German South-West Africa: Wikis


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German South West Africa
German colony
1884 — 1915
Flag Coat of arms
German South-West Africa ca. 1890
(North-eastern border in flux)
Capital Windhoek (from 1891)
Political structure Colony
 - 1898-1905 Theodor von Leutwein
 - 1905-1907 Friedrich von Lindequist
 - 1907-1910 Bruno von Schuckmann
 - 1910-1915 Theodor Seitz
Historical era The Scramble for Africa
 - Established 7 August 1884
 - Genocide 1904-1907
 - Disestablished 9 July 1915
 - Treaty of Versailles 1919
Area 835,100 km2 (322,434 sq mi)
Currency German South West African mark

German South West Africa (German: Deutsch-Südwestafrika, DSWA) was a colony of Germany from 1884 until 1915, when it was taken over by South Africa (as part of the British Empire) and administered as South West Africa, finally becoming Namibia in 1990. With an area of 835,100 km², it was easily one and a half times the size of the mainland German Empire in Europe (without its colonies) at the time.


Early settlements

Initial European contact with the areas which would become German South-West Africa came from traders and sailors, starting in January 1486 when Diogo Cão, possibly accompanied by Martin Behaim, landed in what would become Namibia. However, for several centuries, European settlement would remain small and temporary. In February 1805 the London Missionary Society established a small mission in Blydeverwacht. The efforts of this group met with little success. In 1840 the London Missionary Society transferred all of its activities to the Rhenish Missionary Society. Some of the first representatives of this organization were Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt who arrived in October 1842 and Carl Hugo Hahn, arrived in December 1842. They began founding churches throughout what would become Namibia. The Rhenish missionaries had a significant impact initially on culture and dress, and then later on politics. During the same time that the Rhenish missionaries were active, merchants and farmers were establishing outposts.

Early history

On 16 November 1882 a merchant from Bremen,Germany, Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz, requested protection for a station that he planned to build in South-West Africa, from Chancellor Bismarck. Once this was granted, his employee Heinrich Vogelsang purchased land from a native chief and established a city at Angra Pequena which was renamed Lüderitz. On 24 April 1884, he placed the area under the protection of Imperial Germany to deter British encroachment. In early 1884, the Kaiserliche Marine ship Nautilus visited to review the situation. A favourable report from the government, and acquiescence from the British, resulted in a visit from the Leipzig and Elisabeth. The German flag was finally raised in South West Africa on 7 August 1884. The German claims on this land were confirmed during the Conference of Berlin. In October, the newly-appointed Commissioner for West Africa, Gustav Nachtigal, arrived on the Möwe.[1]

In April 1885, the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft für Südwest-Afrika (German Colonial Society for Southwest Africa) was founded with the support of German bankers (Gerson von Bleichröder, Adolph von Hansemann), industrialists (Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck) and politicians (Frankfurt mayor Johannes von Miquel).[2] The new Society soon bought the assets of Lüderitz's failing enterprises.[2]

Lüderitz subsequently drowned in 1886 while on an expedition to the Orange River. The company bought all of Lüderitz land and mining rights, following Bismark's policy that private rather than public money should be used to develop the colonies. In May, Heinrich Ernst Göring was appointed Commissioner and established his administration at Otjimbingwe. Then, on April 17, 1886 a law creating the legal system of the colony is passed, creating a dual system with laws for Europeans and different laws for natives.[3]

Four German soldiers in a Camel-Schutztruppe patrol, in 1906.

Over the next several years relations between the Germans and natives continue to worsen. Additionally, the British settlement at Walvis Bay as well as numerous small farmers and missionaries are all involved in the area. A complex web of treaties, agreements and vendettas increase the unrest in the area. In 1888 the first group of Schutztruppen — protection troops — arrived to protect the base at Otjimbingwe. The Schutztruppen detachment consisted of two officers, five non-commissioned officers, and 20 black soldiers.

By the end of the year, the German commissioner, Göring, is forced to flee to Walvis Bay after negotiations fail with a local tribe. Also, in the 1890s, the South West Africa company is nearly bankrupt and had to ask Bismark for help and additional troops. By 1890 the colony was declared a Crown Colony and additional Schutztruppen were sent to the area.[4] Also in 1890, the colony grew through the acquisition of the Caprivi Strip in the northeast, which promised new trade routes. This territory was acquired through the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty between Britain and Germany.[5]

German South-West Africa was the only German colony where Germans settled in large numbers. German settlers were drawn to the colony by economic possibilities in diamond and copper mining, and especially farming. In 1902, the colony had 200,000 inhabitants, though only 2,595 were German, 1,354 were Afrikaner, and 452 were British. By 1914, 9,000 more German settlers had arrived. There were probably around 80,000 Herero, 60,000 Ovambo, and 10,000 Nama, who were disparagingly referred to as Hottentots.

