Day 24: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird.com

This is a blog about my book, The Scourge of the Kaiserbird, originally published in Afrikaans as Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland. The first 91 blog posts were about the Afrikaans version.

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.

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Simon Koper, leader of the Fransmanne, a Nama tribe.

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.

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Tsamma, Citrullus lunatus.

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 Schutstruppe 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 23: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird.com

 

 

Presently my focus and that of my blogs are on the search for the lost battlefield of the Kalahari. In one month’s time I will return to that area to conduct and hopefully conclude this epic search.

However I interrupt this line of writing to show my readers a historic video which I made in 2017. I visited Captain David Fredericks leader of the !Aman Namas of Bethany and a grandson of Timoteus Fredericks, brother of Cornelius, hero of The Scourge of the Kaiserbird. I believe it was the last video interview of the famous captain because he passed away a while after it. Captain Fredericks was one of the principal litigants in the claim for $30 billion reparation from Germany.

He talks in Afrikaans and very softly, but he essentially tells how information from Shark Island was relayed to the outside world during that terrible period of 1904-1907 when thousands of Namas and Hereros were imprisoned on Shark Island in the bay of Luderitz. He also tells how Cornelius Fredericks trained his soldiers.

I knew that I had to get some video footage of this famous Nama personality and hope to use it in a future documentary television programme because he was the last surviving person to have talked first hand to a Nama combatant of that war.

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 22: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

VoorbladWhy do I do it? Why do I keep at it and have I been doing it for so many years? What is it that I am trying to accomplish by writing and blogging about the Nama-German War? And by searching for the Lost Battlefield of the last battle of this great war?

I get asked these and other questions very often and not always in a friendly way. I have been accused of fomenting unrest in the silent truce between the Namas and the Germans. Nothing can be further from the truth. Quite the opposite.

The issue is complex, like the uneasy relationship between a man and woman after some bitter dispute. Just like a woman scorned by her husband’s infedelity the Namas, well some of them at least, simply don’t trust Germany. Like a vexatious wife they want to exact revenge. Similar to a wife embroiled in divorce proceedings with her unfaithful husband the Namas (some of them) demand reparations and she (they) will not be satisfied with anything less than everything.

And just like in a divorce there can be no winners in such a contest. Germany has already officially shown some remorse for the atrocities and there has been some financial programmes to support Namibia. I think that they will be more than willing to spend billions of euros more, on certain conditions.

Conditions is a big word, and perhaps understandably a word that the Namas don’t like. Many of them demand (another big word) reparations to the tune of $30 billion and they even went to court in the USA to get it. They argue, not without merit, that Germany paid dearly for the Jewish Holocaust and the ravages of World War 2 and so they should for the Nama war. They say that Germany is in no position to set conditions, just like the vexatious wife.

Germany on the other hand is unwilling to soften its stance, just like the unfaithful husband.

For many, not all, on both sides it is a chess game of black and white. All or nothing.

In the mean time the Namas continue to suffer. Unemployment, substance abuse, lack of education and poverty are rife. These problems can be traced back to the war and the genocide. In addition to these the Namibian government tends to favour the northern part of their country, home to the Ovambos, or that is my impression. Certain groupings of Namas vehemently oppose the handing over of any reparation money to the Namibian government, because they claim, again not without some merit, that the money should be given to the Namas and Hereros directly. They claim that the money will disappear into the bottomless pit of the central government and that none of it will reach the people who suffered the most during the Nama and Herero wars. The Namibian government stand on their sovereignty and would not like to be sidestepped.

So, it is a stalemate position, just like in an acrimonious divorce. Nobody wins, but the Namas more so than Germany.

Fortunately in the middle there is a group, as always the silent majority, reasonable people of both sides, who just want to do something about the terrible plight of the Namas. I like to see myself and people like Carsten Mohle in this group. We are engaged in this project because we have a vision of a new dawn for the Namas, a vision of a new micro economy supported by cultural-historical tourism and other projects which would benefit the Namas.

For this to happen we need to get the two parties to talk to each other, just like in a reconciliation process between a man and a woman. Reconciliation is not something that can be forced upon two parties involved in a dispute. There is no prescribed recipe for two parties to resolve their differences. There is no technique or technology with guaranteed results for dispute resolution. At the very best it is a process. This process should be approached with caution and in small steps. Trust should be built up from scratch. The only guarantee is that it will take a long time.

