The historical role of the Nama nation

By Dr Klaus Dierks

THIS year we remember the greatest tragedy in the history of Namibia, the German-Namibian War of 1903 to 1913.
Many Namibian communities suffered and fought against the German colonial authority, especially the Nama groups of Namibia and especially the Kai||khaun community of Hoachanas. Some of the Nama leaders, like Manasse !Noreseb Gamab, Hendrik Witbooi and Jakob Marengo fell in battle against the Germans while most of the Ovaherero leaders fled to neighbouring countries.
Manasse !Noreseb was one of the most powerful African leaders in Namibia at the time the Germans began to colonise this country. His insight that the African conflicts between Namibian communities were secondary to a threat of an entirely new dimension of immense proportions, namely conquest and colonisation by Germany which could only be resolved by African unity, makes Manasse one of the major resistance fighters against colonial rule in Namibia.

Hoachanas Community of the Kai ||khaun
The Kai IIkhaun can be regarded as the oldest Nama speaking group in Namibia and represents somehow the original source of all Nama communities in Namibia.

Defensive Period before 1820 against foreign influences
In 1695, the Nama Captain Kai||khaun, the main group of all Nama groups in Namibia, #Hâb, was probably the first Chief of this community. #Hâb unified the different Namibian Nama groups: The Bondelswarts (!Gami-#nun); the Topnaar (#Aonin); Fransman Nama (!Khara-khoen); the Veldschoendrager (||Hawoben); the Groot Doden (||Ô-gain); the Swartboois (||Khau-|gõan) and the Kharo-!oan from present-day Keetmanshoop, whereby the Kai||khaun played a leading role.

The Missionary Period around 1820 to 1860
Around 1778/79 under the leadership of the !Gaob ||Hanamab, the Nama controlled an area stretching from the Upper Fish River to the Orange.
In 1822 the missionary, Schmelen, left Bethanie due to the dissatisfaction of the Bethanie Nama with missionary work among the Red Nation (after he "almost begged them upon my knees that they should come to church but they would not"). This somehow represented the beginning of the Resistance Period against the European missionaries.
In the 1830s the powerful Nama leader Jonker Afrikaner established his sovereignty in the southern and central regions of the territory. An alliance between the Afrikaners and Kai||khaun was established.
An alliance between European missionaries and the Ovaherero defeated the Nama and opened the way for the formal German colonialism in the 1880s. On 12 December 1846 Carl Hugo Hahn reported that the Orlam Afrikaners under Jonker Afrikaner and the Kai||khaun under Chief ||Oaseb were the centres of the resistance against the German missionaries.
Only the Nama group of the Swartboois, under the influence of the German Rhenish Missionary Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt, did not take part in the Anti-European Alliance of the Nama.
In February 1850 the Nama group leader Tseib split from the Red Nation and later formed the group of the Kharo-!oan in Keetmanshoop.
The arrival of European miners intensified various further conflicts between Jonker Afrikaner and other Namaland chiefs, such as ||Oaseb and Willem Swartbooi !Huiseb #Haobemab) from Rehoboth.
In 1858 the peace agreement of Hoachanas was initiated by the Rhenish missionary Vollmer, and Jonker and ||Oaseb formed a new alliance. ||Oaseb confirmed the terms of the original alliance of the 1820s. He recognised Jonker as equal to him in status and as the overlord of Hereroland. The Red Nation's area stretched from the Kalahari to the Auas mountains, with the Kuiseb River as border line.
The Hoachanas Treaty of 1858 was ratified by 13 Nama group leaders. This Treaty was followed by the signing a treaty outlawing mining concessions and land sales to colonists, except by common agreement. Unfortunately for Namibia this treaty was, under influence of the Rhenish missionaries, never strictly enforced.
Jonker's slogan: "Africa to Africans, but Namaland and Hereroland to us" was a challenge which was not acceptable to the German missionaries. Increasingly the economic power slipped out of the hands of the territory's leaders and their councils and passed into the hands of European traders and missionaries.
A new form of European colonial domination was unofficially introduced by the missionary-trader alliance long before the official colonial annexation took place in 1884. This paved the way for the overthrow of Jonker Afrikaner's and his ally ||Oaseb's sovereignty in the 1860s.
In 1880 Wilhelm Maharero defeated Jan Jonker Afrikaner but was wounded in the battle of Otjikango.
In the next years some rivalries took place between chiefs of the Red Nation. But in 1888, when the German colonial authority had already taken over the country, Manasse !Noreseb made peace with the rival chief, !Hoëb ||Oasmab (Fritz Lazarus ||Oaseb). But in March 1889, Fritz Lazarus ||Oaseb joined Hendrik Witbooi. Manasse Noreseb of Hoachanas sought the protection of the Ovaherero Chief Maharero and settled at Seeis and only returned to Hoachanas in 1895, after the defeat of Hendrik Witbooi in the Naukluft campaign a year earlier.
These Namibian inter-community fights, especially between Manasse !Noreseb Gamab and Hendrik Witbooi, considerably weakened the Namibian position against the Germans. Only ten years later, after the colonial oppression and dispossession of Namibians became unbearable for most of the Namibian groups, Manasse !Noreseb joined Hendrik Witbooi in his struggle against colonialism.
In 1902 the Germans created a "native reserve" for the Red Nation at Hoachanas.

