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The Undefeated - Nama In Botswana (Part 3)

Our last instalment ended in 1896 with the Nama being hard hit by the rinderpest epidemic, which wiped out not less than 50% of their livestock while also reducing wildlife populations. The catastrophe coincided with an influx of land hungry German settlers.

In July-August 1896 a section of the IAixalean led by Kividoe, rose up in southern Namibia, initially defeating the Germans before being overpowered in a battle at Gamsib Ravine. Kividoe with the remnants of his men then sought refuge in British Bechuanaland. But, they were subsequently extradited back to Namibia, where they were executed by the Germans.

Further to the north, in 1896 the Ovambanderu ruler Kahimema and Ovaherero leader Nikodemus were also executed along with others after having surrendered. Thereafter, many of their followers fled to Ngamiland, where they were given refuge by the Batawana Kgosi Sekgoma Letsholathebe.

In 1897-98, some of the Nama and Ovaherero holdouts forged a cross-ethnic alliance in a vain attempt to continue the resistance.

Their final defeat led to a six year period during which the situation within the German Protectorate remained outwardly quiet.

But the seeming calm only served to mask the growing resentment and desperation of local communities. In the face of continued losses of their land and cattle, coupled with an influx of German settlers, indigenous Namibians overcame generations of internal conflict and suspicion to join together in a general uprising.

In January 1904, fighting once more broke out between the Germans and the Ovaherero. While the Germans authorities insisted that the violence was the product of a conspiracy, independent witnesses as well as Tjiherero accounts indicate that it has been instigated by trigger happy Germans.

In the wake of the incident the Ovaherero paramount, Samuel Maharero, made the fateful decision to raise the banner of wider resistance by contacting the leaders of the Nama and others, calling on the entire territory to join him in a common struggle against colonial occupation. In this context, Maharero sent two letters to his former rival, the Nama leader Hendrick Witbooi, both of which were intercepted by the Germans. An extract from the second letter:

“All our obedience and patience with the Germans is of little avail, for each day they shoot someone dead for no reason at all.

Hence, I appeal to you, my Brother, not to hold aloof from the uprising, but to make your voice heard so that all Africa may take up arms against the Germans. Let us die fighting rather than die as a result of maltreatment, imprisonment or some other form of

calamity, we shall not be fighting alone.”

For his part, Leutwein initially welcomed the conflict as an opportunity to finish his vision for the territory: “Once the Herero are defeated and disarmed we will disarm the south [i.e. the Nama]. Destruction of the tribal organisations, the institution of locations and pass laws, will take place after the Herero are defeated.”

The scale of the rebellion, however, soon proved to be too much for Leutwein’s forces.

In its first few of days, 123 Germans were killed. This was accompanied by considerable destruction of colonial infrastructure and loss of property.

By the end of the month the Germans forces had been driven from Okahandja back to Windhoek. They also suffered an additional defeat when their military camp at Waterburg was overrun.  Having not received Maharero’s appeal, the other Nama leaders were initially inclined to sit on the sidelines.

But, by October their stance shifted as indiscriminate killings by German troops convinced them and their people that they had no choice but to take up arms for their own survival.

This coincided with the new German General Von Trotha’s infamous October 2, 1904 Extermination Order against all Ovaherero who did not leave German territory.

At the time the survivors’ only escape route to refuge in Sekgoma Letsholathebe’s Gatawana Kingdom was across the Omaheke desert (whose few wells were poisoned). An uncounted multitude perished on a trek of tears across the desert.

Von Trotha was now free to concentrate his sanguinary attention on the Nama, who would prove to be more tenacious in their resistance.  Generally operating in fast moving mounted commandos of never more than a few hundred, the Nama ultimately tied down 16,000 German troops over the next four years by avoiding, whenever possible, pitched battles in favour of stealthy hit and run attacks.  In this context the Germans records reveal over 200 skirmishes in which they suffered significant casualties.

By the end of 1904, most of the Nama had taken up arms, with the core of the resistance comprising some 3,000 armed horsemen, who were mobilised under the following group Kaptiens:

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