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Steadfast South Africa

( Originally Published 1918 )



WHEN Germany struck at the heart of France through Belgium simultaneous action was undertaken by the German Command in Southwest Africa through propaganda and mobilization of the available German troops. Insidiously and by the use of money systematic propaganda was instituted to corrupt the Boers against their allegiance to the Union of South Africa. One great character stood like a rock against all their efforts. It was the character of General Louis Botha, formerly arrayed in battle against the British during the Boer uprising.

With characteristic determination he formulated plans for the invasion of German South-west Africa without asking permission of the citizens of the South African Union or of the British Foreign Office. His vision comprehended an invasion that would have as its culmination a British-Boer colony where the German colony had been, and that from Cable Bay to the source of the Nile there would be one mighty union, with a great trunk railway feeding Egypt, the Soudan, Rhodesia, Uganda, and the Union of South Africa. An able lieutenant to Botha was General Smuts. He co-operated with his chief in a campaign of education. They pointed out the absolute necessity for deafness to the German tempters, and succeeded in obtaining full co-operation for the Botha plan of invasion from the British Imperial Government and the South African Union. Concerning this agreement General Botha said:

"To forget their loyalty to the empire in this hour of trial would be scandalous and shameful, and would blacken South Africa in the eyes of the whole world. Of this South Africans were incapable. They had endured some of the greatest sacrifices that could be demanded of a people, but they had always kept before them ideals, founded on Christianity, and never in their darkest days had they sought to gain their ends by treasonable means. The path of treason was an unknown path to Dutch and English alike.

"Their duty and their conscience alike bade them be faithful and true to the Imperial Government in all respects in this hour of darkness and trouble. That was the attitude of the Union Government; that was the attitude of the people of South Africa. The government had cabled to the Imperial Government at the outbreak of war, offering to undertake the defense of South Africa, thereby releasing the Imperial troops for service elsewhere. This was accepted, and the Union Defense Force was mobilized."

Preliminary to the invasion of German Southwest Africa, General Botha proclaimed martial law throughout the Union. The first act in consequence of this proclamation was the arrest of a number of conspirators who were planning sedition throughout the Union. The head of this conspiracy was Lieutenant-Colonel S. G. Maritz. General Beyers and General De Wet, both Boer officers of high standing, co-operated with Maritz in an abortive rebel-lion. The situation was most trying for the native Boers and, to their credit be it recorded, the great majority of them stood out strongly against the Germans. Vigorous action by Botha and Smuts smashed the rebellion in the fall of 1914. A force acting under General Botha in person attacked the troops under General Beyers at Rustemburg on October 27th, and on the next day General Beyers sought refuge in flight. A smaller force acting under General Kemp was also routed on November 5th.

General De Wet opened his campaign of rebellion on November 7th in an action at Wimburg, where he defeated a smaller force of Loyalists under General Cron j e. The decisive battle at Marquard occurred on November 12th, Botha commanding the Loyalist forces in person and De Wet the rebels. The victory of Botha in this fierce engagement was complete. De Wet was routed and was captured on December 1st with a rear-guard of fifty-two men. General Beyers was drowned on December 9th while attempting to escape from the Vail into the Transvaal. This virtually ended all opposition to General Botha. The invasion of German Southwest Africa began on January 5, 1915, and was one uninterrupted chapter of successes. Through jungle and swamp, swept by torrential rains and encountering obstacles that would have disheartened any but the stoutest heart, the little force of invasion swept forward. Most of the engagements by the enemy were in the nature of guerrilla and rear-guard actions. The backbone of the German command was broken and the remaining forces capitulated in July, 1915.

With the capitulation came the story of the German mismanagement in Southwest Africa, and particularly their horrible treatment of the Hereros and Hottentots in the country misgoverned by them. An official report fully authenticated was made and none of its essential details were refuted.

