Nama Genocide (1904-1907)


The motion by the Nudo President, Kuaima Riruako, tabled in the National Assembly to debate genocide in which many Namibians died kick-started at a constructive pace, but discussions so far seemed to exclude one of the formidable tribes of the time, the Nama. Historical records narrate pre-dominance of this tribe in socio-economics and politics of the then Namibia by conquering, discovering, marauding, and fierce resistance to colonial occupation of their motherland. The colonial forces reacted to fierce opposition from this tribe with mounted reprisal, and with superior weaponry killed, raped, maimed, drowned, fed to sharks, beheaded, deported and besmirched more than half of the Nama population, with resulting loss of precious lives, land, possessions and property at the hands of the German occupation forces. The brutal killings of the Nama by German forces cannot be treated as an inconspicuous piece of historical irrelevance, and Nama traditional and political leadership should make it their responsibility to highlight the prominence of the Nama genocide within the historical realm of this country. While awaiting response from Nama leadership, let me humbly contribute by highlighting chronologically those aspects of the painful history in which many Nama people were subjected to extermination and forceful deportations, simply because they wanted self-governance and self-reliance. The severity of the Nama genocide should also be seen in the context of their determination to fight until their last man and not to subjugate themselves and their land to German occupation forces. Many Nama tribes also came to join their tribesmen from the Cape of Good Hope in the 1800s where they were subjected to slavery by the Dutch Settlers, and therefore when coming into contact with Germans, they were reminded of the cruel treatment meted out to them by the Dutch settlers, and therefore resisted relentlessly to further subjugation. Genocide and brutal killings of Nama people started long before the 1904 genocide when in the small hours of 12 April 1893, the German soldiers reached Hornkranz, south of Windhoek, and in savage attacks killed hundreds of quiescent Witbooi tribesmen and butchered sizeable numbers of innocent women and children. Many women and children became captives of war, and rampant lootings were recorded as well. Captain Hendrik Witbooi escaped unhurt during this surprise attack. Conflicting reports reached the Foreign Office in Berlin in May 1893, reporting Witbooi losses as 80 dead and 100 wounded. Another report said 50 men and 30 women died. Still another report said the attack on Hornkranz killed 50 men and wounded 100. The British media carried extensive reports on German killings and lootings in Hornkranz and put special emphasis on women and children who died as victims at Hornkranz. The German Social Democratic leader, August Bebel, enquired in the Reichstag, calling on the Government to explain why such a brutal treatment was meted out by German soldiers on women and children at Hornkranz. The response of the Government was that many of the soldiers hide behind their womenfolk; that’s why so many women and children were killed. This outrageous explanation was utterly rejected by both the opposition and the wider German press. After the raid on Hornkranz, Theodor Leutwein, the third of the Reich’s supreme officials in South-West Africa, turned his assault on a small Nama tribe, the /Khauas of Chief Andreas Lambert in early 1894. They ordered the Chief to surrender to the German sovereignty and, when he resisted, he was court-martialled and sentenced to death, together with many of his followers. Even here looting of horses and other possessions took place. After the attack on Chief Lambert, Leutwein turned to the next destination – Gochas – the headquarters of Simon Kooper, the Chief of the Franzmann community. This community was subjected to forceful acceptance of German sovereignty and was overwhelmed by the mere brutal force to accept the demands. The German imperial forces were determined to subjugate the Nama people at all cost, and systematically to seize their land and properties. During the years 1894-1895, Governor Leitwein succeeded in capturing and conquering the whole of Namaland. They collaborated closely with Kharaskhoma Syndicate, a British company that acquired more than 512 farms from the Bondelswart Nama community and, while pretending to be supporting Captain of Boldelswartz, Chief Willem Christian, urged Kharaskhoma Syndicate to continue seizing more farms. It was also the intention of the German imperial forces to bring in more German settlers to come and occupy these farms. In 1890, there were only 310 Germans in South-West Africa but, by 1 January 1903, more than 2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 998 were recorded, bringing the total white population in South-West