|Last photo of Hendrik Witbooi taken in 1904|
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN HENDRIK WITBOOI (Part 2)
By 1889 he had firmly established himself in a mountain stronghold called Hoornkrantz, west of Rehoboth. It was a fully fortified and strategically placed village with a well organized community, with its own church and central administration. From here he continued his ‘mission’ as the ‘king of Great Namaland’. He was known to his followers by the Nama name of Khaob INanseb/Gabemab (the little captain who disappears in the grass), a reference to his ability as a guerrilla fighter.
As his following grew, Witbooi conducted an unrelenting campaign against the Herero between 1890 and 1892 , during which time he drove off thousands of head of their cattle. Many people on both sides died in these raids and skirmishes.
As the German empire expanded its influence in the territory, Maherero signed a peace treaty with the Germans, but Witbooi consistently refused to place himself under German protection or authority. This began to incur the wrath of the Germans upon him.
Witbooi now began to change his mind concerning his wars with the Herero , whom he had come to see as traitors and ‘ sell-outs’ . By the end of 1892 he had successfully negotiated peace with the Herero. He had come to see their conflict as secondary to the threat posed by German imperialism, which he passionately and with penetrating insight analysed in letter after letter to fellow leaders at the time . Here is an extract from a letter he wrote to chief Maherero on the 30th May 1890 :
“I am writing to you today as supreme chief of Hereroland because I received a letter from Dr Göring… I learn from the letter that you have given yourself into German Protection and that Dr Göring has thus gained the power to tell you what to do…. I am amazed at you , and take it very ill of you who call yourself the leader of Hereroland. That you are indeed.
This dry land is known by two names only, Hereroland and Namaland. Hereroland belongs to the Herero nation , and it is an autonomous realm. And Namaland belongs to all the Red nations, and those too are autonomous realms- just as it is said of the White man’s countries… these countries across the sea are autonomous realms….
No other captain or leader has any right to force his will ; for every leader on this earth is merely a steward for our common great God , and is answerable to this great God alone , the King of kings, the Lord of lords, to Whom all who live under heaven must render obeisance, and from Whom alone all may seek help , counsel and consolation, power and protection in all the afflictions of this life, for He gives freely to all who seek Him in prayer…”
He then goes on to chastise Maherero for this thoughtless action and says:
“you will eternally regret that you have given your land and your rule into the hands of white men, for this war between us is not nearly as heavy a burden as you seem to have thought when you did this momentous thing.
He also lets Maherero know “… you know that this war… arose from your sovereign deeds… from the murderous hearts of your people… which cannot be changed by constant preaching of the gospel , so that you cannot spare a single ( of our) persons you find in the veld , but must plot to murder him without guilt or provocation. To kill in war is legitimate work, but even in this respect you go too far. Inhumanly your people hack others to death , slit the throats of living people…. You regard no person a human nature of God for whose sake God gave us this commandment: thou shalt not kill!”
He seems to disregard all this history between them when he pleads Maherero to forsake his alliance with the Germans.
He continues to write:
“I am aware that you and Dr Göring are of different nationalities…. and that you have formed this friendship solely in order to crush me. So did Herod and Pilate , in order to get rid of the Lord Jesus…”
“The white men’s laws are quite unbearable and intolerable to us red people…. This is why I take it hard of you, Chiefs of Great Namaqualand…. I see the Germans quite differently. They claim that they want to protect you against other mighty nations , but it seems that they themselves are the mighty nation seeking to occupy our country by force… I must tell you my dear Captain , that the Germans want me too to sign their Protection treaty. But I cannot accept that."
As the Germans were expanding their presence in central Namibia, Witbooi met with German representative Major Kurt von Francois to discuss the latter’s offer of German “protection”. Witbooi told him he did not understand how one could be both autonomous and protected at the same time.
He then referred to the ability of the “Red chiefs” (the Nama) to band together when danger threatened, and concluded:
“Come brothers, let us together oppose this danger which threatens to invade our Africa, for we are one in colour and custom and this Africa is ours. The fact that we possess a variety of chieftainships and, diverse territories does not imply any secondary division of Africa and does not sever our solidarity. The emperor of Germany has no business in Africa whatsoever.”