The report told the story of how the German authorities exterminated the native Hereros. When Germany annexed the country in 1890 they were believed to possess well over 150,000 head of cattle. After the rinderpest scourge of 1897 they still owned something like 90,000 head. By 1902, less than ten years after the arrival of the first German settlers, the Hereros had only 45,898 head of cattle, while the 1,051 German traders and farmers then in the country owned 44,487. The policy of robbing and killing the natives had by that time received the sanction of Berlin. By the end of 1905 the surviving Hereros had been reduced to pauperism and possessed nothing at all. In 1907 the Imperial German Government by ordinance prohibited the natives of Southwest Africa from possessing live stock.

The wholesale theft of the natives' cattle, their only wealth, with the direct connivance and approval of the Berlin Government, was one of the primary causes of the Herero rebellion of 1904. The revolt was suppressed with characteristic German ruthlessness. But the Germans were not content with a mere suppression of the rising; they had decided upon the practical extinction of the whole tribe. For this purpose Leutwein, who was apparently regarded as too lenient, was superseded by von Trotha, noted for his merciless severity. He had played a notorious part in the Chinese Boxer rebellion, and had just suppressed the Arab rising in German East Africa by the wholesale massacre of men, women, and children. As a preliminary von Trotha invited the Herero chiefs to come in and make peace, „as the war was now over,” and promptly shot them in cold blood. Then he issued his notorious "extermination order," in terms of which no Herero—man, woman, child, or babe —was to receive mercy or quarter. "Kill every one of them," he said, "and take no prisoners."

The hanging of natives was a common occurrence. A German officer had the right to order a native to be hanged. No trial or court was necessary. Many were hanged merely on suspicion.

The Hereros were far more humane in the field than the Germans. They were once a fine race. Now there is only a miserable remnant left.

This is amply proved by official German statistics. Out of between 80,000 and 90,000 souls, only about 15,000 starving and fugitive Hereros were alive at the end of 1905, when von Trotha relinquished his task. In 1911, after all rebellions had been suppressed and tranquillity restored, the government had a census taken. The figures, reproduced below, speak for themselves:

Hereros 80,000 15,130 64,870
Hottentots 20,000 9,781 10,219
Berg-Damaras 30,000 12,831 17,169
TOTAL 130,000 37,742 92,258

In other words, eighty per cent of the Herero people disappeared, and more than half of the Hottentot and Berg-Damara races shared the same fate. Dr. Paul Rohrbach's dictum, "It is applicable to a nation in the same way as to the individual that the right of existence is primarily justified in the degree that such existence is useful for progress and general development," comes forcibly to mind. These natives of Southwest Africa had been weighed in the German balance and had been found wanting.

Germany lost more than a million square miles of territory in Africa as a direct consequence of General Botha's bold action. These are divided in four great regions, South-west Africa, Kamerun, Togo and East Africa. Togoland as this region is popularly known extends from the north shore of the Gulf of Guinea into the interior and is bounded by French and British colonies. By a joint at-tack of French and British forces, beginning the second week in August, 1914, the German power in this rich domain was completely broken, and the conquest of Togoland was complete on August 26, 1914. The military operation was of a desultory nature, and the losses negligible in view of the area of 33,000 square miles of highly productive land passed from German control.

The fighting in the great region of Kamerun was somewhat more stubborn than that in Togoland. The villages of Bonaberi and Duala were particularly well defended. The British and French fought through swamps and jungle under the handicap of terrific heat, and always with victory at the end of the engagement. The conquest of the Kamerun was complete by the end of June, 1915. In addition to the operations by the British and French a combined Belgian and French force captured Molundu and Ngaundera in the German Congo.

