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The Undefeated - Nama In Botswana (Part 2)

Our last instalment noted that the Nama community at Lokgwabe was founded by the legendary early 20th century Nama resistance figure Simon !Gomkab Kooper.

From 1863 until his death, Kooper was the head – “Gaob” or “Kaptein” - of the Kharakhoen (Kai//khuan) or “Fransmen” branch of the Nama (Namaqua or Nama-Khoe). 

While Kooper’s death and burial at Lokgwabe in January 1913 is documented, the date of his birth at Pella, located just south of the Orange River in what is now the Northern Cape is uncertain. One can, however, confirm that by the 1850s he was with his father Kaptein Piet Kooper in central Namibia.

Traditionally reliant on livestock and hunting, by the early 19th century the Nama, who came to include the so-called “Orlaams” groups of mixed racial origin, had acquired guns and horses, giving them an edge over neighbouring groups such as the Ovaherero. The Nama were by then divided into sub-groups or clans, each of which was led by its own Gaob/Kaptein. In addition to the !Kharakhoen, the major clans included: Khaikhaun (Red Nation); Gaminun (Bondelswarts); Aonin (Southern Topnaars); Gomen (Northern Topnaars); Hawoben (Veldschoendragers); Ogain (Groot Doden); Khaugoan (Swartbooi); Kharooan (Keetmanshoop); Aixaaen (Afrikaners); Aman (Bethanie); Kaikhauan (Lamberts); Haikhauan (Berseba); and Khowesin (Witbooi).

Simon assumed leadership of the !Kharakhoen following the death of father Piet on June 15, 1863, who had died as a result of an ill-fated attack on Kamaharero’s Ovaherero. Thereafter, Simon brought relative peace to his people, while ruling from Gochas with additional !Kharakhoen communities at Aranos, Aroab and Koes (all in Namibia). During this period his hunting parties were active in south-western Botswana as well as Namibia. In November 1876, Simon was amongst the Nama Kapteins who met with the British Special Commissioner William Coates Palgrave at Beersheba. There he joined his peers in giving Palgrave’s proposal for a British Protectorate the cold shoulder, bluntly observing that accepting it would be like swallowing a raw piece of meat. As it was, Palgrave’s efforts to expand British jurisdiction into Namibia in the guise of a Damaraland (OvaHerero etc.) and Namaqualand Protectorate was ultimately vetoed in London, opening the door for German imperial expansion.

The Germans proclaimed their own Protectorate over most of Namibia in 1884; their first governor being Ernst Goering, the father of Adolph Hitler’s future deputy Hermann Goering. It was, however, another decade before their authority reached Gochas.

Having already used force to crush Khowesin and the Kaikhauan, the German military commander Major Theodore Leutwein set out to subdue the rest of the Nama. In this context, his troops had surrounded Gochas by the dawn of March 17, 1894.


with 600 armed men at his disposal, Kooper was outgunned and outnumbered, but nonetheless prepared to resist from a number of defensive strongholds. In this respect Leutwein was also eager to avoid battle, perhaps motivated by the !Kharakhoen’s reputation for marksmanship.

The Major recalled: “I bade him [Kooper] a friendly ‘Good-morning’ and offered my hand.” A short discussion followed, during which Kooper, avoided Leutwein entreaties that he sign a document accepting German protection. The standoff was broken three days later when the Major trained his artillery on the Kaptein’s headquarters. Simon, he recalled, then signed the document with unconcealed reluctance asking, “For how long is this to hold good?” “Forever,” said Leutwein, who further observed “This he did not like.” The arrangement nearly fell apart 10 months later when Leutwein once more led a punitive expedition against the KaiIkhauan that also drew in the !Kharakhoen as well as the !Gamnum. The expedition had been provoked by mounting unrest following a German patrol’s killing of unarmed Kaikhauan at Aais in September 1894.

Peace was restored after the Kaikhauan were defeated in a battle at Gobabis, which resulted in the death of their Kaptein Eduard Lambert and many others. Their survivors were interred at a concentration camp located at Windhoek, where they were used as forced labour.  The existence of the camp in 1895 contradicts the assumption that such facilities first appeared in southern Africa as a result of Lord Kitchener’s mass detention of blacks as well as Boers during the Anglo-Boer War.  The fate of the Kaikhauan is thus clear evidence that the genocidal nature of the German occupation of Namibia predates the final 1904 Ovaherero-Nama uprising. In this respect, it was the threat of literally being wiped out as a people that ultimately drove most of the rest of the Nama, including !Kharakhoen, as well as the Ovaherero, into their desperate rebellion. In other words, genocide was the very cause, rather than an extreme by-product, of the rebellion. The 1894-96 extreme repression of the Kaikhauan, along with the Ovambandero branch of the Ovaherero, also resulted in the first considerable flight of refugees into the Bechuanaland Protectorate. 

In 1896 the Nama, like other pastoral communities throughout southern Africa were also hard hit by the rinderpest epidemic, which is believed to have wiped out not less than 50% of their livestock as well as wildlife populations they depended on. The catastrophe coincided with an influx of land hungry German settlers.

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