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Ghanzi In History (Part 11) - A Legacy Of Enslavement

Last week’s episode concluded on September 26, 1922 with the acting Resident Magistrate at Gobabis, South West Africa (SWA, i.e. Namibia), having informed the Resident Magistrate at Ghanzi, Alan Cuzen, that the notorious “bandit Zamekou” or Samekao, had escaped from police custody with six of his associates, who were collectively described as potentially armed and dangerous: “They have been implicated in stock thefts upon an unprecedented scale and have fired not only upon the Police but private individuals.”

Samekao himself was characterised as a “Bushmen aged about 35 to 40 good physique and appearance small scare above left eye”. An attached “wanted” notice contained further details about lesions caused by handcuffs and leg irons.

At the time the South West African authorities believed that the fugitives would seek refuge inside Bechuanaland:

“Zamekou’s party was spoored to the East of Alexech 921 1/3 degrees and were then heading for the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

They are travelling fast and had left their women and children behind. We are informed that there is a water hole a good bit to the north of Rietfontien and probably within your [Ghanzi] District, which is an old haunt for the wilder Bushmen. Do you know anything about it?

“It is described by Natives as an underground lake to which the only access is by creeping or rather struggling down a narrow passage of some 20 yds in length. One old German Police boy says he went there once with a patrol and it took them two long days on good camels from Reitfontien.

“All the tame Bushmen are agreed that Zamekou has a base somewhere near the border to the N.E. of this and as he disappears in that direction from time to time for considerable periods, this is probably true. We are naturally very anxious to round him up.”

  At the time British knowledge of many areas along the SWA-Bechuanaland border was superior to that of the South-West’s South African occupiers, a legacy of pre-World War I military intelligence, as well as the continuous cultivation of networks of “native” informers. In this context, Cuzen was soon able to identify Samekao’s likely hideout.  In October 1922, he informed his Gobabis counterpart, that:

“There is such a place in South West Africa called Nyae Nyae, three days journey on foot north of Rietfontein” adding, “It has been reported that the Germans buried a number of guns and a quantity of ammunition, during the late war, at the water hole in question.”

To secure Samekao’s recapture, Cuzen recommended that a Gobabis police camel patrol be authorised to cross into Bechuanaland “provided the Police only carry Revolvers and do not interfere in any way with the Bushmen in this territory.”

Notwithstanding such cross-border assistance, the South Africans

were unable to recapture Samekao, who apparently was never apprehended.

Known police reports instead confirm that local Basarwa or Khoe, more specifically /Auen and //Ai-khwe, resistance to colonial control continued for at least another decade.

In addition to South African and British colonial reports, an intriguing critical reference to the subsequent manhunt appears in a semi-historical novel published in 1940 by the German author Berhard Voigt entitled Diri: Ein Bushmanleben (Diri the life of a Bushman): “After Magistrate van Ryneveld was murdered by an unknown Bushman, an evil time emerged for the entire Bushman population.

Everywhere in the Protectorate the British-Boer soldiers and the police were instructed to flush out the Bushman and to destroy the hordes”.

While Ghanzi’s colonial authorities ultimately adopted a more live and let live policy towards so-called “wild Bushmen” under their jurisdiction, their South West African based counterparts continued to carry out more vigorous measures. From a 1928 report by the Gobabis administrator:

“I have had to send two punitive expeditions against them this year, and more by good luck than good management, we captured some of them and punished them severely. The territory is so large and the Bushman so cunning that an army might seek them in vain.”

Unfortunately, there does not as yet appear to be any published indigenous accounts about Samekao or any of his followers.

This is true notwithstanding the fact that the greater Nyae Nyae region has since the mid-20th century played host to a stream of anthropologists from around the world who have come to specifically study the cultural heritage of the area’s “Bushman”.  Auen and //Ai-khwe resistance was ultimately reduced through generations of repression.

In South West Africa vagrancy laws were freely used to round up Khoe males in general, who served out their sentences in chain gangs on settler farms.

Over the years such sources of forced labour within South West Africa were complimented by defacto slave raids into Bechuanaland. 

As late as 1958 a Ghanzi District Intelligence Report thus speaks of large numbers of local Basarwa who were still being “abducted to South West Africa for unpaid involuntary labour.”

Some such victims from both sides of the border are said to be still alive, their historic plight having only received serious attention since Namibia’s liberation.

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