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Home » Columns » Kalahari Holocaust (V)

Kalahari Holocaust (V)

Publishing Date : 05 December, 2017

JEFF RAMSAY
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA



We had previously noted that, General Lothar Von Trotha’s heavy handed offer to grant ‘mercy’ has convinced the Nama to fight on.

An English translation his 22nd of April 1905 Proclamation to the ‘Hottentots’ [Nama]:



"The mighty and powerful German Emperor will grant mercy to the Hottentot [Nama] people and will spare the lives of those who voluntarily surrender. Only those who at the beginning of the uprising murdered whites or who ordered others to do so will forfeit their lives in accordance with the law. I announce this to you and further say that those few who do not submit will suffer the same fate as the Hereros, who in their blindness believed that they could carry on successful war with the mighty German Emperor and the great German people.


I ask you where are all the Hereros today, where are their chiefs? Samuel Maharero, who once called thousands of head of cattle his own, is now harried like a wild beast and driven over the border into English territory. He has become as poor as the poorest field Herero and possesses nothing. It is the same with the other chiefs, the majority of whom have lost their lives, and the Herero people too have been annihilated - part of them dying of hunger and thirst on the desert, part killed by German soldiers, part murdered by the Owambos.


“The Hottentots will suffer the same fate if they do not surrender and give up their weapons. You should come with a white piece of cloth on a stick together with your whole village and nothing will happen to you. You will get work and receive food until the war ends at which time the Great German Kaiser will regulate anew the conditions in this territory. He who believes that mercy will not be extended to him should leave the land for as long as he lives on German soil he will be shot - this policy will go on until all such Hottentots have been killed.”


In May 1905, a series of renewed clashes between the Germans and Jakob Marengo’s commando spilled over into Bechuanaland. This pattern continued for the duration of the war with the both the Nama forces, more especially the commandos of Kooper and Morris as well as Marengo, and their German counterparts often in either flight or pursuit into Bechuanaland and the northern Cape. The Germans as well as Nama are also known to have quietly established bases inside supposedly British ruled territory.
 

In addition, by the end of 1905 over 2000 Nama, mostly women and children had sought refuge under Mmamosadinyana’s protection. But besides being a place of retreat and refuge the western Kgalagadi region, from Ghanzi in the north to Upington in the south, was also crucial to the Nama resistance as a source of munitions and other supplies.  In the process the war came to involve people, black and white, on both sides of the border, on both sides of the conflict.


The extent to which local Batswana were involved in smuggling arms and other contraband across the Kgalagadi deserves further study. For their part the Germans communicated to the British their own suspicions that Sekgoma Letsholathebe’s Batawana and Sebele’s Bakwena were giving aid and comfort to the Kaiser’s enemies. Scattered references also exist of the involvement of various Bechuanaland and northern Cape based whites on the side of the Nama.


One such individual was Edward Presgrave, whose death by a German bullet became a cause celebre in his home country of Australia. At the age of 18 Presgrave had arrived in Southern Africa to fight in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Thereafter, he seems to have made his living as a smuggler. By the beginning of 1905 he was reported to have been supplying Marengo’s forces with arms, ammunition, food and livestock.


He is further known to have actually ridden with Marengo’s commando in June-July of 1905, resulting in his active participation in at least three armed engagements against the Germans. The first encounter was at Leukop, which ended with many of the Nama retreating across the border, only to cross back a few days later. Reinforced by a second Nama commando under Kaptien Jan Hendricks, Marengo then attacked the Germans in clashes at Narus and around Khauxanas, inflicting severe casualties. Among the fallen was Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha, who was a nephew of Lothar.


Legend has it that at this point Presgrave joined Marengo, Witbooi and Kooper at the top of the German General’s most wanted list. Having returned to Bechuanaland, in September 1905, Presgrave was lured back into German South West Africa by two Boers on the pretext of buying some cattle. Once across the border the Boers attempted to capture him with the intent of turning him over to the Germans. But, in the ensuing struggle Presgrave was shot and wounded. The next morning a German patrol arrived to finish him off.
 

There is little doubt that the two Boers had already been working for the Germans. Berlin’s Consulate in Cape Town maintained an extensive network of agents on the British side of the border, more especially among Boers who were bitter at their community’s recent defeat by the British.

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