Day 37: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird: Nichodimas Cooper

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Nichodimas Cooper visited me this past week. Since our October expedition he has been to Windhoek, Gaberones, Pretoria and Kimberley, searching for leads towards our shared goal of finding the Lost Battlefield. He is now heading towards the National Archives in Cape Town.

Once again I interrupt the story in a way to introduce another remarkable personality, Nichodimas Cooper, the PRO of the Botswana Nama Development Trust. He came to visit and stay with me earlier this week because he is a man with a mission.

Nichodimas is a direct descendant of Simon Koper, the Nama leader who fled from Namibia in 1908 and who was pursued by Captain Friedrich Von Erckert and his 400 men on 700 camels. Von Erckert was shot by Koper’s men but Simon Koper escaped and lived in Lokgwabe, Botswana until his death in 1913.

Nichodimas and I have been searching for the battlefield where Von Erckert and 12 of his men were buried. This battlefield is somewhere inside the Botswana part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Our group went on another search in October and we plan yet another search in February 2020. A week or two after we left Botswana Nichodimas took the ten hour journey to Windhoek to search for more information in the Namibian archives. He then went back to Botswana and traveled to Gaberones where he scoured their archives before heading to Pretoria. He spent the night with us and then moved on to the Cape following certain leads.

Why does a young man such as Nichodimas do this? He was a very successful tour guide working in Chobe and Moremi until a Dutch tourist asked about his peculiar (for a Motswana) surname. A few weeks after the Dutchman had departed some information came from him. In this manner Nichodimas learnt about his heritage, the story of his ancestor, Simon Koper, also spelt Kooper, Cooper or Copper at the time.

The Namas of Lokgwabe are very unique in respect of their language and culture. Basically they are the only Nama speakers in the country and they have lived mostly in the tiny village of Lokgwabe since March 1908. Nichodimas says that their language is influenced by Tswana and the Nama language of Namibia is influenced by Afrikaans.

Nichodimas is even more obsessed with finding the battlefield than I am. He was always the last man standing swinging his metal detector left and right in the searing heat when I had long retired to the shade. He knows that finding the battlefield will bring in the German tourists and some development which will go some way towards righting the injustices of 110 years ago.

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Nichodimas Cooper in front of the Mitsubishi Triton swinging his metal detector. In the background is the camera crew.

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 36: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird: Meeting: Wulf Haacke

I interrupt the current story of our search for the Lost Battlefield to introduce one of South Africa and Namibia’s remarkable personalities who have played a major role in the search for the Lost Battlefield – Wulf Haacke.

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Wulf Haacke with The Scourge of the Kaiserbird and the Journal of the Namibia Scietific Society, containing his famous article which have launched so many expeditions by myself and Carsten Möhle.
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Wulf Haacke was a well known herpetologist. Here he is standing with his snake hook in front of a picture of Captain Friedrich Von Erckert at the start of the 1908 Kalahari Expedition to eliminate Simon Koper, which backfired for the Captain.
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Wulf Haacke is a native Namibian with a love of Land Rovers. On the shelf is a number of his Land Rover Club Badges.

I met Wulf briefly in 1986 in another capacity. He was then a renowned herpetologist associated with the Transvaal Museum. He has lived a very interesting life and is a man with many interests.

In 1993 he published an article in the Journal of the Namibia Scientific Society- Simon Kopper and the Kalahari Expedition of 1908. This article has become the standard reference work for researchers who are interested in finding the Lost Battlefield. Wulf went on 5 expeditions himself to find the battlefield, in the nineties of the previous century, also without success. In 2010 I chanced upon this article when I was researching the Nama War in Windhoek. Since then I must have read the article more than 20 times. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have become obsessed with finding the battlefield and that my last attempt took place as recently as October.

I have tried to contact Wulf before but he was unwell and could not see me. This morning I finally managed to meet him in his home. Wulf, a native Namibian is 84 now and has suffered a number of strokes. Unfortunately he has no other information to assist us in our struggle.

Wulf fondly remembers the old days. He used to be an avid Land Rover fan, having owned five of these vehicles. I asked him about the burnt out Land Rover quite near to the camp at Sesatswe which we have driven past a few times, but he was quick to make the point that it was not his. He said the only relics they ever found was the tins of which we also found many.

I presented Wulf with a copy of The Scourge of the Kaiserbird in which I credit him for his article which forms the basis of chapter 37, the story of Simon Koper and Friedrich Von Erckert.

I came away from Wulf with a feeling of profound respect for this remarkable man whose work has enriched my life so much, without even knowing about it.

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 35: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Many readers of the blog ask me where exactly the search area is. Before I continue relating the trails and trials of the expedition let me explain where exactly we are searching for this elusive battlefield, the subject of Chapter 37 in The Scourge of the Kaiserbird.

