herman Korn, for the first time brought internationally recognized evidence of gravitational nappe transport.”
Nappe refers to a large sheet-like body of rock that has been moved far from its original position.
Weber further added that Martin Henno’s achievement was also evidenced by the 1939 milestone “discovery of the Messum Igneous Complex, a Mesozoic ring complex of about 20km in diameter”.
Martin is noted to have published numerous scientific papers and has received international awards in recognition of his groundbreaking work in the field of geology.
He was the honorary patron of the Geological Society of Namibia and just before he died on the 7th of January 1988, the Geological Society of Namibia created the Henno Martin Medal to award outstanding living geologists in Namibia.
Martin believed that it is only through variety and cooperation, that there is a high chance for development and survival. Hence, he is also posthumously remembered as a “straight, tolerant and well-disciplined individual”.