That view was held by Hendrik Witbooi. He saw himself as a sovereign King under no ones jurisdiction but God’s!
Would we disagree with such a desire today? I think that most Christians would agree with that. We would all resent heavy handed interference by other nations; we would resent a heavy handed interference of our churches even by our governments. We Baptists in our long history have generally stood firm on the policy of non interference by the state of the church, and vice versa, particularly when it came to freedom of worship. In fact the concept of the separation of church and state was formulated by the Anabaptists of the 16th century.
But, let us press on with Witbooi’s story …
The German government through Captain Curt von Francois tried for several years to convince Witbooi to accept an offer of protection from its emperor Kaiser Wilhelm – a so called ‘Schutzvertrag’ (Protection treaty) but as we saw, Hendrik Witbooi did not agree to forfeit his people’s freedom by signing the proposed treaty. In all this he shows a clear and remarkable understanding of international politics and colonial rhetoric.
Curt Von Francois eventually looses his patience and unexpectedly attacks Witbooi’s stronghold Hoornkrantz on April 12, 1893. In this battle 88 people, mainly women and children were killed and their homes were destroyed.This event led Witbooi into a protracted guerrilla struggle with the Germans.
Captain von Francois fell out of favour with his superiors and was replaced in 1894 by Major Theodor Leutwein . Leutwein convinces Witbooi to sign a ‘Schutzvertrag’ (Protection treaty) on September 15, 1894, after he had surrendered at the Naukluft.
Witbooi returns to Gibeon, which has become by now their ancestral land, and for about ten years peace is maintained with the Germans. Not only was peace maintained, but Witbooi collaborated with the German military by supplying troops for numerous campaigns against local warlords!
The peace however did not last, as the continued German occupation began to annoy many of the local people.
|Hendrik Witbooi and some of his horsemen .|
Note the white feather on their hats
Witbooi wrote to the British governor of the Cape Colony warning that “a great war” would soon erupt if the Germans continued to occupy their lands and settlements without permission. He wrote:
“We cannot tolerate that. We did not give our land away, and what has not been given by the owner, cannot be taken by another person...”
Again , Witbooi tries to argue that God was responsible for the breaking of the ten year truce that existed with the German colonial authorities. Months later Witbooi led the Namas in war against the Germans, but on October 28,1905, at the age of 75, he suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the thigh in a skirmish with German forces at Vaalgras near Tses (near Keetmanshoop). He died and was buried in an unmarked grave.
It is recorded that Witbooi’s last words were: “It is enough. The children should now have rest.” Witbooi, the father of seven sons and five daughters, felt that the wars had taken their toll on his people and it was time for them to live in peace. Some of his descendants remained in Namibia, others crossed the border into South Africa and settled in various parts of the Northern Cape.
EVALUATING HENDRIK WITBOOI AS A POLITICIAN AND A CHRISTIAN
1. As a politician :
Hendrik Witbooi was born into a decisive time in African history. It is the time which is described in a book by Thomas Pakenham with the suggestive title, ”The scramble for Africa“  . The year was approximately 1885. It was a time when some European nations, greedy for resources , were aggressively colonizing Africa and ultimately carving this continent into various portions without much thought concerning the will and the aspirations of the people of Africa, and without much regard concerning the demographics of any region. In Namibia the Kwanyama’s (An Ovambo tribe) were for instance divided by a border drawn through their heartland . Roughly half of this tribe now lives in Southern Angola , whilst the other half lives in Northern Namibia. The Lozi people had suffered an even worse fate . The Lozi kingdom was divided among 5 countries – Namibia , Botswana, Angola , Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The land which the Witboois occupied was at this time known as “Greater Namaqualand “, today’s Southern Namibia. This too would be a part of the German colonialisation attempts of what became known as “German South West Africa”, a matter to which Witbooi never agreed. In minutes of meetings kept of a discussion between Curt von Francois and Witbooi on 9th June 1892, Witbooi declared:“This part of Africa is the realm of the red chiefs…”
Hendrik Witbooi was without doubt one of the most interesting and fascinating chiefs in Namibian history.The Introduction to the Hendrik Witbooi papers  has this to say: 
“Hendrik Witbooi was one of the most powerful African leaders at the time when European imperialism began to carve up Africa into colonies. His realization that the conflicts between Africans were secondary to a threat of entirely new , immense proportions namely conquest and colonization by Germany which could only be staved off by African unity , makes him one of the wisest pre-colonial rulers in Africa. The fact that he himself committed these thoughts and convictions to paper in the form of a journal containing diary entries, minutes of meetings and copies of correspondence… makes his record quite unique for the whole of Africa….”