The battle took place inside Botswana territory, in what is today part of the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. Previously Botswana was known as Bechuanaland and the Botswana side of Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park was known as the Gemsbok Park. The South African side of Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park was previously known as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park.

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The area of the battlefield is indicated with the arrow.

Many tourists are well acquainted with the wonderful Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. It is South Africa’s most booked national park, more so than Kruger. I have on many occasions “camped” outside Sanparks’ Reservation House, in the cold and dark, here in Pretoria in order to be first in the queue for a certain booking of a certain camp. Reservations are very hard to come by.

All that is applicable to the South Africa side of the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park which offers “luxury” camping and accommodation. On the Botswana side of the Park there is very little facilities which makes it even more attractive to me. One mostly camps rough in this area. In the southern part of the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park, Botswana side, the Mabuasehube part of the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park is well known amongst 4×4 enthusiasts. There are a number of trails with camping spots which are frequented by the adventurous in spirit.

However, further north from Mabuasehube is a part of the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park which very few people have ever seen and experienced. This also where the Lost Battlefield is located. It is a most inhospitable area with no surface water and no boreholes, except for one at the Kaa Gate and one, occasionally in use at a place called Swartpan. For the rest it is bone dry, giving true meaning to the word arid. There are relatively few animals, especially predators. That of course is not to the liking of “normal tourists” but to me it adds to the mystical and mythical air of the place.

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The estimated location of the battlefield near Sesatswe. The map is from Herman van den Berg’s excellent book, Self Drive Kgalagadi.

We did see lions on this trip. Never ever, think that that is safe to wander about without a care in the world. This is wild, wild, Africa.

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We saw two splendid male lions right next to Kaa Gate.

The Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park can be accessed from three countries, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana.

Carsten Möhle and Heiko Schmidt with Chief Hanse and Benno Hanse came from Windhoek, via Gobabis and then down south along the Trans Kalahari highway. Our group travelled from Pretoria along the N4 highway towards Rustenburg, Zeerust, Skilpadnek Border Gate, where we entered Botswana. That is approximately 4 hours driving. We then travelled northwards along the same Trans Kalahari highway, past Jwaneng and on towards Kang. At Kang one turns west and then follow a beautiful and very quiet tar road for 100 kilometers where Hukuntsi is situated. Hukuntsi is a small town but it offers some shops and fuel.

From Hukuntsi one travels further west, along a very sandy dirt track, for 65 kilometers to the little village called Zutswa where the only activity is a salt pan. It is at Zutswa where one enters what used to be called a “Controlled Hunting Area.” One has to pay a small community fee at an honesty box to enter and traverse this area. One then drives on another bad dirt track through arguably the most beautiful part of the Kalahari for another 65 kilometers until one reaches Kaa Gate, the Botswana entrance to the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park where on average fewer than one tourist party per day arrives.  There is one toilet at the gate as well as a tap with water, not for drinking. Less than a kilometer away is an emergency campsite with a long drop toilet and water.

From the gate we travelled on the Polentswa Trail, against the normal traffic (in terms of our research permit), towards Polentswa, on the very bad and sandy little track, for another 35 kilometers southwest to the campsite known as Sesatswe, not to be confused with the campsite Sizatswe north of Kaa Gate. Sesatswe is the base camp for these expeditions because it is believed to be close to the Lost Battlefield.

Sesatswe can also be reached from the South Africa side of the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park and that is actually the only way that tourists can get there. If one wants to visit the area as a tourist one has to book the Polentswa Trail, a wilderness trail, strictly for 4×4 vehicles. Reservations are made at the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks. A reservation allows one to spend two days on the trail, camping the first night at Sesatswe and the second night at Lang Rambuka. The trail starts at Polentswa, another rough, i.e. no facilities, camping spot 60 kilometers north of Nossob. So, normally tourists wanting to do the Polentswa Trail would enter the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park from the South Africa side, at Twee Riviere, and then travel the four hours north along the Nossob river bed, fill up with fuel at Nossob, the last opportunity to do so. They would then travel north to Polentswa where the trail starts and then travel the 90 kilometers along the trail, camp at Sesatswe, travel 80 kilometers the next day and spend the night at Lang Rambuka before returning to Nossob.

Our research permit allowed us to spend the week at Sesatswe. During this week we returned to Kaa Gate once to get water and we sent one of our vehicles to Nossob to get fuel. a trip which took Benno Hanse the entire day.

We were a convoy of four Toyota vehicles and one Mistubishi Triton. The Triton stayed with the Toyotas every step of the way, but with a lot more style, luxury and fuel economy. My next vehicle will be one of these.

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Nicodimas Cooper with a metal detector in front of the Mistubishi Triton, sponsored by Mitsubishi SA. The Triton stayed with the four Toyotas on all these bad roads but with far better style and fuel consumption.

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 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.

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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.