Day 24: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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The legendary Simon Koper, leader of the Fransmanne or KharaKhoen tribe of Namas. He was never captured or killed during the Nama war but escaped to spend the rest of his days at Lokgwabe in Botswana. When he died on 31 January 1913 he was buried at a site on the outskirts of this little village.

On 31 March 1907 the governor of German South-West Africa, Friedrich von Lindquist, declared that the war against the Namas was over and throughout the country life returned back to normal. Farms were allocated to German colonialists and to farmers, and the country entered an era of growth and prosperity it had never experienced before. Beautiful buildings were erected at Windhoek, Swakopmund, Lüderitz, Keetmanshoop and in other towns. The heritage of that short period, up to the fall of German supremacy in 1915, is still evident everywhere today. The railway line from Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop was completed and there was a great economic upsurge in the south of the country.  Diamonds were also soon to be discovered at Kolmanskop.

The war had decimated most of the Nama and Herero people and those left behind were weary, discouraged and without hope. Most of the German soldiers returned to Germany and now nothing stood in the way of prosperity.

The only surviving leader of the Namas was Simon Koper, also known by the names of Kopper, Kooper or Cooper. He paid little heed to the German peace declaration. His tribe, the !Khara-geiKhoen, was also known as the Fransmanne, literal meaning ‘Frenchmen’, and their traditional land was located in the areas surrounding Gochas. They were however unique in one way. They also roamed eastwards over large areas, even into Bechuanaland to find water for their livestock and to hunt. They were able to survive in this thirstland because they were not dependent on water as long as they were able to find enough tsammas. Tsammas, Citrullus lunatus is a nourishing fleshy fruit that sprouts on the dunes after the late March rains.

 

tsammas
Tsammas, Citrullus lanatus, a fleshy fruit that grows on the dunes. Simon Koper’s people could survive on tsammas alone.

A supply of tsammas provided Koper’s tribesmen and followers with all their nourishment and water needs throughout the year. However, when the tsammas supply was depleted in early autumn they had to resort, like everybody else, to springs and water holes. This rendered them vulnerable as the tracks they left behind could be followed.

After two major battles at Gross Nabas and Haruchas in January 1905 Koper’s !Khara-geiKhoen retreated to the Kalahari dunes where the Germans would never find them. From the vantage point of the dunes they were able to regularly carry out unhidered attacks and raids on German targets.

Second lieutenant Hans-Erich Nolte, a young German officer and a veteran of the Herero war, was transferred to this area. He had been on several expeditions to find Simon Koper’s people but mostly without any success. During one of these expeditions, on 22 March 1905, he attached a letter addressed to Simon Koper, together with a proclamation issued by the infamous General Lothar von Trotha, to a pole at Gagansvlei. Von Trotha was not interested in prisoners of war. All Namas had to leave the country. Those who were caught on German South-West African territory would be executed forthwith.

A year later Nolte left on yet another expedition, this time accompanied by Robert Duncan Jr, son of Robert Duncan, a well-known merchant and pedlar, and his Nama wife. They travelled from Rietfontein, currently the border post between South Africa and Namibia, as far as Twee Riviere. Now they were in effect on British territory and Nolte had to cover up his journey in the guise of a hunting trip. At the time Rietfontein was under the jurisdiction of the British inspector, Attwood, who was to all appearences well-disposed towards Nolte and certainly aware of his real intentions.

Nolte and Duncan followed the dry riverbed of the Nossob River but due to a lack of water were forced to turn back before they could make contact with Koper. They did however managed to find out from another group of Namas that Koper and his followers were somewhere to the north, close to the German border.

Back at Rietfontein he shared this information with Attwood. Soon thereafter a Captain Gordon of the Northumberland Fusiliers turned up at Rietfontein with a camel patrol and Attwood gave him the information. In July 1906 Gordon managed to meet up at Geinab, or Grootkolk, with Koper and his people and took photographs of them.

The camel patrol covered 870 kilometres in 19 days without any access to water. This feat would later form the basis for the German decision to pursue Simon Koper with camels as a mode of transportation. Nolte managed to lay his hands on six camels that were used for transport purposes, and had saddles made for them. In October 1906 Nolte, Duncan Jr and a few others rode on their camels past Gochas as far as Gagansvlei where they apprehended four of Koper’s companions. The prisoners revealed that Simon Koper was at Kuirub Pan, 30 kilometres further to the east on British territory and that he had more than 100 men with him. In December 1906 Nolte was compelled to return to Germany for medical reasons.

Up to now, since early 1905, Koper’s men lived mainly in British territory, i.e. the Union of South Africa and Bechuanaland, but on 3 March Major Pierer of the German Schutztruppe discovered Koper and his followers at Kowise Kolk on German territory. Pierer persuaded Koper to return to Gochas and Koper appeared to agree. Due to the scarcity of tsammas (it was early autumn) his people were spread out over a large area. They only began to move out on 7 March. Koper used various delaying tactics and on 20 March they did an about-turn and moved eastwards towards Geinab near Grootkolk, which was British territory.

Eleven days later, on 31 March 1907, Von Lindquist declared that the war was over. Simon Koper did not necessarily agree.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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