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Profiles of courage: !Nanseb on My Mind

2018-08-22  Staff Reporter

Profiles of courage: !Nanseb on My Mind

!Nanseb is the affectionate name for Hendrik Witbooi, that African revolutionary par excellence. This man lived the life of a selfless person, sworn only to the best interest of his people and he lived through the worst of times.

And he was in part molded by the conditions in which he lived and laboured. At an early age, Hendrik’s father, Moses, was shot and killed by a German trader. Hendrik trekked this one until he personally killed him.

The story goes that a Nama expedition ran into an Ovaherero ambush at present day Rehoboth, which was then still Ovaherero territoty known as Otjomevamomutumba. All the Nama fell. One from the Ovaherero warriors recognised Hendrik Witbooi and pleaded for his mercy. Hendrik Witbooi returned to Gibeon to break the sad news to the rage and consternation of the Witbooi Namas. Witbooi subsequently declared war on Ovaherero.

The German troops attacked Hornkranz, the traditional Nama settlement in the heart of Namaland and went on a wholesale killing spree of Nama children, woman and the disabled while the men fled into the hills, in the hope that the German soldiers would focus on them and spare the helpless women and children. This did not happen.

Hendrik Witbooi watched helplessly from the rock enclave, where his fighters had ushered him, as a German soldier executed in thieve dog style his own twelve year old paralysed son, who desperately coiled on the ground.

Subsequent to Hornkranz, the Germans were bent on subduing Hendrik Witbooi and his people and they would stop at nothing. They pursued the Witboois with the war machine, killings and kidnappings were the order of the day. Along the way, the Witboois were forced into “protection treaties” that primarily served to enhance the position of the invading Germans and in the end Witbooi fighters became foot soldiers in the German campaign against Ovaherero.

After the decisive battle of Ohamakari at which Ovaherero were finally defeated, Nineteen (19) Nama warriors who had served in the force that had aided the Germans against Ovaherero, broke ranks with the Germans, slipped through the rear guard and made a hasty voyage to Namaland. Upon their arrival in Gibeon, Hendrik Witbooi was out on a mission. They refused to engage anyone else and decided to wait. Upon his arrival, the fighters broke the sad news to Witbooi: they had no illusions that after the Herero defeat the Germans would come for the Namas and it was time to prepare for the not too distant eventuality. War broke out in Namaland. By the middle of 1905, a Nama fighting force of about 1500 had pinned down the German army, much to the embarrassment of General Lotha von Trotha. In June 1905, Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha, a nephew of General von Trotha, was killed in battle at Bethanie. Shortly thereafter General Lotha von Trotha’s wife died in Germany and the General was a broken man. In September of 1905, Lotha von Trotha wrote to the German Emperor with the request that he be relieved of his duties soonest.

By this time, the Nama warriors who had managed to elude the Germans to a virtual standoff were going through a number of challenges, central of which was the state of their welfare. The Nama fighters had managed to regroup and had taken refuge about fifty kilometres west of Gibeon, at a place called Tsoachaib. As suffering took its toll, debate ensued among the Witbooi fighters with large groups calling for negotiation with the Germans. Hendrik Witbooi, supported by the younger fighters and tapping onto the wisdom of the nineteen soldiers who had broken the ranks with the Germans after Ohamakari, stood firm and declined intimations to negotiate with the Germans.

After these somewhat teething problems, Hendrik Witbooi headed east towards the border with Botswana and had settled at a place presently called Aminuis. Even then, survival for the troops was an uphill battle and a near-revolt ensued among Witbooi’s forces. A group of his fighters broke ranks and headed back west with the intention to hand themselves over to the Germans, leaving Witbooi with a number of loyal soldiers. Witbooi and his men suspected that the other group would lead the Germans to where they were. They decided to ride back to Namaland, but along a stroke that would lead them to Keetmanshoop, much south of Gibeon, and waggle their way towards Gibeon from the south. When they reached the Vaalgras plains, Witbooi commanded his Comrades to ride on the southern flanks of the plains and he alone would ride on the northern flanks. Witbooi stood his horse on a small elevation to inspect the terrain when a German bullet hit him. Little did he suspect that a German expedition was camping among the thick bushes in the middle of the plains? These could have spotted him and cleared his identity through binoculars. Witbooi’s Comrades rushed across the plains at the sound of the gun and found that their leader was fatally wounded.

The Witbooi soldiers struggled with their leader for a while before they gave up hope. His last words were: “It is enough now, the children shall have peace”. They wrapped him in a blanket, placed a bible on his chest and lowered his body in an unmarked grave on the rocky plains of Vaalgras; this grave is yet to be discovered.

Witbooi died a warrior, his prophesy was vindicated. He had in a letter to Theodor Leutwein said that: “ I shall die honestly for that which is mine and for my people.” His blood continues to bless our struggle and his spirit continues to guide our quest for reparations from the German regime. In Vaalgras stands a monument at a place believed to be where Hendrik Witbooi was struck by a German bullet and another such monument was erected in Gibeon, in front of the Witbooi residence.

2018-08-22  Staff Reporter

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