Day 34: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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The film crew, Mauritz Pienaar (left) and Jan Harm Robbertse (right) setting up camp. Jan Harm is a renowned film maker with many films to his credit. They were travelling in a luxurious Mitsubishi Triton, kindly sponsored by Mitsubishi SA.

We had been on the road for two solid days, travelling from Pretoria and Windhoek. Heiko Schmidt had made the journey all the way from Berlin, Germany, his sixth attempt with Carsten Möhle to find the Lost Battlefield of the Kalahari.

With Carsten and Heiko in their Landcruiser were Chief Hanse and Benno Hanse, representatives of the Namibia KharaKhoen Namas and descendants of the very people who had fled to this area early in 1908. This time the Germans and the Namas shared a common goal, and vehicle I might add.

With their Hilux Double Cab laden like an African taxi, Ben and Xander van Wyk made it it through the thick sand that separated Sesatswe from Hukuntsi the nearest village, some 160 kilometres away. At Lokgwabe I had picked up Nichodimas Cooper and another of his tribesmen, Patrick, in my brand new Landcruiser. In the sponsored Mitsubishi Triton Jan Harm Robbertse, renowned film maker and his assistant Mauritz Pienaar had also arrived.

(Along the way from Pretoria I had realised that due to some last minute withdrawals from the team we were in trouble as far as supplies and transport had been concerned and I made a few frantic calls. Eventually one of the strongest women I know, Helene Buckley came to my rescue. She would arrive two days later in my 20 year old “Kameel’ also a Hilux Double Cab.)

Finally we were at our destination, our base camp at Sesatswe on the Polentswa Wilderness trail. We were going to spend the next week in that vicinity conducting searches. We were going to do visual searches on foot as well as using special metal detectors brought by the Van Wyks.

After setting up camp it was time to move to the edge of the Sesatswe pan for Old Brown Sherry sundowners, a real Carsten Möhle tradition.

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Our first evening in the Kalahari wilderness, enjoying Old Brown Sherry sundowners in the Carsten Möhle tradition.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 33: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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Frome left to right, Nichodimas Cooper, Koos Marais, Johannes Leve and Xander van Wyk. At this ceremony we handed over a sum of R10 000 to the Botswana Nama Development Trust.

We are back from our 2019 expedition to search for the Lost Battlefield of the Kalahari, exhausted, dehydrated, tired and worn out. At long last I can begin to tell the story of the week that was.

Our trip began at 05h30 on the Friday morning when the South African members of the group departed from Pretoria. The Namibians had left Windhoek the previous day and the Botswana Namas were waiting for us in Lokgwabe. We traveled in a convoy but lost contact at the Skilpadnek border. One of our vehicles made a “slight” detour ending up in Lobatse but the others arrived safely in Lokgwabe at 18h00, a trip of 12 hours for us.

We were just in time for the presentation by Carsten Möhle, the Namibian tour guide and ex-German soldier who had already been involved in five previous searches. Carsten gave an excellent talk and showed us beautiful images some of which I had never seen before. The talk was well attended by the Nama community of Lokgwabe. They asked poignant questions and gave many comments.

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Carsten Mohle being addressed by one of the elders of the Lokgwabe Nama community.
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The Nama culture in Lokgwabe Botswana consist of a small but dedicated group of people.
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Carsten Möhle gave an excellent presentation on the 1908 expedition of captain von Erckert to locate and fight Simon Koper, leader of the KharaKhoen Namas.

Readers must reflect for a moment on the unique and interesting nature of the Lokgwabe Namas. These people are all the direct descendants of Simon Koper and his small tribe of KharaKhoen Names who fled then German South West Africa, were pursued by the German Schutztruppe, they fought in the great battle of 16 March 1908. After the battle the surviving Namas fled into Bechuanaland (today’s Botswana) with their leader Koper and they continued living there, in relative isolation, until today. So Lokgwabe is home to this very small and unique group of Nama people most of whom are still speaking their language. Nowhere else in Botswana are there any Namas living in any significant numbers.

Nichodimas Cooper, or Nico as he is affectionately known and Edwin Saloo are two of the board members of the Botswana Nama Development Trust who are trying to conserve and protect the Nama culture in Botswana. They organise cultural events and run a small museum and do what they can to further the Nama cause. I am always very impressed with their dedication and hard work. Their efforts make me wonder about my own Afrikaner culture and how many people are simply complaining and doing nothing about it. We are a few million Afrikaners in South Africa but the Botswana Namas only number a few thousand.

