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Comment on Namibia: Part 1 German South West Africa

Please comment on the Namibia: German South West Africa display. Thank you.

I have received some generally negative comments, either directly or by email. This display was not what some were expecting. "I would not have done it like that", was all one said. I think he was saying that he would have concentrated exclusively on postal matters. As this is a philatelic website there is a lot to be said for that. Collectors have every right to disagree about my approach of putting history centre stage in philately. They can do so here! I believe in freedom of speech and the right of people to be heard even in you disagree with them.

The criticism of me that was intended as the most damning was the  accusation that I am 'woke'. There is also something to be said for this inherently conservative accusation. As I understand it, the meaning and or implementaton of being 'woke'when used as a pejorative is among other things to largely use gender and  race as the beginning and end of all arguments about human rights and social justice. Unlike the truly woke I disagree with the direction gender politics has taken. That being the case, I suggest that only a part of the 'woke' label can be applied to me.

I confess that it is not easy for me to write about South African history without introducing the subject of race, human rights and social justice. As far as I am concerned, South African philately is history on a postage stamp, postcard or cover. The same issues of race, human rights and social justice apply. When it comes to writing about philately I can only tell it as I have experienced South Africa and its history as an ugly, uncomfortable truth. It's like walking into a brick wall. It cannot be denied and it won't go away just yet.

As someone conceived in 1948 when the Nationalists came to power and who grew up under Apartheid in the 1950s and 60s I still carry on my back the excruciating memories of my childhood experiences like seven sacks of salt. As a cure for this itching weight, I believe I have a moral obligation to take a stand and be active, to challenge social injustices and racism where I find it. This journey began in 1976 when  some people in South Africa didn't like what I said and the way I said it. According to my critics now, my failure is to unduly attempt to 'politicise' philately and postal history. This hallowed ground, I am told, is not the place for political comment. They would have me - and you - concentrate purely to stamps, rates, perfins, paper, printing, gum, varieties and First Day Covers! I disagree!!

The history of South African stamp design from 1926 on is one long unbroken litany of propagandist racism, sexism and bigotry up until 1994. And then there was the institution itself. The Post Office is or was an am of government. One of my earliest memories of Apartheid (and racism) was as a boy standing in a segregated queue in the original Pinelands Post Office at Central Square and being served ahead of a Black man who was told in no uncertain terms that he had to wait despite being there before me. And for those in liberal Cape Town who forget, there was segregated Counter 3 in the GPO. To use it, Black people had to enter via the back door on the Parade side so as to not cross the floor of that black-marbled Art Deco masterpiece, one hung with colourful Cape scenes from our slave past.

Sorry, but I will persist in this vein despite being uncomfortable about the constant use of Black/White references. I do not want to create division among the races now that Whites are powerless and dependant on Black tolerance and goodwill. However, I cannot forget what happened in the country of my birth and elsewhere in southern Africa. (It would be nice to forget!) My history is personal and I will explain it how I remember it and knowing that I will imagine it how it was before I was born. However our country developed from ad hoc segregation to the birth of formalised Apartheid in 1948 and the issue of SACC 183 in 1960, the majority never won freedom by a walk in a rose garden.

 I have new material which I will post here shortly as well as incorporate into an updated the GSWA Part 1 display.


1]. SACC 183. 31st May 1960.  Prime Ministers of White South Africa. Prime Minister General Louis Botha, left, and Jan Smuts, alongside, the two victors in GSWA. This stamp was not overprinted and used in SWA.

2]. Pinelands Post Office in the late 1950s, as I remember it. The entrance is on the left of the 'stoep'. Pinelands was South Africa's first 'Garden City'. It was not built on the English pattern with houses for workers and factories, etc., laid out together, rather it was a Whites Only dormitory suburb for largely middle-class, middle management employees working in Cape Town or at the Old Mutual, Pinelands. Jan Smuts laid the Pinelands foundation stone in 1923 on the edge of Central Square not more than 30 metres from the left-hand side of the PO. Much of the early architecture of Pinelands was in an arts-and-crafts and or Art Deco style. The PO is Cape Dutch style.

