The Windhoek Graben is a north-south trending rift in central Namibia that forms a prominent topographic feature bisecting an area of plateau uplift. It occupies a potentially crucial role in the propagation of the Late Cenozoic Southwest African Rift system regarding a possible continuation to the west of the Eiseb Rift. It is an unusual example of intra-continental rifting because it has no significant sediment fill associated with the period of active rifting, and hence the timing of rift activity and its tectonic relevance has not hitherto been established. To constrain the age of the Windhoek Graben we examine its regional geomorphic context and its relationship to four sites of igneous activity in the central Namibian Highlands. Two of these consist of clusters of eroded phonolitic tholoid bodies that have yielded 40Ar/39Ar dates of 32 Ma and 52 Ma, respectively, that we use to bracket the age of formation of a prominent remnant land surface, termed here the P52 Surface. From previous mapping of older intrusive igneous bodies, we argue that an even older land surface is partially preserved on the highest features in the area, and this surface (termed PRS) defines an initial domally uplifted surface from which initial drainage radiated, and onto which the earliest volcanic products associated with the Graben were erupted. In particular, the strong similarity in dyke and fault orientations is used to argue for a causal connection between the earliest magmatic activity and the onset of rifting. Long range correlation of PRS into the adjacent Aranos Basin strongly suggests a Late Cretaceous age for this earliest magmatic activity and the onset of rifting, but we cannot exclude a younger origin, any time up to the Early Eocene.

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