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Ghanzi In History (Part 8) – Samkoa & Sheppard

Our last instalment noted that by August of 1922 many Khoe (Basarwa/ 'Bushmen') in the Ghanzi District, as well as then South African administered South West Africa (SWA, i.e. Namibia), were reportedly attracted to the emerging resistance movement led by a 'bandit' leader known as Samkoa.

News of the growing threat posed by Samakoa’s brigands was communicated to the Ghanzi Magistrate, Capt. A.L. Cuzen by the Acting Magistrate at Gobabis, SWA, Lt. E.L. Grayson, in a dispatch dated August 19, 1922:

“I daresay that you have heard that the late Magistrate at Gobabis- Capt. van Ryneveld- was shot by Bushmen on the 26th. ultimo and died by the same day. We have a small force operating against the Bushmen at present- approximately at 21 N and 19 East. These Bushmen have been raiding cattle for several months past on a scale which hasn’t been experienced before and threatening anyone who went in pursuit of them. It is possible that the result of the present operations may be that these Bushmen may cross your border.”

“At the present time there is also some form of agitation going on amongst the Hereros, and some of the Bechuanas. On one or two occasions recently these agitators have come over from Bechuanaland, but we have not heard of them until too late to prevent their departure. They wear rosettes of red, blue, and green at their native meetings, and have been explaining how war should be made against the Europeans.

“It seems probable that they have not made many converts, but at the same time it is not wise to disregard the agitation altogether. I don’t think that it would be wise to stop the issue of native passes between the two territories as it would be impossible to prevent natives crossing the border, but should you have reason to suspect that any of your natives are constantly crossing the border and are members of any socialistic, or other political society I should be glad if you would advise me.”

The Ghanzi Magistrate thus suddenly found himself confronted with two cross border security threats, Samkoa’s /Auen and //Ai-khwe rebels and reports that agitators wearing “rosettes of red, blue, and green” were stirring up anti-European sentiments.

In a follow up, a Bechuanaland Protectorate Police reconnaissance under a certain Corporal Lancaster’s found evidence that a “certain native” had indeed passed through the region from Maun to Lehututu spreading “seditious talk”, including holding a meeting amongst the Ovaherero at Kalkfontein.

Cuzen was aware of the source of resentment at Kalkfontein. Its inhabitants who had until recently occupied better land on Ghanzi ridge, were being threatened with further removals. Reporting to his superiors in Mahikeng, he noted:

“There were a few Damaras that came from South West Africa

and they got permission from Mr. Pretorius, owner of farm No. 10, to stay there temporarily. When the present owner, Mr. Hardbattle, bought the farm in 1919 he had them removed and they got permission to go to Kalkfontein from the Government temporarily and they managed to put off going to Ngamiland every year.”

The Ovaherero position, supported by the observations of early European travellers as well as, in some cases long recorded, oral traditions, was that the area had long been theirs. In 1926 a Kalkfontein elder named Kuruman recalled to Police Corporal Moses Malata that both the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu had fought fiercely against the Barolong and Bakgalagari for possession of the country, before the arrival of the Makololo, Sebego’s Bangwaketse and Batawana with whom they also clashed. These wars may account for Edward Chapman’s 1856 description of Ghanzi:

“Here we met a party of Damaras [Ovaherero], poor emaciated and scabby creatures, equalling in poverty the most wretched Bushmen I had yet seen. They were once possessor of immense flocks and herds, and the owners of the soil they now grubbed on.”

For Cuzen, the identity of Corporal Lancaster’s agitator was easier to resolve than the conflicting claims of Ghanzi’s Ovaherero and settlers. On May 24, 1923 he reported to Mafikeng:

“Samuel Sheppard is the native who travelled from Maun to Ghanzi, held meetings at Kalkfontein. He then proceeded to Lehututu and towards the Upington District eventually reaching Windhoek after months of travel.”

Samuel Karcho Sheppard was already well known to the British having for decades played a prominent role in Tjiherero politics. In 1877 he had inherited from his late father, Saul, the position of Secretary to the Ovaherero ruler Maharero.

Originally Ovambanderu, the Sheppard family’s prominence, and surname, had been established by Saul. As a young boy he was captured and enslaved by Nama-khwe, only to be ransomed, in 1837, by the British Captain James Alexander. His new master had been commissioned to establish contact with the Ovaherero, while finding a trans-Kgalagadi trade route to the Bakwena.

After initially serving as a herdboy, Saul was taken to England, where he attended a military school in Woolrich. He returned to Namibia in 1844 as an assistant to the Wesleyan missionary Peter Dixon. For many years thereafter, he preached among Kai//khuan Nama of Kooper (mogologolo of the Coopers at Lokgwabe). Being fluent in at least Dutch, English and Nama as well as Tjiherero, he became Maharero’s Secretary in 1870.

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