Rebellion against German rule

The "Christuskirche" and the "Südwest Reiter" in Windhoek
"Deutsch-Südwest" devotionalia in a shop window in Swakopmund

Through 1893 and 1894, the first "Hottentot Uprising" of the Nama and their legendary leader Hendrik Witbooi occurred. The following years saw many further local uprisings against German rule, the largest of which was the Herero Wars (or Herero Genocide) of 1904.

Remote farms were attacked, and approximately 150 German settlers were killed. The Schutztruppe of only 766 troops and native auxiliary forces was, at first, no match for the Herero. The Herero went on the offensive, sometimes surrounding Okahandja and Windhoek, and destroying the railway bridge to Osona. Additional 14,000 troops, hastened from Germany under Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, crushed the rebellion in the Battle of Waterberg.

Earlier von Trotha issued an ultimatum to the Herero people, denying them the right of being German subjects and ordering them to leave the country, or be killed. In order to escape, the Herero retreated into the waterless Omaheke region, a western arm of the Kalahari Desert, where many of them died of thirst. The German forces guarded every water source and were given orders to shoot any Herero, or adult male Herero they saw. Only a few Herero managed to escape into neighbouring British territories.[6]

Nama POWs in 1904.

The German official military report on the campaign lauded the tactics:

This bold enterprise shows up in the most brilliant light the ruthless energy of the German command in poursuing their beaten enemy. No pains, no sacrifices were spared in eliminating the last remnants of enemy resistance. Like a wounded beast the enemy was tracked down from one water-hole to the next, until finally he became the victim of his own environment. The arid Omaheke [desert] was to complete what the German army had begun: the extermination of the Herero nation.

—Bley, 1971: 162

In the fall of 1904, the Nama entered the struggles against the colonial power under their leaders Hendrik Witbooi and Jakobus Morenga, the latter often referred to as "the black Napoleon". This uprising was finally quashed during 1907 – 1908 In total, between 25,000 and 100,000 Herero, more than 10,000 Nama and 1,749 Germans died in the conflict.

World War I

During World War I, South African troops opened hostilities with an assault on the Ramansdrift police station on 13 September 1914. German settlers were transported to prison camps near Pretoria and later in Pietermaritzburg. Because of the overwhelming superiority of the South African troops, the German Schutztruppe, along with groups of Afrikaner volunteers fighting in the Maritz Rebellion on the German side, offered opposition only as a delaying tactic. On 9 July 1915, Victor Franke, the last commander of the Schutztruppe, capitulated near Khorab.

After the war, the area came under the control of Britain, and then was made a South African League of Nations mandate. In 1990, the former colony became independent as Namibia, governed by the former liberation movement SWAPO. A multitude of German names, buildings, and businesses still exist in the country, and about 30,000 descendants of the German settlers still live there.


Philatelic history started on 7 July 1888 at Otjimbingwe, when the regular postal service began using German postage stamps and postmarks reading OTYIMBINGUE. The service continued in this fashion for a number of years, eventually expanding to additional post offices. The first issue for the colony consisted of overprints applied to German stamps in May 1897, reading "Deutsch- / Südwest Afrika" at an angle. On 15 November 1898, the overprint was changed to "Deutsch- / Südwestafrika" dropping the hyphen.

In 1900, the omnibus Yacht issue included stamps for South West Africa, printed on watermarked paper after 1906. The last of these was a 3 Mark value, printed in 1919, but was never put on sale in the colony. Some values, such as the 3 and 5 Pfennig Yachts, are readily available today, with prices of around US$1. The others range up to several hundred dollars. The high values of the watermarked Yachts saw very little usage before the colony was captured, and genuinely used stamps are up to 10 times more valuable; but many of the used stamps are known to have forged cancellations.

See also



External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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Simple English

German South West Africa (German: Deutsch-Südwestafrika, DSWA) was a German colony in Africa from 1884 through 1915. It is now Namibia. From 1891, the capital was Windhoek, the same city as the capital of today's Namibia. It covered an area of 835,100 km2 (322,434 sq mi). This is over one and half times the size of German Empire at the time.


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