Uploaded files:
  • SWA-Louis-Botha-Hi-Res-600.jpg
  • Pinelands-PO-Central-Sq-1950s.jpg

Here are some postcards showing the Herero resistance leaders, German troops and police. These are included in an updated display coming out soon. The second and third images show the Nama leaders and his men presumably wearing the colours of the German flag as armbands. This is because as a condition of the first Nama - German peace treaty of 1894, (was there a second one?), the Nama signed up to provide commando service to the Germans.


1]. Circa 1903. Postcard. ‘GSWA Feste Windhoek (Fortress Windhoek). An image presumably based on an old historic photo of about 1892. Some 100 men with two guns, perhaps a large part of the second GSWA garrison, parade outside the fort built by von Francois between1890 - 1891. The capped soldiers are likely wearing the early uniform of 1889. Slouch hats that were issued in 1897 and worn during the Herero and Nama War of Resistance (1904 - 1905) up to 1915 are not seen here.The ‘Alte Feste’ (Old Fortress) was possibly so-named by von Francois because it stood on the ruins of old Windhoek founded by Jonker Afrikaner, fourth Captain of the Oorlam, in about 1840.

2]. Circa 1903. Postcard. ‘GSWA. Farmer and Hottentots’. Unused. A well-known image, the German 'farmer' is Lieutenant Weiss. He is seen with the Nama Captains Simon Kooper (of the Fransman Nama, striped jacket,) and Hendrik Witbooi (of the Witbooi Nama with rifle,) and staff. Witbooi died in battle on 29th October 1905 at Vaalgras, near Koichas. Kooper was captured in 1907 and imprisoned on Shark Island at Ludertiz. He escaped and joined Jakob Morenga in the Karas Mountains. Kooper continued the fight until 1908. Many attempts were made to catch him. Eventually the Germans and the British gave him a pension to stop him fighting. The armbands these men wearing are probably based on the red, white and black of the German Imperial flag of the time (1871–1918). This suggest that this photo was taken after the Nama - German peace treaty of 1894, a provision of which was that the Nama would act as a commando for the German army. This they did. Needs must ....

3]. Circa 1904. Postcard.'GSWA. Hottentot Captain Hendrik Witbooi and his Staff'. Posted in OKAHANDJA '15/10 04' to Nieder Schonewelde, Germany '13 11 04'. No stamp. 'Feld' written in manuscript before printed 'Postkarte' on reverse. The armbands suggest that this photo was taken after the Nama - German peace treaty of 1894. It is possible that the photo has been hurriedly printed as a postcard to meet the needs of thousands of newly arriving German troops. 

4]. Circa 1904. Postcard. 'GSWA. Otjimbigue'. Unused. This was the site of the first German colonial administration and post office in SWA.

5]. Circa 1904. Postcard. 'Police Station, Keetmanshoop. GSWA'. Posted in KUIS '21 9 05' to GERMANY.

Uploaded files:
  • Alte-Feset-Windhuk.jpg
  • Witbooi-Group-Armbands.jpg
  • GSWA-Okahandja-NEW-PC.jpg
  • GSWA-Otjimbigue-NEW-PC.jpg
  • Police-Station-Keetmanshoop.jpg

Here are three more images. These are included in an updated display coming out soon. 

1]. Circa 1904. Postcard. 'View of Namaland Auspann, GSWA'. Posted in Berlin with 3 x 2pfg DEUTSCHES REICH Germania stamps on '12 9 04'. Printed in Hamburg. The image is much the same as the one showing Hendrik Witbooi and his family in my display. Indeed, I have every reason to believe that this postcard, while not saying as much is an attempt to portray Hendril Witbooi and his Nama family. They are shown as sullen, hard-done-by and angry, almost savage despite being dressed in European clothes,.

2]. This is the photo referred to above on which the postcard is based in part. They look less savage here, more stoic but no less tragic. The photo of Henrik Witbooi and his daughters has been reversed in the postcard.

3]. Circa 1910. Postcard. Posted in WALDAU '2 12 10' to BAYERN, Germany. As the war in over, this is not Feldpostkart.

For English-speaking South African  boys of my generation our German was limited to glorious comic book phrases, like "Hande hoch, Fritz (for you the war is over)", “Gott in himmel”, “donner undt bltzen", “Verboten", "Schnell, schnell", "Achtung Spitfeuer" and "Deutschland ist kaput!" usually followed by a pathetic German response of "Tommy, mein kamerad, kamerad". On the continent, however, among the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" their comic book German was restricted to occupation's  single, simple demand for "Papieren bitte". It's unfair, I know, but it does describe two very different experiences of the Germans during WW2.