In his opinion, the Europeans had to be kept out of Africa by all means. For him it was one thing for Africans to fight one another. He regarded it almost as their natural right to do so , but it was a totally different story to hand African sovereignty over to a non-African power in order to gain an advantage over an African rival. The Germans, he thought would under the cover of the so called protection treaties in the end subjugate all Africans. His deep insight into the nature of colonialism, unrivalled at the time, made him see clearly the deep changes that the arrival of the Germans were to bring about.
In his letters to the German authorities, he always insisted on being on equal footing with the German emperor and with whom he was eventually forced to sign a protection treaty. By doing so he always emphasized the minor status of the governor who after all was only a representative, not of highest rank himself.
It was especially his role as leader against the German Empire during the Namibian War of 1904-1907 that made him a hero. He was frequently referred to as a role model during the Namibian liberation struggle against South Africa in the 1960 – 80’s.
For this reason his picture is found on Namibian dollar notes.
2. As a Christian:
a. Hendrik Witbooi was strongly moved by Christian convictions. The “Witbooi Papers” are filled with abundant references to God and His work and ways in the World. Interestingly the name of the Lord Jesus is mentioned only once in the Hendrik Witbooi Papers. At times his letter are almost sermonic (e.g. the letter to Hermanus van Wyk – 9th June 1889 , pp 34-35 ) .
b. He understood the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God very well .
- In conversation with Curt von Francois he says : “ God gave you (German) people the skill and knowledge to make firearms as part of his great design. He has appointed war to punish the sins and injustices of nations. The sin and injustice of a nation cannot be driven out with a whip; the Lord chastises one nation with another , and firearms are His rod.”
- During the peace negotiation with Captain Hermanus van Wyk of the Rehoboth Basters he says on the 6th August 1892: “We humans cannot make peace ; we can only pray earnestly that God who is the very foundation of peace may in His own time let it come to pass that one of the two combatants shall ask for peace from his own heart.”
c. He deeply respected his enemies. He wrote respectfully to them, even though his whole being might have militated against what they were doing. Here are some examples :
- In writing to Captain Manasseh !Noreseb , who had apparently at one time conducted a raid on Witbooi’s people , killing some women and abducting children , he introduces his letter in the following manner: “To my dear enemy , Captain Manaseh !Noreseb”. On the same day he also writes to Maherero and addresses him: “Dear Captain Maherero, my enemy!”
- A letter on 20th May 1890 addressed to the Hereros as “my dear Herero children”.
d. His care for his community is evident : His care for the community is seen in a letter to the ‘ chief of provisions’ , Mr Klaas Lebe (1 September 1890)  . In this letter he entreats him: “To you dear deputy, I entrust the place and its people, to act as their supervisor and their guard. Walk about the place; enter all the houses so that you may note all their circumstances, difficulties and needs. Have a real concern with all illnesses… Make it your business to give advice in all cases of illness , not forgetting sound medicines …bury the dead decently and in a spirit of unitedness. And you , our women and children! I commend you and your ills and needs to the mercy of our Lord , as your shepherd and refuge. Yield yourselves into the hands of the Lord, and bring your troubles to Him…pray for yourselves , pray for us , pray for the work we are doing. Do not expect to see us soon. There is hard work to be done. Let old Meritse treat the lepers as best he can.”
e. He repeatedly stated that it was God Himself who gave him his orders. We have seen that he frequently had claimed to be driven by divine revelations and imperatives. In his letters to the governor and to the missionaries, he explains his own mission in life in biblical terms. He was very strongly influenced by the Scriptures. It seems however , that in this regard he was not in a constant and accountable spiritual relationship with anyone. This may partially be explained by the fact that he moved around so much, so that he was not constantly counseled by wise and sound spiritual advisers. A number of missionaries for this very reason had strongly counseled him to settle down at Gibeon.
f. He was undoubtedly a very complex person, full of contradictions. On the one hand he was probably one of the African leaders most deeply influenced by Christianity, even serving as a church elder, yet on the other hand, he carried out constant wars and cattle raids against the Herero. He warned Maharero concerning the dangers of siding with the Germans, yet after his defeat by the German army in 1894, he supported the Germans with the use of his skilled warriors against the Hereros until the decisive battle at the Waterberg, where the Herero were finally defeated.
