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Ghanzi In History (Part 9) – Marcus Garvey In The Kgalagadi

Following Saul Shepperd’s death in 1877 (profiled last week), his position as Secretary to the Ovaherero ruler Maharero was assumed by his son Samuel Karcho Shepperd. Thereafter, Karcho played a central role in ultimately futile Ovaherero efforts to opt for Mmamosadinyana’s protection as a lesser evil to rule by the German Kaiser.

After London’s 1885 renunciation of its previously proclaimed Hereroland Protectorate, Karcho assisted Maharero in negotiating an accommodation with the German Governor, Ernest Goering (father of Hitler’s deputy Herman Goering). The result was an October 1885 treaty, in which the Ovaherero accepted the Kaiser’s protection in exchange for the ultimately unfulfilled promise of continued autonomy.

The 1890 death of Maharero coincided with the extension of more heavy-handed German authority. Karcho soon fell out with the new Ovaherero paramount, Samuel Maharero, when the latter initially sought to build up his own shaky authority by collaborating with the Germans in wars against other indigenous rulers.

As part of a well-executed divide and conquer strategy, in 1896 the new colonial administrator, Major Theodore Leutwein, attacked and later executed Samuel’s royal rival Nikodemus Kavikunua, along with his ally the Ovambanderu ruler Kahimemua.

Karcho then joined others in fleeing into Ngamiland. This was the first in a series of Ovaherero movements into Botswana, which culminated in the 1905 exodus of several thousand refugees, including Samuel Maharero himself.   

In Gatawana, Karcho quickly won confidence of both Kgosi Sekgoma aLetsholathebe and the British Magistrate at Tsau, Lieutenant Merry. Following the1905 mass migration he was sent to the border by Sekgoma to act as his eyes and ears and try to mitigate historical tension between the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu. Ovaherero at the time were blaming the Ovambanderu for failing to support them in the decisive battle at Waterburg against the Germans, while the Ovambanderu still blamed Samuel for the death of Kahimemua. Karcho’s intelligence reports to Merry confirmed that bulk of the Ovambandero immigrants were then occupying the land along the border historically inhabited by Zhu/oasi (Basarwa group). But, there appears to have been remarkably little tension between the two communities. The Zhu of Namibia had also been victims of the genocidal German regime. Having been legally liberated from the demands of botlhanka, the Zhu of Gatawana shared with the Tjiherero speaking refugees a common loyalty to Kgosi Sekgoma. Throughout his reign the Motawana cultivated the support of non-Setswana groups as a political counterweight to his dikgosana, who favoured the royal claims of his genealogically senior nephew, Mathiba. The 1906 British intervention on behalf of Mathiba was thus a blow to Karcho’s people.

In 1912 Karcho joined most of the Ovambanderu in migrating to Sekgoma’s new headquarters at Kachikau, along the Chobe. After Sekgoma’s death, in 1914, Karcho stayed at Rakops with the Ovambanderu ruler Nikodemus Kavarure (Kahimemua’s

successor), where he was inspired by Marcus Garvey’s vision of Africa for the Africans.

The emergence of the Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) after the First World War as, in the words of the then British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, a threat “not only to the British Commonwealth, but the whole existing structure of society”. At the beginning of 1923 the British Colonial and Dominions Office thus sent a circular to all the administrators of its African territories enquiring about the existence and progress of Garveyite agitation in their areas. The Resident Commissioner at Mafikeng, James Macgregor, promptly responded that:

“There is no evidence of the existence, let alone progress, of Pan-Africanism in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and I do not expect there will be any so long as the tribal system is maintained.”

A month later, April 1923, Macgregor, who must have overlooked previous reports of agitators wearing “rosettes of red, blue, and green, at their native meetings” who were further alleged to have explained ‘how war should be made against Europeans” received the Ghanzi Magistrate, Alan Cuzen’s, report that Samuel Karcho Shepperd had travelled from Rakops to Windhoek addressing U.N.I.A. rallies throughout the western Kgalagadi.

Karcho’s “Africa for the Africans” message was reported to have attracted interested audiences in such diverse locations as Tsau, Kalkfontien, and Lehututu, before he proceeded to Namibia via the Northern Cape. He then returned to Botswana, having alluded S.W.A. Police efforts to detain him.    

The U.N.I.A’s message was certainly militant, but not necessarily violent. In the words of a contemporary Mosotho supporter:  “The aim and objective of this association is founded on the following new facts: The Africans in Africa and abroad are the most exploited, and oppressed, maltreated, enslaved, downtrodden and despised as well as hated because they have no power behind them to protect themselves from the insults and oppression and encroachment upon their rights and liberties from other nations.

“The Englishman is respectable not because he is respectable, but because he has his own Government to protect him, to force respect for him upon other people. So is the French, the German, the Spanish and others who have governments of their own to look after their interests and welfare. “Therefore this organisation strives to uplift the entire Negro race and it aims at setting on foot schemes and plans, which will enable the Negro races to establish a government of their own in Africa, their motherland.”

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