After Carsten’s presentation Xander van Wyk, metal detector specialist and I presented a sum of R10 000 to the Botswana Nama Development Trust to enable them to buy some much needed electronic equipment.

Day 32: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

This afternoon Mitsubishi presented us with a beautiful Triton double cab 4×4 vehicle for our expedition which gets underway tomorrow morning very early.

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Braam Faul of Mitsubishi SA hands over the keys to a Triton 4×4 double cab. The vehicle will lead us into the remote Botswana wilderness where we hope to locate the Lost Battlefield.

At long last we are ready. Tomorrow evening the members of this historic expedition will converge on the little town of Hukuntsi where we will meet the local Nama people and listen to a presentation by Carsten Mohle.

We have been planning this mission for months. We are now going to search for and find the battlefield where the forces of Simon Koper’s KharaKhoen and those of the German Schutztruppe led by Captain Friedrich Von Erckert engaged each other on 16 March 1908. Captain Von Erckert was killed by one of the first shots and was buried on the battlefield together with 12 of his fallen men. Simon Koper managed to escape and spent the rest of his days in Lokgwabe near Hukuntsi, a free man, hero to his people.

Readers of this blog will know that the exact location of this battlefield has been lost and many people including ourselves have tried to find it. This time we come prepared with experts, most notably Xander and Ben van Wyk who have imported special equipment to search the area. We are confident that we will succeed.

From Saturday morning we will be out of reach, except by satellite phone, but as soon as we find real evidence we will let the world know. Watch this space.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 31: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

 

In less than 36 hours we will be leaving Pretoria and Windhoek for Lokgwabe in Botswana on the great expedition to locate the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari.

Logo

This will be the 12th expedition of its kind since 1990 when Wulf Haacke first attempted it. Haacke had 5 attempts but never came close. In 2010 Carsten Mohle set out on the first of his 5 attempts and in 2018 I tried twice, once with the legendary Elias Le Riche, the last eyewitness of the graves of the 13 German soldiers buried in the warm Kalahari sand on 16 March 1908.

It has been a hectic few weeks preparing for the expedition. Coordinating the travel arrangements of the members from four different countries had challenges of its own. At last we are ready. On Friday morning the SA delegation will leave Pretoria. We will consist of a team of metal detector specialists and a filming crew, amongst others. Carsten Mohle will leave from Windhoek tomorrow bringing with him Chief Hanse of the KharaKhoen, the tribe of Simon Koper.

We will all meet each other in Hukuntsi on Friday night where Carsten will do a presentation on his work so far. On Saturday morning we will proceed, first to Kaa Gate and then on to Sesatswe, 168 kilometers away on a dirt track, which will be our base for the week. The area is devoid of any kind of human activity and services. Read no fuel, water, nothing. We must be totally self reliant. I have arranged an aeroplane to be on standby for emergency evacuation and our only form of communication will be by satellite phone.

We will spend the entire week working through the area identified by us to be the actual site of the Great Battle. We will be looking for artefacts which could confirm our suspicions. In particular we will be searching for machine gun cartridges. The ultimate prize would be to find the actual graves of the two officers, Captain Friedrich Von Erckert, Lieutenant Oskar Ebinger and the 11 other soldiers.

We hope that the location of the battlefield will bring closure and reconciliation to the German and Nama families and we also hope that in future thousands of interested tourists will visit the area.

Our mission is sponsored by Mitsubishi. I hope to report briefly about that tomorrow evening, just before we leave.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

 

Day 30: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

 

At long last I can tell the interesting story of our own expedition last year to locate the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari. For various reasons I was constrained not to do so but the embargo has been lifted to some extent.

Wulf Haacke in his seminal article “Simon Kopper and the Kalahari Expedition of 1908 in the Journal of the Namibia Scientific Society 1993/1994 wrote, “Mr E. Le Riche reports (pers.com.) having been at that site twice. On his first visit, when he still quite young, the graves were marked with wooden stumps identified with metal discs cut from ration cans, while on on the second occasion apparently a veldfire had destroyed these markers.”

These two sentences dominated my and Carsten Möhle’s thinking for a long time. We both knew instinctively that our searches would be almost foolish if we did not make use of Elias Le Riche’s knowledge. Elias grew up inside the greater Kalahari Gemsbok Park, which was established by his uncle and father in the 30’s of the previous century.

The problem was that Elias was long retired and now not a young man anymore. Would he even be interested in undertaking such an arduous expedition just to satisfy our fancy whims? Would he still be in decent health? How were we to approach him?

Remember that initially Carsten and I did not even know of each other, yet we shared the same thoughts and questions.