Africa to 4ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 640. Since it was systematic extermination of the Nama people, German forces in collaboration with British imperialists surrounded the Afrikaaner Nama tribe from three directions on 2 August 1897, near the Orange River. More than 37 were killed, including women and children, and when they fled over the Orange River into South Africa, they were captured by British garrison. Kividdoe, the leader of Afrikaaner and his three sons, and other captured men and women were extradited, court-martialled and, in Leutwein’s curt words, “shot to the last man”. Afrikaaner Nama tribe ceased to exist thereafter, having been annihilated to the last man, and their properties seized. Thereafter, in late 1897, the Zwartboois, a relatively strong Nama tribe in Kaokoland, rose against German forces for arbitrarily deposing and capturing their captain, David Zwartbooi, and replaced him as leader with Lazarus Zwartbooi. The Topnaar, a small Nama tribe led by Jan Uichamab, supported the uprising by Zwartbooi. The fighting that erupted lasted from December 1897 until March 1898, and Zwartboois surrendered when 150 men and 400 women were captured and, together with others, court-martialled and confined in chains on charges of high treason. As for Topnaars, it was demanded that they hand in their rifles and turn over 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 head of small stock as reparations, and most of his men became a pool of cheap labour for the construction of the railway between Windhoek and Walvis Bay. The capturing and conquering continued, with Bondelswarts and Bethanie people the next targets. In late 1898 Leitwein, accompanied by 100 men and 4 guns, undertook an expedition into the south on the pretext that these two tribes did not pay for treaty of protection by German forces. Finding themselves isolated, the two tribes decided not to seek armed confrontation. Leitwein put them on trial, found them guilty, and asked them to pay for the expedition. They should pay with their land since they do not have other means, having lost all the cattle and possessions at previous raids. The period 1893 until 1903 saw gradual transfer of land and cattle in the hands of German settlers, with sporadic killings, a sinister dispossession, which was followed up from 1904 until 1907 with mounted aggression against the very existence of the people of this great land. The German Government encouraged settlement of German settlers in Namibia. In 1901, the Colonial Administration set up funds to the value of 300ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 marks to encourage settlers, and in 1903, large-scale influx of German settlers began. A well-known advocate of settler imperialism, Paul Rohrbach, was appointed Commissioner of Settlement to expel Namibians in large numbers from their land. Having acquired most of the fertile land, and these lands being earmarked for German settlers, the natives dispossessed of their land and livestock should be resettled and therefore reserves were created in Namaland and elsewhere. The German settlers provoked another confrontation in the south of Namibia by calling for disarmament of southern tribes. The German forces took these provocations seriously, and decided on a strategy for disarmament, since they were collaborating with some tribes against the other. In the words of Leutwein and Burgsdorff, the district officer: “It will require patience and cautiousness. The order in which the various Hottentot tribes are disarmed should be determined by their degree of unreliability. So the veldschoendragers ought to come first, followed by the Franzmann and Bethanie people and the Witboois. I have omitted the Bondelswarts and the Hochanas Hottentots because these have already had their weapons taken away”. This state of affairs where the Nama was losing land and possessions, was a sad situation, and one man, Jakob Morenga, decided to take up arms single-handedly in late August 1903 against the German patrol, defeating sizeable troops in the process. Governor Leutwein regarded Morenga as “the headman of the Bondelswarts inhabiting the Karas Berge”, while the District Officer in Keetmanshoop described Morenga as “…one of the principal leaders of the Bondelswarts during their revolt.” The Germans, on 3 June 1904, put a price of 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 marks on the head of Morenga for anyone who captures him, dead or alive. Morenga set out to disarm German settler farmers in the area of Karas Mountains, and battle erupted near Kouchanas on 30 August 1904 in which Lieutenant von Stempel and two other German soldiers were killed. The Germans sustained one defeat after another, because Morenga used guerrilla war-fare which was unknown to them, highlighting that Bondelswarts Nama used guerilla tactics already in 1904, as a tool of combating