INTRODUCTION TO THE NAMA WARS


BACKGROUND TO THE NAMA WARS

The Nama Wars raged from October 1904, when Hendrik Witbooi declared war against the German Empire, until March 1908, when Simon Kopper was defeated in the desert by a German camel expeditionary force. The Nama Wars took place in what is now the independent nation of Namibia but in 1904-1908 was a German colony: Deutsch-Südwestafrika, i.e., German South-West Africa. 


The wars were a direct result of the Herero War (January - August, 1904) and the genocide the Germans committed against the Herero people in the immediate aftermath of that conflict.


Facing pressure from the Germans to disarm and to dismantle their internal political structures (thus becoming defenseless and dependent), and fearing that they would suffer the same genocidal fate as the Hereros, the Witbooi Nama went to war against Imperial Germany in October 1904.


Hendrik Witbooi, the leader of the Witbooi Nama, had been an ally of Germany for nearly ten years (1895-1904) and had even sent Witbooi troops to fight under German command against the Hereros during the 1904 war. But Germany's terrifying conduct against the Hereros shattered the alliance.


Hendrik Witbooi and the Witbooi Nama did not fight alone. Other Nama leaders and their people joined what they regarded as a fight for their very survival. 


THE NAMA LEADERS

During this nearly 3 1/2 year long series of wars four major Nama leaders led the fight, their periods of leadership overlapping: 


Hendrik Witbooi, the principal Nama political leader and field commander from October 1904 to his death in battle in October 1905. Hendrik Witbooi was a guerrilla leader of long experience, having launched devastating raids against the Hereros in 1890-1891 and against the Germans in 1893-1894 (in a war that began with an unprovoked German surprise attack). Hendrik Witbooi was an ally of the Germans from 1895 to 1904, when the alliance was shattered. He then became Germany's main Nama opponent until his death;


Jakob Morenga, a relatively well-off Nama leader (he had worked in the British mines of South Africa), was the child of a Herero mother and Nama father, and he commanded Nama and Herero troops. Morenga's battles with the Germans began in the summer of 1904 (thus predating the Nama Wars proper), but his personal guerilla campaign against the Kaiser's troops merged with the larger Nama struggle in short order. Defeating Morenga was a major objective for Germany, and he thus became the focus of special efforts. Morenga fought on for three years until his death in combat against a combined German-British force in September 1907;


Cornelius Frederiks, the leader of the Bethanier (Bethanie) community and a gifted guerrilla commander, allied himself with Hendrik Witbooi from the beginning of the Nama Wars in October 1904. The Germans directed two campaigns specifically against Cornelius Fredericks, and in March 1906 he and the Bethanie were forced to surrender. The Bethanie were interned in the infamous German concentration camp on Shark Island, where more than half died due to malnutrition and exposure to the icy elements. Among the dead was Cornelius Frederiks, who passed away in February 1907. In a gruesome and ghastly act, Frederiks was decapitated and his head sent to Germany to further investigations on "racial superiority".


Simon Kopper (Kooper), the leader of the Franzman (Fransman) Nama, fought from the beginning of the Nama Wars in 1904 to their very end in 1908. In January 1905 a combined Nama force of Witbooi troops and those of Simon Kopper confronted the Germans at Zwartfontein (see The Sand Dunes of Zwartfontein). The Nama were defeated and were driven off into the Kalahari Desert, but Hendrik Witbooi and Simon Kopper continued to wage guerilla warfare against the Germans - Hendrik Witbooi for many more months, Simon Kopper several more years. By September of 1908, however, Hendrik Witbooi, Jakob Morenga, and Cornelius Frederiks were all dead, leaving Simon Kopper as the only major Nama commander left in the field. 


CAMELS IN THE KALAHARI: THE END OF THE NAMA WARS

The dry desert sands of the Kalahari protected Simon Kopper from an assault by standard horse-mounted Schutztruppen. In order to get at Kopper in his desert fastness, the Germans formed a special camel-mounted Expeditionskorps (expeditionary corps) under the command of Hauptmann Friedrich von Erckert. The force consisted of:

27 German officers, 373 German enlisted men, 129 African auxiliaries, 4 machine guns, 2 horses, 5 mules, 11 oxen - and 710 camels! (see Morengas Ende/Kopper Kalahari, pg. 371)


On March 16, 1908, at the Battle of Seatsub, Simon Kopper and his Franzman Nama troops clashed with Hauptmann von Erckert and his camel-mounted Schutztruppen. 

 

When the battle was over, most of the Franzman Nama were dead; the exact number of Nama who lost their lives is unknown. Simon Kopper's wife had been captured, and Simon Kopper had fled. On the German side, the Expeditionskorps commander Hauptmann von Erckert had been shot dead through the head and a dozen other Germans fell with him. 10 other Germans were severely wounded (Morengas Ende/Kopper Kalahari, pg. 380).        


The Nama Wars were now effectively over. Simon Kopper remained free, but would eventually agree to a ceasefire in return for an annual stipend. He would live out his days in Bechuanaland, a British protectorate that is now the independent nation of Botswana. He died in January 1913.


GENOCIDE AND SHARK ISLAND

There had been approximately 20,000 Nama in 1904. By 1911 - only seven years later - the Nama numbered under 10,000. The Nama population had been cut in half. (Bridgman, pg. 165).


This devastation was, for the most part, not the result of combat casualties: soldiers dying on the battlefield fighting other soldiers. It was not even the result of the incidental diseases that have accompanied warfare since the dawn of man.


No, these deaths occurred for the most part as a result of the deliberately inhumane conditions in the German prison camps. There were camps around the colonial capital of Windhoek, but the Shark Island concentration camp (full name "Shark Island Concentration Camp off Lüderitz Bay", i.e.  "Konzentrationslager auf der Haifischinsel vor Lüderitzbucht") was especially brutal.


At Shark Island prisoners were starved, whipped, raped, and used as forced labor. To give one a perspective on how terrible the Shark Island concentration camp was, consider the following numerical example: in the summer of 1906, 1800 Nama prisoners were sent to Shark Island. By April of 1907, only 245 of them were still alive (Bridgman, pp. 160, 165).


This was genocide, by any reasonable definition of the word.



SOURCES


Die Kämpfe der deutschen Truppen in Südwestafrika. Auf Grund amtlichen Materials bearbeitet von der Kriegsgeschichtlichen Abteilung I des Großen Generalstabes. Fortsetzung des Sechsten (Schluß-) Heftes: Morengas Ende und der Zug Erckerts gegen Simon Kopper in die Kalahari; Berlin, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, 1908; (hereafter, Morengas Ende/Kopper Kalahari)


Bridgman, Jon M. The Revolt of the Hereros; Berkeley; University of California Press, 1981; (hereafter, Bridgman)



Copyright  Dr. Roy S. Jones, Jr,  2006-2017