Through a series of chance happenings, a long and detailed story of its own, it happened that I met Elias in Pretoria one day. He agreed to accompany me on a search expedition at some or other stage.

One of the hoops to jump through was to get permission to enter the area. Through another series of events of equal intricacy that also transpired. One fine day last year three vehicles left Pretoria for the Kalahari where we met the officials who would accompany us on our search.

For the next four days we were guided by the legendary Elias Le Riche, former Head of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. He took us on the most amazing routes indicating trees where he had camped fifty years ago. He also took us directly to certain sites near Grootkolk where we saw with our own eyes remnants of the 1908 expedition: empty water canisters, bully beef tins, clearly marked “Rindfleisch” even with date stamps. He took us to the few branches left over from the formerly glorious Königsbaum, the big camel thorn tree at Grootkolk into which the soldiers clambered to search the horizon for signs of the enemy and their own distant heliographs. The German Schütztruppe had hammered horse shoes into the tree to act as steps and we even found one of these as well as some ammunition and cartridges.

The unwavering way Elias had led and directed our search gave me a lot of confidence. Eventually after four days we came to a place where he stated that that was where he thought  that the graves were located. Naturally we marked the place and I recorded his words for posterity. Elias speaks in Afrikaans. He says that he thinks this the place where he met a group of Kalahari people who told them that this was the place of Simon Koper. Watch the video.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 29: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Captain von Erckert, leader of the Schutztruppe, was dead and Simon Koper, his enemy and leader of the Fransmanne, Der Fuchs aller Füchse, was still at large.

It was the year 1908 and during the following years relations between Germany and Great Britain would deteriorate. The German administration did not anticipate that Britain would allow them access to British territory. For this reason no endeavours were made to erect proper tombstones or take the remains back to Namibia. Ultimately memorial stones were erected at the Gochas cemetery and they are still there to this day.

Simon Koper settled at Kgatlwe (the same place as Lokwabe) in Bechuanaland. There he sired two sons, Little Simon and Hendrik. Simon’s wife was taken prisoner during the battle and sent to Windhoek. The name of the biological mother of the two little boys is not known.

Simon Koper’s escape was a huge embarrassment and consternation to the German colonial government. Reams of letters followed between the British High Commissioner and his German opposite number. Eventually Germany agreed to pay Simon Koper an annual pension but subject to two conditions: that he never, ever set foot in Namibia again and also that he would never know the source of the pension money. Britain had to state that it came from them.

1909 contract with Simon Kooper
A copy of the contract according to which Germany would pay Simon Koper and his retinue an annual pension.

 

Koper died on 31 January 1913, five years after the battle and was buried at Lokwabe. His descendants continued to receive the pension from Germany up to the independence of Botswana in 1966.

Wulf Haacke undertook five expeditions in an endeavour to locate the battlefield, and more lately a German group under Carsten Möhle also made attempts in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018.

http://www.bwana.de/spezialreisen/expeditionen/erckert-expedition.html

Carsten and I have joined forces and we will depart on 11 October 2019 for hopefully the final expedition to locate the battlefield and the graves.

 

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In August 2018 I attended the annual International Nama festival at Lokgwabe where Simon Koper was buried in 1913.

 

There is only one person alive today who saw the German graves at the battlefield with his own eyes and who might therefore have some idea of where they were located. This man is Elias le Riche. It was of the greatest importance that he shared this information with us. He did exactly that during our 2018 expedition.

 

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book. My blogs are currently focusing on this great battle.

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders. 

Day 28: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

On 16 March at 02h00, under cover of darkness, Captain von Erckert’s troops began surrounding the sleeping Namas. The Germans were unaware that the famed Nama leader known, according to Haacke, as Der Fuchs aller Füchse (the wily fox or fox of all foxes) and a small group of men had already left the previous afternoon in search of tsammas. According to Kloppers Koper also took part in the battle and escaped.

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A map of the battlefield indicting how the Namas were surrounded.

 

Captain Willeke’s troops were deployed in the east and those of Grüner in the west. They were instructed to move to within 1000 metres from the Nama camp. The machine gun unit of Lieutenant Boetticher had to remain on the north-western side, approximately 1500 metres behind the enemy lines. At first light the units had to advance, moving in to the left and right in an endeavour to totally surround the Namas. Grüner’s men were deployed over a distance of two kilometres with distances of 10 to 20 metres between each man. Von Erckert himself would be in the north-east with the 16th Company.

According to later narratives, the Namas were well aware of the Germans but totally underestimated their numbers. Thus they did not attempt a silent exit during the night but instead decided to lie in wait for them. They even dug trenches fortified with tree branches while waiting for the attack to begin.

