1915 July 9 – From the end of the German colonial era in South West Africa to ‘special relations’ today

Memorial Khorab surrender German Schutztruppe 1915 First World War

• From the end of the German colonial era in South West Africa to ‘special relations’ today •

Germany’s era as a colonial power ended with its defeat in the First World War (1914 to 1918). The Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion under the British crown since 1910, entered the war alongside Great Britain. It agreed to occupy the colony of German South West Africa.

The South African army of around 60,000 men was opposed by around 5,000 German soldiers and reservists. On 19 September 1914, South African troops occupied the harbour town of Lüderitz, and on 25 December 1914 the British enclave of Walvis Bay, which had been briefly captured by the German Schutztruppe.

The South Africans advanced from both places on the coast and from the border in the south. The Germans retreated northwards, abandoning Windhoek in the process and finally surrendering at Otavi on 9 July 1915. The surrender was signed at Khorab about two kilometres north of Otavi – on the Swakopmund – Tsumeb railway line, at kilometre 500, i.e. 500 km from the coastal town (more on the South African campaign on Wikipedia).

In the Peace Treaty of Versailles of 28 June 1919, Germany renounced its colonies in accordance with Article 119. However, a possible self-determination of the colonised was not an issue. Instead, on 10 October 1920, the League of Nations, which had been established also by the Treaty of Versailles, granted the South African Union the so-called C mandate to administer South West Africa.

From then on, South Africa saw South West Africa as its fifth province. Even before South Africa was granted the mandate, its government implemented the ‘repatriation’ of 6,374 Germans to Germany. Around 6,700 Germans were allowed to stay (see Dierks 2003, p. 173).

Little changed for OvaHerero, Nama, Dama and other culture groups. Only after growing resistance in the 1950s and 1960s, the armed struggle of the liberation movement SWAPO and the end of the East-West conflict at the end of the 1980s did South West Africa become independent under the name Namibia in 1990.

Germany’s ‘special relations’ with Namibia

The Federal Republic of Germany, founded after the Second World War, saw itself as the legal successor to the German (Second) Empire. In 1989, the German Bundestag acknowledged their shared history during the colonial era. It stated that this resulted in ‘special relations’ with the future independent Namibia. In 2004, the parliament confirmed this. Germany remains committed to these special relations to this day, also in the form of development cooperation totalling more than one billion euros.

German Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul took part in the centenary commemoration of the colonial wars and the ‘Battle of Ohamakari / Waterberg’ in Okakarara in August 2004. In her speech, she acknowledged Germany’s moral guilt and asked for forgiveness. Shortly afterwards, she launched a ‘special initiative’ totalling 40 million euros to specifically benefit those areas in which the descendants of the Ovaherero and Nama affected at the time live.

In 2015, the governments of Germany and Namibia began negotiations to come to terms with the colonial era. In 2021, they reached an agreement, the so-called Joint Declaration.



Memorial Khorab surrender German Schutztruppe 1915 First World War

Memorial plaque near Khorab commemorating the surrender of the German Schutztruppe in July 1915 during the First World War (see Wikipedia). Photo (2017): Sven-Eric Stender


You can send us a comment without registering / logging in.

Please note that all comments have to be reviewed. This may take some time. If it does not meet our criteria or guidelines, it will not be published.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You might also be interested in the following post from Namibia’s Past…
Tag-based search of entire website:
Research more Background…

Namibia’s Past

International Context




Share via
Copy link