Under his leadership much blood was shed. He, like king David had blood on his hands. This has its own spiritual implications.
g. It was the Old Testament, not the New Testament whereby he could mostly relate to his own position. Witbooi and his followers perceived themselves to be on an exodus like Israel of old. For some missionaries his ideal of an exodus to the north in search of a land of their own (and which was motivated by a presumed divine calling) amounted to a form of ‘Schwarmgeisterei’ - a fanatic illusion (letter by missionary Hegner dated May 12, 1884).
And yet for others, Hendrik Witbooi assumed the role of a messianic prophet and leader (letter by Pastor Rust dated May 17, 1884).
In Witbooi’s mind Gibeon was but a temporary stop, when the sun stood still on their journey to a promised land , somewhere to the north of the land of the Herero.
The extent to which the ‘exodus terminology’ was used to legitimate aggression towards the Herero and to eventually resist the colonial presence is there for all to see.
Notwithstanding all the criticisms which might be leveled against him , there was a strange kind of integrity about him. A poignant tribute was formulated by Theodor Leutwein upon hearing of his death  :
‘The name of the little Captain will, however, remain engraved upon the history of South West Africa forever. His stubborn resistance against the mighty German empire at the head of a small warlike band, ragged and poor… I still see him before me… Modest yet self-possessed, loyal yet not without political cunning, never deviating from what he considered his duty or his right…’
Like every true leader we observe that his great strengths were also combined with great weaknesses . That is the price that leadership brings with itself. A leader’s life always finds itself scrutinized, criticized and magnified. This we undoubtedly see in the life of Captain Hendrik Witbooi.
It is a great pity that he was not able to be laid to his eternal rest in a more peaceful way, but that a bullet should eventually kill him.
I for one trust that he died in the Lord.
- Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa
- The Hendrik Witbooi Papers
- Internet articles by Klaus Dierks
- History of the Church in Namibia GL Buys and SVV Nambala
- Internet article : Hendrik Bosman (University of Stellenbosch) : Contextual readings of Exodus in Africa: Negotiating identity amidst contending narratives of origin and migration in Africa
 The Hendrik Witbooi Papers : Heywood & Maasdorp , p.50
 Joseph II Frederiks was the Captain of the !Aman from 1880 until 1893. His Nama name !Khoreb-||Naixab. He was the stepson and nephew of David Christian Frederiks who was killed in the Battle of Otjikango in 1880. He was the fourth in the recorded genealogy of the !Aman captains. Frederiks was connected to the selling of large tracts of land to the German merchant Adolf Lüderitz and his agent Heinrich Vogelsang (Angra Pequeña and surroundings: the "sale" was characterised by some fraudulent manoeuvres on the German side which exploited the seller's ignorance in terms of the English mile versus the German geographical mile). He also concluded a protection treaty with the Germans in October 1884 (with Gustav Nachtigal). Frederiks died on 20.10.1893 at Bethany. He was succeeded by Paul Frederiks (1893-1906). ( Source : Klaus Dierks)
The Hendrik Witbooi Papers : Heywood and Maasdorp : p.90
 Klaus Dierks : Internet article
 The book's central theme is the contrast between the humanitarian motives of David Livingstone, and the profit-taking of King Léopold, and how the different players dealt with the conflict. The book addresses underlying motives and economics, without losing sight of the individuals whose personalities and actions drove much of the Scramble. It has been reprinted a number of times since its first appearance in 1990.
 The Hendrik Witbooi Papers : p. 86
 Written by Brigitte Lau : The Hendrik Witbooi Papers
 The Hendrik Witbooi Papers : Heywood & Maasdorp , p. i
 The Hendrik Witbooi Papers
 The Hendrik Witbooi Papers: p86
 Hendrik Witbooi Papers p. 61
 Witbooi Papers: p. 224