All wars are terrible and the Nama war was no exception. To deny the fact that German soldiers and other officials were involved in terrible deeds is foolish. It is a good starting point just to admit to it. To continue to rub German noses in it is equally foolish. That is definitely not my position. The Germans of today are not directly or legally responsible for the misdeeds of their forefathers, but they have a moral responsibility to assist the victims of that war. It is a responsibility that they can only voluntarily assume. To continue to think that a legal responsibility can be forced down Germany’s throat is, for a lack of a better word, irresponsible. By spewing forth hatred and cries for “justice” and “retribution” and “reparation” the protagonists will only be alienating the very people that are in a position to help them and forcing the German government to harden its stance.

I believe there is no ceiling to the aid Germany can provide to the Namas should it be applied in the right way. Germany knows that the Namas will continue to demand help even when they send Namibia billions of euros because the Namibian government will not exclusively utilise these funds for the benefit of the Namas. It will go into the central purse of the Namibian government.

My answer to the initial questions then is that I do all of this to open the channels of communication between the two parties. I am simply trying to get the two sides to talk to each other and I believe that is what Carsten Mohle is also doing. We are simply two individuals who understand a few things about the plight of the Namas. We are both searching for the Lost Battlefield because there is an equal amount of honour and history involved for both sides. For the Germans there are 13 of their bravest soldiers buried in unknown and unmarked graves, forgotten for all intents and purposes. For the Namas there is the unheralded and untold story of their great and unvanquished hero, Simon Koper, symbol of resistance, reminder of the claims of the Khoi-Khoin to being the First People or First Nation of our sub-region.

Like in the case of the fighting husband and wife I do not claim to know the answers to all the vexatious questions, but I do know that I must get the two parties to talk to each other. They must use baby steps, one project at a time. For now we focus on finding the battlefield because we know that it is a small way of establishing some respect for the other on both sides. We have seen it happen already.

Finally it allows us to dream and to nurture our vision of a new dawn.

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 21: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

The date of 31 August 2018 will forever remain etched in my memory. On that day I attended as invited guest the annual International Nama Festival in Lokgwabe, Botswana. Lokgwabe is a very tiny village near Hukuntsi which is 100 kilometer due west from Kang. Kang is not exactly a metropolis itself and South Africans only know of it due to the Trans Kalahari highway which passes it and where weary travellers often spend the night.

To most people the village of Lokgwabe is just another insignificant village in the back of beyond, but nothing can be further from the truth. The events that are celebrated there every year has its roots in the flight of Simon Koper and his KharaKhoen people there from their native Namibia (then German SWA). They were the last of the Nama people resisting German imperialism and who fought them in the Nama War of 1904-1908. Simon Koper’s people made a last stand against a mighty German force equipped with machine guns. That took place, as readers of this blog will no doubt know now, on 16 March 1908. 55 Namas and 13 Germans died in this battle but their graves and the battle site is lost. We hope to find it in October.

Simon Koper escaped and fled with his people to Lokgwabe where they eventually settled. That Nama community prospered and cherished their culture and language.

Now, the Namas is considered the last of the Khoi Khoin, Southern Africa’s First People. There are more than 200 000 in Namibia and a few thousand, perhaps 20 000 in South Africa, but in Botswana the only sizeable group is that of Lokgwabe, the descendants of Simon Koper. That is why the annual International Nama Festival is held there.

I considered it a great honour to be invited and to give a brief talk and present a copy of my book, The Scourge of the Kaiserbird, to the Chief Justice of Botswana.

The festival was a grand affair with much music, Namastap (traditional Nama dance), a demonstration by Bushmen and an exhibition of horsemanship by a group of young Namas. A talk on the Nama language was also given by a linguist who gave us a lesson in Nama counting. Because I was a sort of dignitary I was given a private tutor.

I became aware of the dignified pride of these forgotten people. Their sense of loss is almost too much to bear. It reminded me of so many losses that my own people have experienced and it dawned upon me that we have much in common and that in championing their cause I will be resisting the dark and ominous cloud of the oppressors who seem to want to usurp power for their own dubious purposes in Africa. Zimbabwe came to mind and the legacy of one Jacob Zuma also featured prominently in my imagination.

I may be a dreamer and an idealist but I am convinced that we can do much good in Africa, if we work together for a common good, if we respect each other as individuals and as different groups. If anybody has a claim to the land of Southern Africa, then it is the Namas, not the different ethnic groups, including my own. We must begin there and do something about it. We must acknowledge this one truth and build the future from there.

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 20: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

KAL_5557
Me and my long suffering wife Ingrid at the site of the temporary headquarters of the fateful 1908 expedition to capture the KharaKhoen Nama chief Simon Koper. This site is on South African soil but normally not accessible. We had the good fortune to visit the site twice.

Readers of this blog or of my book, The Scourge of the Kaiserbird will know about my obsession to locate the site of the Battle of Seatsub where 55 Kharakhoen Namas under the leadership of the Simon Koper as well as 13 German soldiers died on 16 March 1908. In October I will lead another expedition to that area.

What have we accomplished so far? We have learnt a dozen ways of how not to find the site. We have also found a certain number of relics confirming the presence of the temporary headquarters at a place called Geinab.

I mentioned before that Wulf Haacke, renowned herpetologist of the Transvaal Museum, conducted no less than five search expeditions in the 1990’s. Since the early 2000’s Carsten Mohle, a German field guide and ex-military man and his group have also carried out five search expeditions. I have personally also been on three expeditions, once with Mohle.

The area is totally devoid of all forms of human life and has always been like that, except when the KharaKhoen lived and hunted there. These people could survive without water when they had tsammas. So when enemy forces pursued them they always had the strategic advantage. All other humans will perish in the parch dry desert.

The German forces came from Aranos and Gochas in present day Namibia. They trekked with their 710 camels down the two river beds of the Aoub and the Nossob. Somewhere along these river beds the camels had their last drink of water on 10 March. They would only drink again on 18 March. On their backs they carried the meagre water supply of the soldiers. Imagine an expedition of that magnitude. It stands in stark contrast to the band of Namas who numbered less than 200 who had only tsammas to prevent them from dying from dehydration.

The camel mounted forces arrived at Geinab and rested there. That is where we found the relics. We found empty and rusted bully beef tins, water tins, horse shoes and even empty rifle cartridges and live ammunition.

It was from Geinab where the German expedition entered Bechuanaland’s territory. Somehow ( a story for another day) the Namas had left tracks and the Germans followed them for four days until they met up and the battle took place.

In October we will again be looking for relics of the kind we found at Geinab but at the site where we think the battle took place. We will be looking for a concentrated number of Vickers Maxim machine gun cartridges, using specially imported metal detectors.

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 19: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

erckert25
One of the very early maps showing the approximate position of the battlefield.

We have several antique maps showing the approximate position of the battlefield and the graves. These maps have all been studied in great detail by several researchers, to little avail.

We do know that the battlefield is inside the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, close to the modern tourist trail called the Polentswa trail. We have narrowed our search area down to an area of a few hectares. We are going to search that area with very specialised metal detectors in October. During previous searches the metal detectors have been of the hobby type and was broken.

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 bestellings@kaiserbird.com  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon.

Day 18: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

1909 contract with Simon Kooper
A copy of the contract between Simon Koper and the British commissioner executed at the behest of the German colonial government in German SWA. The Germans did not want to know that it was they who paid the pension.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Simon Koper story is the fact that he survived the great battle at the Lost Battlefield near Seatsub but the leader of the Germans, Captain von Erckert was killed. Even though the Germans won the battle they suffered a moral defeat which hovers above them to this day. But more than that they were so annoyed by the great little man, Simon Koper, leader of the KharaKhoen Nama tribe, that they secretly offered him a pension on condition that he would never return to German South West Africa, Namibia today. The British colonial governementpaid the epnsion on behalf of Germany who reimbursed them.

Even though Simon Koper died on 31 January 1913 Germany continued to honour the contract by paying the pension for the benefit of his descendants until Bechuanaland gained independence in 1968 and became Botswana.

Above is a copy of the contract. Today it is in the hands of Elias le Riche, previous park warden of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park.

I trust that once we find the battlefield and the graves Germany will be interested in renewing the terms of that contract, at least in a spiritual sense.

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.