The terrigenous fraction of sediments recovered from Walvis Ridge, SE Atlantic Ocean, reveals a history of southwestern African climate of the last 300 kyr. End-member modelling of a data set of grain-size distributions (n = 428) results in three end members. The two coarsest end members are interpreted as eolian dust, the third end member as hemipelagic mud. The ratio of the two eolian end members reflects the eolian grain size and is attributed to the intensity of the SE trade winds. Trade winds were intensified during glacials compared to interglacials. Changes in the ratio of the two eolian end members over the hemipelagic one are interpreted as variations in southwestern African aridity. Late Quaternary southwestern African climate was relatively arid during the interglacial stages and relatively humid during the glacial stages, owing to meridional shifts in the atmospheric circulation system. During glacials the polar front shifted equatorward, resulting in a northward displacement of the zone of westerlies, causing increased rainfall in southwestern Africa. The equatorward shift of the polar front is coupled with an increase of the meridional pressure gradient, leading to enhanced atmospheric circulation and increased trade-wind intensity. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.