resistance, long before liberation movements adopted and applied it against colonial occupiers. Morenga was regarded as a “man of the future” who wanted to unite all tribes in Namibia to fight as a united force “…against German imperialism rather than against each other”. He was struck by a bullet from the British army during a battle that ensued for his capture on 20 September 1907. Calling for reparations could therefore be multifold for Namas when one looks at atrocities committed by the Germans, British, Dutch and the apartheid South Africa. The tables were turned when Captain Hendrik Witbooi took up arms against the Germans, having changed his initial stance of siding with the German forces, when he received reports from the 100-strong Nama contingent that secretly returned to Gibeon and told him about the “ruthlessness of the Germans who they said were bent on wiping out all Africans no matter what tribe or sex” When he took this decision, Captain Hendrik Witbooi called upon Kapteins in Namaland to join the rebellion – the tribes, like Franzmann under Simon Kooper, Red Nation of Hoachanas under Manasse Noreseb, and Veldschoendragers under Hans Hendrik. The Zwartboois and Topnaars, who lived in the district of Outjo and Swakop River, outside Namaland, and the Bondelswarts in Warmbad, whose leader was Johannes Christian, were taken prisoner by the Germans in a coup de main before they were able to join the uprising. Some of the tribes not responding immediately, because of missionary influence, were the Berseba tribe under Captain Christian Goliath, Paul Fredericks of Bethanie, as well as the Keetmanshoop tribe under Captain Tseib. But Bethanie people under Cornelius Frederick, in open defiance of their Kaptein, participated in the uprising of the Nama. What is very clear is that the Nama rebellion had a pro-active approach, where the battle was taken to the home turf of the German strongholds in the country, and Germans had to take refuge in fortified places which withstood the onslaught of the insurgents. Captain Witbooi gathered 800 to 900 warriors, about one-third of them armed with rifles. The Franzmann community, under Simon Kooper, provided another 120 men, the Veldschoendragers, 150 to 200, and the so-called Red Nation, approximately 190. The single aim of the uprising that began in the early days of October 1904, was to expel the Germans rather than kill them. This was evident from the message written by Samuel Isaack, Deputy Chief of Captain Witbooi, addressed to Sergeant Beck, Deputy Commander at Gibeon, shortly after the outbreak of the uprising. The message was: “Sergeant, I leave it to your discretion to transport all women and children to LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz Bay in ox wagons so that they may return to Germany. Men without weapons bearing the Witbooi mark are also free to join them. They will not be molested”. The Nama uprising was met with increased contemptuous reaction, and Deputy Governor Hans Techlenburg wrote to Berlin suggesting that the Witboois who fought with the Germans be deported to Cameroon. However, more than 119 Nama were rather shipped to Togo in November 1904 on board a Woermann steamship. Most of these Nama died due to intestinal diseases and only 49 reached Cameroon. The conditions were so harsh for these people that most died and newly-appointed Governor Lindequist agreed to allow the surviving 42 Nama to return in June 1906 to Namibia. As soon as these survivors arrived, another telegram was sent on 10 July 1906 by Governor Lindequist to go ahead with “deportation of Hottentots”. The total Namas gathered for deportation amounted to 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 599 Witbooi, including 501 men and 9 headmen; Bethanie people 191, including 107 men and 8 headmen. Deporting these people to far-off German colonies, came to be regarded as costly, and Colonel Berthold von Deimling, who took over as new Commander-in-Chief in South-West Africa, suggested to deport them to Shark Island in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz. Horst Drechsler wrote in his book, ‘Let Us Die Fighting’, that the “transfer of the Witboois and the Bethanie people to Shark Island marked the beginning of a harrowing ordeal on what soon came to be known as “Death Island”. Unaccustomed to the humid and chilly climate prevailing there, the Nama died like flies”. In December 1906, more than 276 died in that month alone. Since September 1906, 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 032 out of 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 795 Namas died on Shark Island. Some of the details given are that 66 Nama died in September, 143 in October, 166 in November, 276 in December, 247 in January, 143 in February and 155 in March 1907. Cornelius Frederick, the leader of the Bethanie people, also succumbed on the Island on 16 February 1907. Another tragedy hit