This postcard reminded me of the SA Police demanding "Ja, wat doen julle hier?" or "Waar's jou dompas?". The postcard suggest three German soldiers or policemen, possibly accompanied by an armed Black man, have stopped a cart in a dried-up river bed and are interrogating two, maybe three men who are using magnificent longhorn cattle to pull what looks a bit like a semi-loaded Cape cart. The horse of the central policeman appears to be knackered. By comparison the armed Black man stands next to a fine-looking horse. The central Black man appears to be wearing a slouch hat. A fourth European presumably took the photo. An interesting moment in time.

Uploaded files:
  • View-of-Namaland-Witbooi.jpg
  • GSWA-Hendrik-Witbooi-Family.jpg
  • GSWA-Paperien-bitte.jpg

I've had a couple of emailed replies about this display. Most are critical in one way or another.

1]. Too much text.
My partner in philatelic crime, Jamie Smith, says "I haven’t read it yet but its the finest visual SWA I have ever seen!" Thanks. Tony-Howgrave-Graham, a contributor to the display, says, "Enjoyed your SWA part 1- only had time for a quick read, I'll revisit it when I can go through it in a more leisurely fashion". I think the underlying criticism from both is that there's too much to read.

Jamie is of the old school and doesn't believe that a postal history display should have too much text. Tony is usually succinct in his displays. Limiting text is a rule for societal competitions and it remains true with Open Class displayswhich I prefer. Nevertheless, I am trying to show why the genocide in GSWA occurred and felt and still feel that it can't be done without some textual explanation. I was not there in a club meeting to talk the members through it while adding anecdotes. Indeed, as I was 'writing-up' this display I felt there was too much text but.... I elected to place this display in a Class of my own - Text-based Postal History Displays.

2]. Politics and historical accuracy.
"The main thrust reminded me of Rhodes scholars objecting to the Rhodes statue! - I think one has to see it in the context of the times - the various native communities occupying the space didn't have much compunction about killing each other and many didn't really "own" the land - they just wanted to continue their lives as they knew them - the change in German leadership during the Herero campaign was certainly catastrophic and genocide probably isn't too strong a word."

This requires more of a response. First, the Germans have been accused of 'genocide' by historians since the 1980s and even earlier by Marxists whose opinions were quickly dismissed, as well as by the Herereo and Nama. In 2021, the German government acknowledged that the Kaiser's government had committed genocide in GSWA. So, "genocide" is nothing that I have made up. As a boy I was shown the controversial Blue Book which made a profound impression on me. (No wonder SWA Legislative Assembly banned it!) I am impressed that Germany now has the courage to admit that genocide had taken place on its watch in GSWA between 1904 - 1905. But what good will come of it? The Nama and Herero have lost lives and their lands. Their bare-footed children  choke in the dust raised by the speeding Mercedes Benzes of the current land-owners. Where is the justice?

Regarding Rhodes, I loathe the man and resent the suggestion that I have directly benefitted from his largesse the way Rhodes scholars of all races and religions, not just Europeans, have done. However, being a White South African of a certain age, I accept that I have benefitted from being born privileged in the Cape but that came at a price. I am no longer living in the land of my birth, the consequence of my not being prepared to defend and sustain the inequalities of South African society which Rhodes had a soft, fat hand in. Starting with the Kimberley diamond mine compounds, Rhodes, the son of a vicar, introduced large scale, industrial segregation in South Africa that was ultimately a cornerstone of Grand Apartheid. So, yes, in that sense you can argue that I am like a Rhodes scholar objecting to myself in the round. Nevertheless, despite my dislike of the man and his works (and Apartheid), I am uncomfortable with the comparison. I am very happy for Rhodes Memorial to remain as it is for posterity - with his nose cut off.