The raids by General Botha on German Southwest Africa commenced on September 27, 1914. A series of ,brilliant strategic actions resulted in the conquest of a region once and a half the size of the German Empire at the time the Great War began. A British description of the operation states :

The occupation of Windhoek was effected by General Botha's North Damaraland forces working along the railway from Swakopmund. At the former place General Vanderventer joined up with General Botha's forces. The force from Swakopmund met with consider able opposition, first at Tretskopje, a small township in the great Namib Desert fifty miles to the northeast of Swakopmund, and secondly at Otjimbingwe, on the Swakop River, sixty miles northwest of Windhoek. Apart from these two determined stands, however, little other opposition was encountered, and Karibib was occupied on May 5th and Okahandja and Windhoek on May 12th. With the fall of the latter place, 3,000 Europeans and 12,000 natives became prisoners.

The wireless station—one of Germany's most valuable high-power stations, which was able to communicate with one relay only, with Berlin—was captured almost intact, and much rolling stock also fell into the hands of the Union forces.

The advance from the south along the Luderitzbucht Seeheim - Keetmanshoop Railway, approximately 500 miles in length, was made by two forces which joined hands at Keetmanshoop. The advance from Aus (captured on April 10th was made by General Smuts's forces. Colonel (afterward General) Vanderventer, moving up from the direction of Warmbad and Kalkfontein, around the flanks of Karas Mountain, pushed on after reaching Keetmanshoop in the direction of Gibeon. Bethany had previously been occupied during the advance to Seeheim. At Kabus, twenty miles to the north of Keetmanshoop, and at Gibeon pitched battles were fought between General Vanderventer's forces and the enemy. No other opposition of importance was encountered, and the operations were brought to a successful conclusion.

The stiffest fighting in all Africa came in German East Africa. It began in late September, 1914, and continued until mid-June, 1915. The Germans, curiously enough, commenced the offensive here with an attack upon Monbasa, the terminus of the Uganda railway and the capital of British East Africa. The attack was planned as a joint naval and military operation, the German cruiser Koenigs-burg being assigned to move into the harbor and bombard the town simultaneously with the assault by land. The plan went awry when the presence of British warships frightened off the Koenigsburg. The land attack was easily checked by a detachment of the King's African Rifles and native Arabian troops until the detachments of Indian Regulars arrived upon the scene. The enemy thereupon retreated to his original plans.

British reprisals came early in November, when the towns of Tanga and Gassin were at-tacked by British troops. The troops selected for this adventure numbered 6,000 and carried only food, water, guns and munitions. No protection of any kind nor any other equip-ment was taken by the soldiers. Reinforcements to the German forces delayed the capture of Gassin until January. A garrison of three hundred men was left there and this in turn was besieged by three thousand Germans. After a stubborn defense the Germans recaptured the town. A union of two British forces was accomplished early in June, 1915. One of these cut through German East Africa along the Kagera River and the other advanced on steamers from Kisumu. They met the enemy on June 22d and defeated it with heavy casualties., Later General Tighe, commanding the combined British forces, was congratulated on the completeness of his victory on June 28th, by General Kitchener.

The territory acquired by the British as a consequence of the invasion of Germany's African possessions, possesses formidable natural barriers, but once these are past the traveller finds lands of wonderful fertility and great natural resources. Approaching Ger-man Southwest Africa from the east, access is across the Kalahari Desert. This in its track-less desolation, its frequent sand-storms and torrid heat through which only the hardiest and best provisioned caravans may penetrate is worse than the worst that Sahara can show. There is not a sign of life. Approached from the sea the principal port is Walfish Bay, a fair harbor that was improved by the British when they occupied it. Near Walfish some of the largest diamonds in the history of the,world have been found and gold fields of considerable richness have been worked. The climate of German Southwest Africa, after the torrential storms of the seacoast and the terrific heat of the desert have been passed, is one of the most salubrious in the world. It is unique among African regions in the opportunities it affords for colonization by white men. Great Britain possessed large holdings of this land before Germany came into possession, but abandoned them under the belief that the region was comparatively worthless. There was no misapprehension on this score when all of the lands came into the possession of England as the result of the war.



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