the Nama uprising when Captain Hendrik Witbooi sustained a wound on 29 October 1905 near Vaalgras, which became fatal due to the non-availability of medicines. This demoralized the Witbooi clan, and Witbooi’s son, Isaak Witbooi, who took over did not have the vigour, prestige and stature to restore the same spirit. In this way, most of the Captains and revolutionaries were killed, court-martialled, and in the process most of these tribes were subjugated, forced into submission, and therefore the whole territory came into the hands of the German occupation forces and German settlers. Total losses suffered by the Nama people between 1904 and 1907 as a result of German annihilation has been found among records of the Imperial Colonial Office in a “Report on the Mortality in Prisoner-of-War Camps in German South-West Africa” drawn up by the High Command of the “Protection Force”. Summing up, the report states: “According to dispatches covering the period from October 1904 to March 1907 a total of 2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 Hottentots, 45.2 percent of all prisoners, have died”. It further said that the official census taken in 1911 states that “It shows that in 1911 there were a mere 9ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 781 Nama out of an original 20ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000. No fewer than 50 percent of the Nama had thus fallen victim to German colonial rule”. Finally, having achieved the aim of conquering the territory, subjecting its inhabitants to irrevocable submission, the Deputy Governor of South-West Africa, Hans Tecklenburg, came up with a detailed report outlining the standpoint of the Colonial Administration on the expropriation of the South-West African population. He said, inter alia: “The tribal property of the tribes fully or partly involved in the rebellion will be subject to confiscation. Whether they have carried out, or aided and abetted, warlike acts will make no difference. It would be a sign of weakness, for which we would have to pay dearly, if we allowed the present opportunity of declaring all native land to be Crown territory to slip by”. On 8 May 1907, a follow-up on previous Imperial Decree of 26 December 1905, was issued for sequestration of Namaland, and has declared it the Crown land. It concluded by saying: “The natives would be settled on individual werfs (Communal plots) in proximity to the place of residence of the whites. Those living on such werfs will serve as labourers to indivual farmers. Werfs in outlying areas not subject to police control will not be tolerated. They would only provide a nucleus keeping alive memories of the tribal system and land ownership. No major community of natives must be left to their own devices lest they form a self-contained unit.” When speaking to some contemporary chiefs of the Nama traditional authorities, I was told that some of the Nama captains were beheaded. What happened to their heads? Their bodies were buried without their heads, a question still lingering on in the minds of these chiefs and their followers. These submissions are based on recordings found in books obtained locally, and I wish to contribute to the debate, lest we forget that a significant portion of empirical evidence remained that Nama suffered equally, or more. It will not be in the best interest of the law-makers in the Namibian Parliament to side-step or ignore this piece of history, lest the children ask what happened to the Nama history, and why sideline this empirical evidence during debates in Parliament? The Namibian Government should be commended for having recognized the role played by Captain Hendrik Witbooi, Jakob Morenga, and other great Nama leaders, when declaring them Namibian Heroes. That recognition has kept the hope alive amongst most Namas that one day there will be justice and recognition, and the role played by their forefathers will come showering down as rewards. Captain Hendrik Witbooi, in a dignified fashion, is looking down from the face of the Namibian dollar, believing, as faithful as they are, that one day fruits of the liberation struggle waged by them will benefit his off-spring, the Nama. REFERENCES: – ‘Let us Die Fighting’, The Struggle of the Herero and Nama against German Imperialism (1885-1915), Horst Drechsler, 1966. – Namibia 1884-1984, Readings on Namibia’s History and Society, Namibia Support Committee, Brian Wood, 1988. – ‘Namibia, The Struggle For Liberation’, Alfred T. Moleah, 1983. – ‘In Search of Survival and Dignity’: Two traditional communities in southern Namibia under South African rule, Reinhart KÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssler, 2005. – ‘The Cape Herders’, A History of Khoikhoi of Southern Africa, Emile Bonzaier, 1996 – Sow The Wind, Neville Alexander, 1985 For any enquiry please call me: Salmaan Jacobs, Cell: 081-128-0509 Salmaan Jacobs from Keetmanshoop