With regards to the 'natives' not 'really' owning the land, this is the traditional argument that incoming colonists everywhere used against illiterate native peoples. Historically, the majority of African people were illiterate migratory cattle-herders with no written laws. Submitting to a clan chief owing allegiance to a tribal chieftain and living in mud and thatched huts, their temporary occupation of the land was not viewed as properly 'settled' by the European standards of grand stone buildings, civic authorities, deeds and title. Illiteracy meant that the indigenous people could not show title deeds to the land they occupied when they came into conflict with European settler authorities. "Where's your paper work?" the Europeans would ask. The 'stupid native' could only look blankly back. When diamonds were discovered in Griqualand, a tribal sanctuary Britain had created and was honour bound to protect, it was quickly decided in a British court that the Griqua captain 'really' only ruled over a nomadic people, not over a defined territory. So, bye bye Griqua land and the diamonds it contained, hello Cecil John Rhodes and capitalism. This was a standard colonial legal trick conveniently invoked to remove indigenous people from the desirable lands that they occupied.

3]. Killing each other
Finally, the native people did not "have much compunction about killing each other". This is so condescending and hypocritical. It suggests that ultimately European colonisation had benefits. We only have to look at the history of Europe to see that it too is written in blood, especially in our most recent, enlightened 20th Century. We have no qualms about waging war to defend or acquire land. Just look at the war between Russia and the Ukrainse today. Yes, its true, the Herero and Nama were at each others throats and fought a ding-dong back-and-forth blood feud battle throughout much of the 19th Century over cattle grazing land. But, ultimately, the missionaries secured a ten year peace between them and once the Germans arrived the two tribes began to realise the need to stop fighting each other and fight the Germans instead. Unfortunately, this realisation came too late. The Germans came in offering to protect the Herero from the Nama but instead of saving them from each other, Pax Germanica found excuses to kill them for what were, I think, particularly mercenary and venal reasons, the theft of their land for occupation by European colonists.

Jacob Morenga
In my display, I ommitted to mention Jacob Morenga, the "Black Napoleon", 1875 – 1907. This was because I have no stamps or postal history items relevant to him. As it would have meant adding more text I decided not to mention him. For the record, Morenga was a 'Namibian' born to a Herero mother and Nama father. As such, his broad vision of African nationalism transcended narrow ethnic loyalties. This has made him one of modern-day Namibia's national heroes.

Educated by Christian missionaries, he worked as a mineworker in South Africa, possibly in the northern Cape, probably with the aim of purchasing firearms. Before the Herero and Nama War of 1904 - 1907 Morenga was involved in early anti-German resistance. During the war he attempted to unite Herero and Nama together. He led his motley guerilla force against the Germans in over 50 battles and skirmishes. After crossing the border into the Cape he was captured by the Cape Police but was released on condition that he would never return to GSWA. But return he did, organising the local resistance and continuing the fight against the Germans.

After the 'Battle' of Rooysvlei in 1906, Morenga fled from GSWA to the Cape Colony. Facing arrest, he retreated into the Kalahari desert from where he planned to attack the Germans. However, the Germans and the Cape Police cooperated with each other to track Morenga down.  A combined German-Cape force shot and killed Morenga on 20th September 1907 in a fight on the farm Eenzaamheid in the Northern Cape. My prejudice against British Imperialism tells me he was killed at the Eenzaamheid in the Cape, not the one in SWA. In 1907, British capital was investing heavily in GSWA to take advantage of mining opportunties there. (German capital was more cautious following the recent war.) Morenga's ongoing insurrection ended when he was killed. Capital, not the Germans, had won the day!

Here is an image that was among the first to be inserted into a revised GSWA Part 1 display.  I will add more later.


1]. German South West Africa Native Passes
As I have none of these I include the cover of 'The Native Pass Tokens of GSWA', a book by Gordon MacGregor (Namibia Scientific Society/Kuiseb Publishers). In euphemistically calling these pass control licences 'Native Pass tokens', the author and publisher are in some danger of appearing insensitive to and unapologetic for the crimes of the German colony. I object to the title's use of the word 'token' which is generally meant to be "a voucher that can be exchanged for goods or services". These licences were not exchanged for anything. They simply allowed the 'Native' bearer to trave to work in a specific area, just as a dog is allowed to exist in the street. 'Dog tag' is a better description for these licences that were presumably worn around the neck or wrist.

Uploaded files:
  • GSWA-Book-of-Native-Passes-Dogtags.jpg