The Active Period from 1904 to 1913
In this period the struggle for freedom reached its first culmination point in the German-Namibian War of 1903 to 1913. The patterns of all social-political structures in Namibia were fundamentally altered by this war. The "Leutwein System" based on a combination of diplomacy and military force broke down. Leutwein was unseated in 1904 and General Lothar von Trotha was called in.
The extreme suffering and the genocide against the Nama and Ovaherero communities this war has caused, can be demonstrated by the fact that from ± 20 000 Nama in 1901 only 9 810 survived in 1911. Thus more than 50% of the Nama died.
In October 1903 the German Namibian War was triggered by the Bondelswarts of Warmbad. In January 1904 the Ovaherero took up arms against the German colonial rule. On 27 January1904 Leutwein made peace with the Bondelswarts in the Peace of Kalkfontein, in order to avoid a war on two fronts. The Bondelswarts had to hand over all their arms. From Warmbad the German commander Von Heydebreck moved north in order to join the war against the Ovaherero.
He disarmed the Kai||khaun under Manasse !Noreseb who showed interest in joining the Ovaherero in their resistance war against the Germans. The German colonial forces established a strong military station at Hoachanas.
After the outbreak of the Nama-German War in October 1904 the Kai||khaun joined Hendrik Witbooi. The Bondelswarts, the Veldschoendragers, the Fransman Nama, the Bethanie Nama and the Red Nation united behind Hendrik Witbooi in their resistance struggle against the Germans.
Manasse !Noreseb Gamab followed Samuel Maharero's call: "Let us die fighting."
Manasse was always committed to Namibian self-determination and peace. He was further influenced by Jakob Marengo who from Namibia's fortified settlement ||Khauxa!nas in the Great Karas mountains, launched the first attack against the Germans in Namaland in August 1904. In October 1904 the whole of Namaland, except some sections of the Bethanie, Berseba and Keetmanshoop areas, was at war with Germany. At the height of the war 2 000 poorly equipped Namibian freedom fighters fought against approximately 15 000 German soldiers, equipped with the most advanced weaponry of the time.

Manasse !Noreseb Gamab dies
On 1 December 1905 Manasse !Noreseb Gamab of the Red Nation died in action against the German Schutztruppe in the Battle of Gubuoms in present-day Aminuis.
After the defeat of the Red Nation and the death of their captain, the traditional ethnic Red Nation structures were disbanded and all communal land confiscated by the German administration as punishment for the so-called "Rebellion by the Red Nation of Hoachanas."
In 1906 a German law was enac-ted providing for the expropriation of the land and cattle of so-called "dissident tribes" (Ovaherero, Swartbooi, Topnaar, Witbooi Nama, Red Nation of Hoachanas, Bethanie Nama, Fransman Nama, Veldschoendragers and Bondelswarts).
This meant that south of the Red Line only the Rehoboth Baster and the Berseba (|Hai-|khauan) community kept their land, while the Dama, whom the Germans considered as having no land rights, were given some land as a grant, but not as their property.

The Actual Period from 1922 to 1990 against the South African colonial rule
Hoachanas ceased to exist as an important Nama community centre. This was however not the end of the German-Namibian War and colo-nial oppression in Namibia.
Jakob Marengo, Johannes Christian and Abraham Morris of Warmbad; Cornelius Frederiks of Bethanie and Simon Kooper of Gochas continued the struggle. This struggle continued until 1990, and the Red Nation of Hoachanas was always involved.
At the end of the German era in 1915, the Hoachanas community was completely impoverished and dispossessed of all their land, cattle, sheep and goat.

UN Petitioners
After the Second World War, one of the leaders of the Hoachanas community, Reverend Markus Kooper was, together with Hosea Kutako and Samuel Hendrik Witbooi, one of the first Namibian leaders to petition the United Nations to grant independence to Namibia.
In 1959 the Reverend Markus Kooper rejected South African Apartheid plans to evict the Red Nation from Hoachanas.
On 03 December 1988 the new Kai||khaun Captain from Hoachanas, Petrus Simon Moses Kooper, was sworn in. He is still the leader of the Hoachanas community.
Only at Independence did the wheel of Namibia's 200 years of resistance history come full circle.
The community of the Red Nation of Hoachanas which has been dispersed and impoverished firstly by the Germans and later by the South Africans, has to be restored to their former glory.
This remembrance day of the death of Manasse !Noreseb Gamab 99 years ago should serve as a stepping stone to achieve this goal. Namibia should take note of the Red Nation's contribution to the independence of the country.