1903 October 25 – Bondelswart Nama start fight against Germans

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• Bondelswart Nama start fight against Germans •

The colonial wars in German South West Africa are always dated to the period from 1904 to 1908. However, there was a prelude that took place at the end of 1903 and began on 25 October 1903 – in Warmbad, 750 kilometres south of Windhoek near the border with South Africa.

The trigger was a ram that Kaptein Jan Abraham Christiaan of the Bondelswart Nama living there, took from OvaHerero passing through. Apparently unjustly, as Christiaan paid them 20 German Reichsmarks in compensation. The German district chief, Lieutenant Walter Jobst, had asked him to do so in writing after the injured parties had complained to him (for the account of the incident see Nuhn 2000, p. 36 f.).

This settled the dispute, which was actually none of the Germans’ business. Even according to the mutual protection treaty, it would have fallen under the applicable law of the Bondelswart Nama. But for Jobst, who had just arrived from Germany, the matter was still not over. He summoned Christiaan. He, in turn, informed Jobst that he was ill and sent his headmen to resolve the matter instead.

Jobst apparently found this disrespectful. So he did not even listen to the headmen, but had them arrested. He then rode to the Kaptein’s settlement with five policemen and police assistants. Two policemen dragged Christiaan out of his hut, who put up a fierce fight. Suddenly shots were fired, killing the Kaptein, Jobst and two policemen. The other policemen managed to escape. This incident took place on 25 October 1903.

A Bondelswart Nama later reported that Christiaan broke free. One of the policemen then drew a revolver and pulled the trigger. His followers then shot the officer, another policeman and Jobst. According to the official account of the Germans, however, Christiaan’s henchmen opened fire to prevent his arrest. In doing so, they hit their Kaptein and the three Germans.

Punitive military action instead of investigation

Years later, the German governor Theodor Leutwein explained in his memoirs that there was nothing wrong with Christiaan’s behaviour. Jobst, on the other hand, had violated the provisions of the protection contract with the Bondelswart Nama. Nevertheless, Leutwein did not have the incident investigated, but ordered a punitive military action.

Several battles followed. The Bondelswart Nama retreated into impassable terrain. Leutwein apparently wanted to demonstrate the military strength of the Germans – also with regard to the other cultural groups in the colony. He despatched troops from the centre of the country to the south and finally set off himself in December.

Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi sent a contingent of armed men to support the Germans, as provided for in the protection treaty. Witbooi is also concerned with his supremacy over other Nama groups.

In mid-January 1904, OvaHerero under Chief Samuel Maharero began their war against the German colonial power (see article “” []) . Leutwein quickly learned of this through the heliograph chain (stations on mountain heights that transmitted messages by light signal). To avoid having to fight on two fronts, he hastily made peace with the Bondelswart Nama and returned to Windhoek.

The outbreak of violence in Warmbad had similar causes to the start of the war in Okahandja. The Bondelswart Nama defended themselves against the derogatory treatment and their disenfranchisement by the Germans. Added to this was their economic situation. Three years of drought in the already dry region (less than 100 mm of rain per year) had forced them to reduce their herds of sheep and goats, and triggered a famine. Land had to be sold to pay off debts to merchants, who often charged usurious interest rates.



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