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The Undefeated – Nama In Botswana (Part 5)

In our last instalment we observed that a key factor in the relative success of the Nama resistance against the Germans was their superior ability to sustain themselves, their horses and livestock on tsamma melons and other desert resources.

In this they had the advantage of years of conditioning as well as their indigenous knowledge.

Thus it was that, finding that their own horses could not be readily adapted to tsamma consumption, the German military responded by introducing camels into the region. The existence of camel populations in Botswana today is a legacy of the fact that the paramilitary Bechuanaland Protectorate Police (BPP) followed the German example by establishing their own camel corps to patrol the Kgalagadi.

As the war entered its third year, in 1907, the British authorities shared with their German counterparts a growing frustration at their collective inability to control armed Nama from operating with impunity inside areas under their supposed jurisdiction.

On the premise that the Nama combatants were mere ‘bandits’, the BPP, as well as armed forces from within the Cape Colony were mobilised to actively collaborate with the Germans in what now escalated into a full scale war on both sides of the border.

Within Germany itself, mounting popular frustration with the failure to put down the Nama rebellion led to early elections in January 1907, which were triggered by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), who had become openly critical of the war effort. At the polls the SDP for the first time in German history won a commanding plurality of the actual vote.

The aftermath of the so-called ‘Hottentots Election’ was a cross party consensus in favour of peace, by carrot and/or stick, combined with a degree of imperial reform.

By then the stick had already taken the form of Colonel Berhold von Deimling, who had been recalled to Namibia to mount a counter-insurgency campaign. In this context, he established flying squads of camel corps to relentlessly pursue the Nama commandos, while denying them their livelihoods by denuding Namaqualand of its wildlife and livestock. Although the Germans continued to suffer significant casualties in their engagements, the Nama were also being worn down.    

In June 1907 Kaiser Wilhelm II formally declared final victory over the Nama. But with the advantage of their safe havens inside Bechuanaland, as well as reinforcements from Ovaherero as well as Nama diehards, Morenga and Kooper continued to ambush German forces inside of Namibia.

Of Morenga’s tactics the German Captain Maximillian Bayer, observed:
“By means of criss-cross moves, clever surprise attack and, above all, through the influence on his followers of his outstanding personality, he prolonged the war and has done us incalculable damage.

His conduct

of the war had something grand about it and in its form was far superior to that of all the other native leaders. Altogether he was an outstanding soldier to whom we as the enemy do not wish to deny our respect.”
What is said to have set Morenga apart, even from the equally gifted guerrilla leader Kooper, was his personal ability to bridge ethnic divisions. This quality has been attributed in part to his own mixed, Nama and Ovaherero, heritage.

Morenga’s commando was ultimately pinned down through cooperation between German and British forces. After being pursued through the Kgalagadi for over 48 hours by a detachment of Cape Mounted Police under the command of a Major Elliot, Morenga, along  with 10 followers made a last stand at a kopje near Eenzaamheid in the Northern Cape. According to one account of the action:

“On 20 September 1907, a British armed force of about 100 men… along with some scouts caught up with a small group of Nama making their way northwards of the desolate red dune and white salt-plain of southern Kalahari. In the ensuing engagement, which lasted about three days, the British fired 5,000 rounds and killed six armed Nama, as well as two accompanying women”.

Thereafter Morenga’s demise was widely reported by the press throughout the British Empire as well as in Germany, with dispatches featuring congratulatory messages from the German to the British authorities as well as descriptions of Morenga’s last stand.

The delighted Kaiser is reported to have personally sent the then considerable sum of £1000 for distribution among the men who had taken part in the final engagement, along with German military medals for Major Elliot’s entire force.

Nearly a century later, in August 2002, Sam Nujoma would observe: “Born of a Herero mother and a Nama father, Morenga had a vision of broad African nationalism which transcended narrow ethnic loyalties and he was therefore designated as ‘the man of the future’.

“He employed scientific guerilla tactics with the multi-ethnic troops under his command and engaged the German colonial army in more than 50 battles. To his revolutionary spirit and his visionary memory we humbly offer our honour and respect.”

With the death of the one that the Germans themselves called “der schwarze Napoleon” (“the black Napoleon”), it was now Simon Kooper alone who still remained stubbornly defiant of the authorities on both sides of the colonial border.

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