In the meanwhile Grüner sent messengers to Molentsan to call up the medical unit.

The battle began at 05h15 on 16 March 1908 with the two large companies of Grüner and Willeke moving towards one another. Grüner made contact with the enemy within five minutes. Von Erckert, at the forefront on the north-eastern side, died immediately. It is ironic that his planning of this dramatic attack over several months was terminated in such a way.

Grüner took command.

The machine guns were firing from the north into and between the two columns that were moving towards one another from the east and west. At 06h30 the order was given for a bayonet charge. The Namas fled towards the south where there was least resistance and here Lieutenant Ebinger and ten members of his unit were killed. At least 25 Nama fighters escaped in the midst of the waiting camels and their guards. Because the few soldiers that were guarding the camels did not shoot at them the Namas left them alone.

In the heat of the battle the German soldiers saw a moving oxwagon among the Namas. Later the wagon was gone.

The main camp of the Namas that was situated on a so-called `island dune’ was easily captured. It is presumed that the tem refers to a lone dune entirely surrounded by deep valleys. The German soldiers searched the battlefield thoroughly for casualties and drove all the captured animals towards the island dune. The medical unit arrived at 0900 and established a first-aid post at the north-eastern end of the island dune.

The chief medical officer, Dr Ohlemann, walked across the battlefield and discovered a wounded white man. He left him lying where he was and when he returned later to fetch him, the man had disappeared.

Apart from Von Erckert and Lieutenant Ebinger, altogether 11 German soldiers were killed and a further 19 wounded of which 10 were in a serious condition. Two of them died the next day and were buried at Lang Rambuka; 58 Namas were killed in the battle among them Isaak Koper, Simon’s brother.

Eliesaar, the leader of the patrol that had ambushed and killed Sergeant Jaeger and his men on 3 March, was wounded during the battle. Eliesaar was also involved in the incident when Robert Duncan Jr was shot and killed at Daberas on 5 June 1907. Willie Duncan, Robert’s brother, was one of Von Erckert’s guides. He first interrogated the wounded Eliesaar and then summarily shot him.

Ohlemann and others speculated afterwards that the wounded white man that disappeared was a trader, it was hìs oxwagon they saw and the Namas came and took him away together with several other wounded Namas. How this could have happened remains a mystery. A few Nama women, among them the wife of Simon Koper, were taken prisoner. She was taken to Windhoek as a hostage.

On the battlefield 28 guns, 10 horses, 50 head of cattle and 200 sheep, saddles and household wares were collected.

During that afternoon deep graves were dug and the thirteen battle casualties buried, the two officers in separate graves and the soldiers in a mass grave. On a photograph of the graves a large shepherd’s tree can be seen close to the graves.

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Captain Von Erckert’s grave left at the back, that of Lieutenant Ebinger on the right at the back, and the mass grave of the soldiers in the foreground.

 

The return journey began at 19h00. The seriously injured were tied to special stretchers and transported between two camels, a totally unsatisfactory manner of transport because one of the wounded fell off the stretcher and was killed in the fall.

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A camel ambulance. One of the wounded fell to his death from a stretcher like this.

On 17 March they rested near Molentsa Pan. They managed to make contact with Geinab which in turn communicated with Windhoek. Oxwagons were requisitioned from Aranos to go to the aid of the returning troops to care for the wounded. On the evening of the 17th they trekked further and reached the 5 kilometre mark east of Lang Rambuka, the site of the heliograph, at 05h00 on 18 March. Here they they were given water and provisions while the two injured soldiers who died during the journey were buried. It rained during the night and the men were able to collect drinking water.

They reached Geinabvlei, near Grootkolk on 19 March, and the ambulance section departed from there. On 22 March the expedition reached Aranos.

Of the 710 camels only five had to be shot because they fell and sustained fractured bones. Most of the camels were without water for 12 days, and some for up to 16 days.

According to Kloppers, Captain Grüner realised that the care of the wounded was a first priority and the cannon (field battery or pom-pom) would be a burden on the return journey. For this reason they removed a crucial component to render it useless and dragged the canon up a hill and concealed it beneath a large overhanging black-bark tree. Hence the legend of the cannon. Haacke makes no mention of this at all.

This blog is about my book with the title The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and starts with Day 1, posted on 1 April 2018. That followed on “Dag 91: Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland“,  my 91 blog posts about the original Afrikaans version. In October I will be taking an expedition to locate the battlefield described in Chapter 37 of the book

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from kosiemarais@gmail.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders.