Day 17: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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Standing in front of the memorial stones for the fallen German soldiers in the cemetery at Gochas, Namibia. In this blog I will explain why these stones were erected here, more than 100 km from where the soldiers were buried.

The last two days I have been blogging about the search for the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari where on 16 March 1908 the final battle of the Nama war took place. In October I will once again go on an expedition to try and locate the battlefield and the graves of the fallen soldiers.

The battle took place on British soil, on 16 March 1908. To be more precise it took place in Bechuanaland, known today as Botswana. At the time Bechuanaland was a British colony as was South Africa. The pursuing Germans came from German South West Africa, known today as Namibia. As far as we know the German columns did not have the permission of the British government to enter either South Africa or Bechuanaland. It is possible that the transgression could have sparked an international incident but that is how it worked. The Germans felt obligated to do what they wanted to do and so they crossed over onto foreign lands, regardless of the consequences.

Naturally after the battle which left 55 Namas and 13 Germans including their leader Captain Friedrich von Erckert dead the Germans wanted to get back onto German soil as soon as possible. They hurriedly dug the graves and laid their men to rest, possibly intending to come back at a later stage to remove the corpses for reburial. That never happened because Germany and Britain were not on a friendly footing. It was 1908, six years before the outbreak of WW1 between these two countries. As time went by the already strained relationship only worsened.

Abandoning military graves is just not the style of any civilised government. It creates a very poor impression on their soldiers. Even today 111 years later Germany would like to erect proper memorials at the true site. Back then they did not have access to the area because of the political situation. The only thing they could do was to erect some or other memorial at the headquarters of the force which was Gochas. That is what they did and to this day the stones stand there, more than hundred kilometers from the graves.

I visited the cemetery in Gochas last year. It was locked. I had to drive to the municipal office and ask the official to come and open the gate. After a while the official arrived at the cemetery and simply cut off the lock with a bolt cutter. He said that he was unable to find the keys.

I strolled around the cemetery and soon found the stones with all the names of the fallen soldiers engraved on it. On it the inscription reads fallen somewhere “east of Paulsvolk”. It is assumed that it is a mistake and that it was intended to be Paulskolk but today nobody knows where Paulskolk or for that matter Paulsvolk is.

I asked around town about the story but nobody was aware of it. It is really strange that I have become so obsessed by the details but people who live so close to the site of the headquarters and the stones are not interested at all. I suppose that is the way of the world.

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 16: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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This picture was taken on the morning of 16 March 1908, hours after the battle which left 13 German soldiers and 55 Nama soldiers, women and children dead. The commanding officer Captain Friedrich von Erckert and one of his officers, lieutenant Oskar Ebinger were buried in the two graves at the back and  the 11 other soldiers in the mass grave in front. The site of the battle and the graves is lost. It has been the subject of numerous search expeditions. In October this year I will lead another expedition using specialised equipment.

I am back on the tracks of the Kaiserbird, blogging, researching and writing in order to quell the fire this story has unleashed in my bosom. In order to write sense and not repeat myself too much I was compelled to re-read earlier blog posts. I urge my readers to do the same. Allow me just this one sentence before we carry on: Everything I wrote about in this blog concerns the events I have chronicled in the historical novel The Scourge of the Kaiserbird, but for the next two months my focus will be on the story I told in Chapter 37, the story of Simon Koper and his tribe.

Towards the end of the Nama War, in 1907, there was still a group of Namas in the far north-east of German South-West Africa who fought back. They were the !Khara-geiKhoen, also KharaKhoen, otherwise known as the Fransmanne, under leadership of the legendary Simon Koper. To the aggravation of the German commander, Captain Friedrich von Erckert, they regularly took part in raids on farms and would then retreat back into the colonies of the Union of South Africa and Bechuanaland, thus rendering the Germans powerless.

After conducting a thorough study of the habits and movements of the Namas, and with the consent of the British, Von Erkert planned a major offensive for March 1908. He was practically obsessive in his planning.

On 4 March 1908 710 camels, hundreds of German soldiers armed with machine guns, and their support staff travelled from Gochas and Aranos to the designated area. They put up camp at Grootkolk, on South African soil inside what is today known as the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. Von Erckert’s scouts followed the tracks of the Namas eastwards.

On the afternoon before the assault troops were due to follow the tracks, a small group of officers from the lower ranks approached Dr Ohlemann, the medical officer, and requested him to declare Von Erckert mentally incapacitated as they feared that he would lead them to their death. The doctor refused, and the expedition continued on its way. The battle took place three days later and Von Erckert was the first casualty, a victim of his own obsession. Twelve German soldiers and 55 Namas died with him. Simon Koper escaped and spent his last days in Bechuanaland, Botswana today, as a free man.

Germany even paid Koper an annual pension anonymously to prevent him from ever setting foot in German South West Africa again.

For various reasons the precise location of the battlefield, as well as the graves of Von Erckert and the other soldiers, is unkown today. It is strange considering the facts that there were so many German soldiers present and that they even took pictures including the one above of the actual site.

On 12 October 2019 I will lead another expedition to find this site.

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 15: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

I am very excited to tell the world about the latest developments in the realm of the “Kaiserbird”.

First a little background. “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird” is the English title of the historical novel “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland” originally published in 2016. The English version saw the light last year. It is available from Amazon on Kindle as well as in print.

The story is set against the background of the German period in Namibia, 1883-1915 and features two storylines, that of Ernst Luchtenstein and that of the Nama War.

I became an obsessed student of the Nama War and that is what I want to tell my readers about in today’s blog post.

One can reason that the Nama War ended on 16 March 1908. That is the date generally accepted because that was the day that the last great battle took place. Historically one can take a different view but that is a story for another day. For today let us assume that the war ended on 16 March 1908. Why? What happened on that day? In a strange way that has become the story of my life, or so it feels these days.

In six weeks I will lead an expedition to locate the site of the great Battle of Seatsub or the Lost Battlefield of the Kalahari which took place on that fateful day. I romanticised the battle in “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird”. It is a marvellous but tragic story which I have personally told to so many people.

The Nama war was all but over in 1907 but they forgot to tell Simon Koper, also spelled Kooper or Cooper or Kopper or Copper. Simon was the leader of the Fransman and Velchoendrager tribe of Namas. Their home ground was in the far east of the country in the areas of Gochas and today’s Aranos, then known as Arahoab. They would often raid local settlements and then retreat into the desert. They were unique in one particular sense. They could live independently of water by consuming tsammas, Citrullus lanatus, a kind of desert melon. Because of that the German soldiers could not lie in ambush at water holes like they often did with the other Nama tribes.

Eventually a German officer Captain Friedrich Von Erckert launched a massive cross border operation mounted on 710 camels to locate and kill or capture Simon and his people. It is a long story but it ended on that particular date. Ironically Simon Koper escaped but Von Erckert and 12 of his men were killed, along with 55 Namas. Koper then stayed in Lokgwabe, Bechuanaland (Botswana) until his death on 31 January 1913.

The thing is that the site of the battle and the graves of the 13 German soldiers is unknown today. I have been on three expeditions to find it. A German group under Carsten Mohle has tried five times and in the nineties of the previous century Wulf Haacke also tried five times. This time I have joined forces with Carsten and the Botswana Nama Development Trust. We think we are very close to finding the site.

It is not easy to conduct these missions. There are lot of hoops to jump through, not the least being the embargo that the Botswana government has placed on research in national parks. There are no water or fuel in the area. We have to be totally self sufficient. Nevertheless we are going to try.

We are in the fortunate position of being sponsored by Mitsubishi with a vehicle. In the following weeks I will be telling readers more about this fascinating project.

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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In March 1908 Captain Friedrich Von Erckert led a camel mounted expeditionary force from Aranos and Gochas in Namibia across the SA border into Bechuanaland, today’s Botswana to kill Simon Koper and his Velschoendrager and Fransman Namas. Today the site of the Great Battle is lost. We hope to locate it in October 2019.

Day 14: But we didn’t know

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Marabelle de Wet, a much appreciated fan of my book. To her right is a photograph of her late husband Herman, one time mayor of Keetmanshoop and Springbok jukskei player.

We are at Aardklop, the Afrikaans cultural festival in Potchefstroom this week. This gave me the opportunity to meet a few interesting people that have been the following the Kaiserbird for some time. Before we departed from Pretoria I also attended a reading club meeting where the Afrikaans version was discussed.

For the past three days I was confronted by one ringing refrain from the readers of my book, But we didn’t know… On Monday night, at the book club meeting, on Tuesday morning at a Potchefstroom book seller and again yesterday when I visited my greatest fan, Tannie Marabelle de Wet, here in Potchefstroom, I heard these ominous words.

What few people know is that those exact words had been the working title of Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland, translated as The Scourge of the Kaiserbird, for a very long time.

But we didn’t know…

Those were the words I chose for a title. The publisher didn’t like the title and I came up with the Keiservoël/Kaiserbird one. I like it very much and prefer it to the But…one. However, it strikes me every time when readers utter those words to me when discussing the book.

Obviously, or perhaps not so obviously, the first title refers to the paradigm of normal people who have lived normal lives in close proximity to atrocities like Nazism and Apartheid, with myself as suspect number one. It is an excuse as old as the world and I am guilty as charged.

That is exactly why I wrote the book. To inform the world about what happened in German South West Africa 120 years ago. To rid the world and myself of the ignorance of the genocide of the Nama and Herero people, so that it would not happen again. I know that it is a vain hope, but at least I tried.

On a more pleasant note I want to relate the story of my visit to Tannie Marabelle, a long time resident of Keetmanshoop. She was one of the first people to buy the book, placing her order well before the publishing date. A few months after the delivery I received a very courteous note from her asking why I had not signed the book. I consider it preposterous to scribble in someone else’s book without an explicit request from him or her and so only do it when asked. I then apologised to Tannie Marabelle and wrote to her that I would pay her a visit when next we attended Aardklop. Yesterday I had my chance and we finally met.

She and her husband lived in Keetmanshoop from 1955 to 1997 when her husband Herman passed away and she relocated to Potchefstroom. Her husband was an exceptional person. He obtained his Springbok colours in jukskei and was an accomplished artist as well a successful businessman. He also became the mayor of Keetmanshoop. At one stage he had a shop in Lüderitz as well. Tannie Marabelle told me how the room where they often stayed during his visits to Lüderitz had a view of Shark Island. “But we never knew what had gone on there.”

To her old Namibian friends I want to say that she is alive and well with a brain a few degrees sharper than my own. She is the most gracious host and now she says, “I know the truth.”

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 13: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Voorblad

It behoves a writer to pause and reflect on his social responsibility, if there is such a thing at all. Do we owe society anything? Or perhaps everything? Or do we just write for the sake of art?

These questions came to me in the middle of the process of writing, rewriting and translating “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird.” In the end it almost consumed me.

I set out to tell a true story with the age old rags-to-riches theme: Young Ernst Luchtenstein arrived In German South West Africa (Namibia), lost his family, worked hard and ended up as one of the wealthiest men in the country and lived happily ever after. Simple.

I first heard the story from a nephew of Ernst, the late Dicky Strauss. Dicky also mentioned a skirmish between the Luchtenstein family and some natives but the details were scant.

Everything changed when I visited the Sam Cohen Museum in Swakopmund to research  my story and read a few sentences in an article about the great man. “Madam, kneel before God only, not before any man.” Cornelius Fredericks spoke to Therese, mother of Ernst and gave her his hand to lift her from the dust of the Nama Desert. Then he said, “We Namas don’t wage war against women and children.”

What war, I asked myself. I had a vague idea of the Namas as some or other indigenous group, but knew literally nothing about any war that they could have been involved in.

I could only do what I do best – read. I read everything I could about Ernst Luchtenstein and about the Namas. I ordered books from Amazon, I read a lot of the (tall) story teller, Lawrence Green’s work. For two years I tried to find descendants of this famous man, Ernst Luchtenstein, but had no success. Then my fortune changed. I visited two of his children, Tudi in Bethal, Mpumalanga and Margaret in Somerset West. My information and interest grew. By chance I happened upon a little book which switched on the little globe above my head. The book told the story about the grave in the Fish River Canyon. This gave me the background to the incident in the Namib and spurred me on.

During a research visit to Lüderitz in December 2009 I learnt about the terrible concentration camps of the Nama war (1904-1908) especially the one on Shark Island in the bay of Lüderitz. I learnt about the decapitation of the Nama prisoners and then I set out to find the desendants of that Cornelius Fredericks who had lifted Ernst’s mother from the Namib sand. That took me to Windhoek where I met pastor Izak Fredericks who told me that the famous Cornelius had been poisoned on Shark Island. And then I read about the medical experiments and about dr Eugen Fischer who 33 years later became the head of racial hygiene at Auschwitz, a real Nazi if ever there was one.

Gradually I learnt about the Namas as the descendants of the Khoi-Khoin, the First People of the sub-continent, of the different tribes, of their food, their customs, their houses (reed mat houses), their language and their clothes. I came to respect them as real people, not the untermensch of the Nazis, as the true owners of the land, as very clever people, as religious people, as my fellow men, embodied by that one gesture of Cornelius Fredericks in the Namib Desert when he took the hand of a white, German woman and saved her life and that of her family.

As I performed the laborious task of writing the book it changed me. Over the course of 11 years the book has changed me to the point where I have become an ardent supporter of the Nama people of South Africa, Namibia and lately Botswana. I have attended their festivals and I am now championing the search for the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari where a small band of Namas made the last stand of the Great Nama war against the Germans on 16 March 1908. I hope that once the battlefield is found it will bring tourists, museums, exhibitions, a proper monument and accommodation in Nama style villages to the area, but more importantly, development, dignity and pride to the people, the Namas.

People talk glibly about social justice and about restitution and reparation, but very little is ever accomplished. The Namas and Hereros are claiming billions of dollars from Germany for reparation, but the Namibian government wants the money, so nothing is happening. It is an almost hopeless situation, but I care too much to give up.

At the outset I wanted to tell a story with no real social meaning. I had no real moral compulsion or obligation to the Namas in particular. In the end the story overwhelmed me to the point that it brought new meaning to my life on the social level. I have assumed responsibilities way beyond my means because of what I learnt through this process. Do I do it out of social responsibility? Am I under some kind of obligation to these people? I don’t think so. I do it because the book has changed me. I do it out of love.

“The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from www.amazon.com in paperback as well as Kindle format, 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

Day 12: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

I continue with my blog about my newly released book, The Scourge of the Kaiserbird. Please also read Day 1 – Day 11. Earlier  in the blog (some 91 of them, 2016&2017) were dedicated to the original Afrikaans novel, Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland.

The past few months were busy with two visits to Namibia and two to the Kalahari, all connected with the book.

I received the “Orde van die Beiteltjie” for “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland” at the Windhoek Woordfees. This accolade is the crown on nine years of research, writing and rewriting. That is how long it took to publish the Afrikaans book. The English book only became available this year.

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Receiving the “Orde van die Beiteltjie” from dr Fanie Marais with the organiser of the Windhoek Woordfees, dr Chrisna Beuke-Muir looking on.

The Windhoek Woordfees was attended by Queen Witbooi, widow of the late Hendrik Witbooi, vice-president of SWAPO and minister in the government. She gave a short talk and thanked the organisers for their concern about the Nama and Herero people.

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Captain John Cornelius Witbooi, leader of the SA Witbooi Namas (left) and Mrs Queen Witbooi, widow of Hendrik Witbooi, vice-president of SWAPO and minister in the Namibia government also attended the ceremony of the Windhoek Woordfees where I received the “Orde van die Beiteltjie.”

Also in attendance were Salomon Boois, founder of the Nossob Development Programme and Captain John Cornelius Witbooi, leader of the South African Witbooi Namas. Both these gentlemen are involved in various development projects. Boois is especially concerned with the development of a tourist route along the tracks of the famous Simon Koper expedition of March 1908 which is featured in Chapter 37 of my book.

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From left to right, dr Fanie Marais, Cordis Trust, yours truly, Salomon Boois, founder of the Nossob Development Programme and Captain John Cornelius Witbooi.

Less than two weeks ago I returned from a Botswana Nama cultural festival which took place in Lokgwabe, Botswana. Lokgwabe is the place to which Simon Koper fled in 1908 and he is buried there. I will report separately about this festival where I presented a book to the Botswana government. The visit to his grave was al almost surreal experience where I heard stories and legends which I dare not repeat for fear of causing misunderstanding, even today.

The great news is that the Amazon version, printed and Kindle, of The Scourge of the Kaiserbird is now available world wide, or will be so later this week. Because of all the illustrations and footnotes in the book editing it specifically for Kindle has not been easy. Fortunately the project was taken over by specialists, Kwarts Publishers, and they have produced a beautiful book. I never thought it would be possible to present the book in such style in the electronic format.

You are invited to visit my  Amazon Author Page at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B

I loaded a video of the Botswana Nama festival  and the presentation including my little speech on the Amazon page. The video is 3 minutes long.

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Captain John Cornelius Witbooi addressing the crowd at the Windhoek Woordfees.
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Captain John Cornelius Witbooi and Mrs Queen Witbooi.
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Mrs Queen Witbooi (left) and dr Chrisna Beuke-Muir (right)

 

Day 11: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

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Abraham Morris, unsung hero of the Nama War, here as a scout for the Union of South Africa forces when they invaded German Southwest Africa during the First World War. He expected South Africa to reward him by allowing him back into his motherland. He was wrong.

One of the unsung heroes in “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird” is Abraham Morris. I used Abraham as a minor character, but in truth he is larger than life. His story has already inspired one novel, “The Return” by James Ambrose Brown, so I did not want to pursue his exploits further in my own rendition of the weird, wonderful and tragic happenings of the Nama War of 1904-1908, these dates being very arbitrary, as we will see shortly.

The man Abraham Morris was born in Warmbad, Namibia, around 1872 out of the marriage between a Scotsman and a Bondelswart Nama woman. He grew up deeply religious, probably in the Catholic tradition which dominated the deep south of Namaland.

The most remarkable thing about Morris is the fact that his involvement in the Nama War places the dates of the war into a controversial argument. It is generally accepted that the Nama War started with a declaration of war by Hendrik Witbooi on 3 October 1904, just two months after Witbooi had still acted as an ally to the Germans in the war on the Hereros.

Yet, one year earlier, on 25 October 1903 to be precise, a small incident about a billy goat in the town of Warmbad led to some German soldiers taking a Nama man prisoner. At the police station a group of Namas gathered to protest, among them Abraham Morris and Jakob Morenga.

The situation escalated when lieutenant Walther Jobst used force and shots were fired. Two bodies lay in the sun, that of the young lieutenant and that of the Nama leader, Jan Abraham Christiaan. This incident sparked a Nama uprising or rather a Bondelswarts Nama uprising.

Morris and Marengo fled into the Karas mountains and a fully fledged guerilla war followed, to such an extent that the governor of the country, Leutwein rushed down south to come and restore the peace. His absence allowed the Hereros in the north to rise up and to organise their rebellion. When the first shots of the Herero war were fired Leutwein was still down south trying his best to negotiate peace. Morris and Morenga were not included in the peace talks. Instead Leutwein made the fatal mistake of placing a price on their heads.

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Long before Hendrik Witbooi’s declaration of war on 3 October 1904 Abraham Morris and Jakob Marengo were already fighting the Germans as witnessed by this photograph taken at Uhabis in the territory of the Bondelswarts. Note the date of 8 November 1903.

Events in the north forced Leutwein to go back to fight the Hereros, leaving the Bondelswarts to his men at Warmbad. During the time of the Herero war, January to August 1904, the Bondelswarts were involved in numerous skirmishes with the small band of Germans at Warmbad. On 10 December the Germans under colonel von Burgsdorff, aided by Hendrik Witbooi and his Khowesin and !Aman Namas won a battle against the Bondelswarts but two days later, on 10 December the Bondelswarts defeated lieutenant Böttlin in the battle of Hartebeestmund, wounding the lieutenant and some of his men.

A remarkable thing happened. Morris and Marengo took the wounded Böttlin and his men across the Gariep river to the Roman Catholic mission station at Pella for treatment. Within the context of the Nama war this was extraordinary because no such mercy was ever shown to any Nama or Herero soldier.

The Bondelswarts continued their resistance during 1904 while Hendrik Witbooi was still on the side of the Germans. Witbooi changed his mind, probably when he witnessed first hand the cruelty of the Germans during the Herero war. Then, on 3 October 1904, came his declaration of war against Germany. He was immediately joined by his former enemies, the Bondelswarts of Morris and Marengo.

I contend that the Nama War had started a year earlier when Jobst and Christiaan were killed at Warmbad, not with Witbooi’s declaration. Abraham Morris was there, at the real start of the Nama War, on 25 October 1903, and he would be there also, the very last casualty of the Nama War, 19 years later, as we shall see. The end of the Nama war did not occur as historians hold it out to be in 1907, or 1908. It really only ended when Morris was killed in a most atrocious incident for which South Africa would eventually pay the price many decades later, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Marengo, an educated man who had spent time in Europe became a legend of the Nama War. He fought hard and clever, frustrating the Germans and inspiring the Namas. He was a master strategist. He also was wounded several times. He led his men through the valleys, kloofs and bush of the Karas Mountains and surprised the Germans around every corner, with Morris at his side. When things got too hot for his liking he retreated across the international border, the Gariep river, to the safety of the Union of South Africa. During one such an expedition he was apprehended by the police and placed into custody. He was later released but surprised again and killed. The war was all but over, with the resentment of the Namas festering under the surface. By that time Witbooi was killed and Cornelius Fredericks, another important leader of the Namas and hero of my book, was imprisoned on Shark Island. Simon Koper, the only other Nama leader stayed on the eastern border of the country, fleeing into Bechuanaland when threatened by the Germans. Koper was finally driven away on 16 March 1908 in the great battle of Seatsub, a story for another day.

