Mishake Muyongo led the party through the early years of independence, and in the 1994 presidential election he placed second, behind President Sam Nujoma, with 23.08% of the vote. After Muyongo expressed support for Caprivi secession in 1998, he was suspended from the DTA in August 1998 at an extraordinary meeting of the party's executive committee. Muyongo fled Namibia and was replaced as DTA President by Katuutire Kaura, who called for Muyongo to be brought back and put on trial.
In the parliamentary election held on 15–16 November 2004, the party won 5% of the popular vote and 4 out of 78 seats. The DTA is an associate member of the International Democrat Union, a transnational grouping of national political parties generally identified with political conservatism.
The name comes from the old drill hall (in German Turnhalle) in Windhoek, where constitutional negotiations were held from 1975-1977. The party was founded in November 1977 by participants in the Turnhalle Constitutional Conference who walked out of the Constitutional Committee over the National Party's insistence on retaining some apartheid legislation in the new constitution.