Morris, with a price on his head, remained in the relative safety of South Africa. He lived there for the next two decades, banished from his home country, eking out an existence as a subsistence farmer, greatly respected by everyone. He was a family man and happily married.

In 1914 the First World War broke out and General Louis Botha, prime minister of the newly formed Union of South Africa, decided to fight with the King and his allies. His first task was to invade his neighbour, the German colony called German Southwest Africa. He did so on no less than four fronts, one of them the south of German Southwest Africa and the others Lüderitz, Swakopmund and Rietfontein.

The south of Namibia, adjoined to the northern Richtersveld of South Africa, is one of the most desolate, wild and dry places on the face of the earth, even today. The invading Union troops of general Botha needed scouts to show them the way and the drinking places. Abraham Morris volunteered as one on these scouts. After all, he had an axe to grind with the Germans. Morris was convinced that his services would not go unrecognised and that the South Africans would treat his people better than did the Germans. How wrong he was.

During the South African expedition into German Southwest Africa he made the acquaintance of a young soldier, Hendrik Prinsloo who later wrote very favourably about the Nama scout.

Morris completed his scouting services for the Union Defence Force with distinction, but after South African rule was consolidated no invitation to come back was issued. Instead his banishment was confirmed! Despite acting as scout for South Africa he was not allowed back into Southwest Africa. He had no option but to continue living on South African soil.

On 24 May 1922 his wife passed away and Morris wrote these bitter, tragic words, “MIjn hart is warlijk droog van de bywonerskap. Naar mijn land (of moeder’s land) terug te komen, dat is mijn vast plan en ook mening. Maar om geen moelikheid te bringen, zal ik goedkeuring zoeken…Dat het den Here behaagd om zijn wil uit te voeren en heeft (Hij) de ziel van mijn dierbaren echtgenoot uit die leven weg geroepen (opde) 24ste Mei: Zodat ik nu mijn leven op aarde alleen moet voortzetten”.

Loosely translated this desperate cry from the heart reads, “My heart is bone dry of life as a beggar. I am determined to go back to the land of my mother, but to prevent any trouble I will seek permission…God has decided to call the soul of my dear wife from this life and that I shall live alone”.

Abraham Morris crossed the river back into “the land of his mother,” now called South West Africa. He was soon confronted by the police who wanted to take him into custody. Yet his people, the Bondelswarts Namas, now crowded into the Bondelswarts reserve by South African decree, had welcomed his return. They hailed him as their saviour who had come to lead them from the oppression of the South Africans. The Bondelswarts took heart and within days a full rebellion started. Abraham Morris, the hero of the many glorious battles of 1903-1907 against the Germans became the unwilling leader.

In Pretoria General Jan Smuts dispatched his air force and from Windhoek came the self styled “colonel” Gysbert Hofmeyr with cannons and machine guns.

The Bondelswarts fled into the mountainous terrain and several skirmishes followed. Eventually the aircraft, under the leadership of the famous Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld bombed the men, women and children as well as the animals of the Bondelswarts into oblivion. A search party under Captain Hendrik Prinsloo was dispatched. Prinsloo followed Morris and his few men for days on end and eventually shot and killed him, on 4 June 1922.

As it was night Prinsloo retired to the headquarters but confirmation was needed that Morris was indeed dead. Prinsloo came back, found the grave, exhumed Morris and reburied him again. To this day the site of this grave is unknown. Last year I went on a futile search expedition. I came away from that dry, rough, desolated, quiet wilderness with a deep sadness about this man’s forgotten legacy.

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This is the area where the Bondelswarts were attacked by the full force of the South African Defence Force, including the aircraft under the leadership of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld.

 

Only when Abraham Morris was dead, was the resistance of the Namas finally crushed, never to rise again. I contend that the Nama War only ended when Morris died. He was there in the real beginning, on 25 October 2903, and he was there when it really ended, on 4 June 1922, a true hero to the very last, but sadly never honoured. He does not even have a proper grave.

Following the aerial bombardment and the indiscriminate machine gunning of the Bondelswarts people, South Africa was reprimanded in the League of Nations. An investigation that lasted two years found that South Africa had violated the trust the world had placed in South Africa as custodian of “The land God made in anger” as John Gordon Davis named Southwest Africa. This international distrust of South Africa continued when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations. Perhaps, if this had not happened, Namibia would now have been South Africa’s tenth province. 

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