The Caprivi Strip

The Caprivi Strip or Caprivi Zipfel, for those who don’t know of it, is a strip of land between Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It was named after German Count Caprivi, the German colonial minister between 1890 and 1894.

This little strip has been a fascination since I started work on my thesis in the previous century and discovered a reference to it having been loaned by Britain to Germany: a statement which appeared in Silvestre’s edited volume on Namibia. It was also one of the first victories of the First World War for the Rhodesian forces – Schuckmannsberg surrendered to Major A Essex Capell on 21 September 1914 after a two-hour negotiation. The German commanders responsible for the German town were Hans Kaufmann and Viktor von Frankenberg. In 2013, Schuckmannsberg, named after the Governor of SWA Bruno von Schuckmann in 1909, was renamed Luhonono.

The contentious nature of the strip continues. In researching material for a paper on the end of the First World War, I discovered that a petition was put to the UN in 2014 objecting to the treatment of the territory by Namibia. The petition argues that in essence this little piece of land is still under control of Her Majesty’s Government. It had its own agreement at Versailles separate to the South West Africa mandate which meant that when Namibia gained its independence in 1990, it was only the South West Africa mandate which was affected, not the Caprivi mandate.

What is remarkable too, in this petition is a note (p4) which reads:

The eight objective of this legal document is to demonstrate that Caprivi Strip is
inhabited by a people as defined under general international law and that all peoples inhabiting mandated and trust territories and colonies (i.e. sacred trusts of civilization) are entitled to be enabled by administering States to freely and without interference from any quarter, whatsoever, to exercise their inalienable and universal right to self-determination, failing which they have the right, including by means of armed struggle, to fight for independence as a last resort* as envisaged under inter alia UNGA resolutions 2105 (XX) of December 20 1965; 3070 (XXVIII) of November 30 1973; 3382 (XXX) of November 10 1975.

* This doctrine is based on the provisions of paragraph 3 of the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”

I had never realised that today it is acceptable/legal for a micro-nation (peoples) to take up arms and fight for their independence.

Writing this post on 11 November 2017 seems appropriate – the end of the war to end all wars and to give the rights of determination to small nations is something some are still struggling for, more than 100 years later.

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Matchbox full of diamonds

Matchboxes are wonderful things. You can build towers and other buildings with them and once the matches inside have been removed, they can be used for storing all sorts of things – tiny things. Someone’s even created a museum of matchboxes.

David Kramer, a South African musical social commentator has a song with the same title as this blog. In the song, he tells the story of men who leave the mines in South West Africa (now Namibia) with diamonds hidden in matchboxes. No doubt these diamonds are later sold in the illegal markets for additional income.

Diamonds in Namibia were discovered in the years preceeding the outbreak of World War 1 and as a result of what today could be regarded as insider trading, but then looking out for national interests, the MP Hull set in motion the formation of Anglo-American which was to obtain the rights to these mines soon after South African received the German colony as a C-type Mandate at the Treaty of Versailles. It was in the setting up of Anglo-American that Sir Ernest Oppenheimer was invited by Deputy Prime Minister Jan Smuts to be an observer at the Peace Talks.

At the outbreak of war, there were 1500 Coloured South African citizens working in German territory who had to be brought back to the Union. They had presumably been working either on the mines or on farms. The difficulty they faced was that the German bank notes they’d been paid with were not accepted by South African banks. This was because the banks weren’t sure whether they would recoup the money from Germany. The Government had to step in and help make decisions to ensure these men were fairly compensated.

And here’s a place you can go and get your own diamonds: Diamond Crater

Review: The First World War in Namibia 1914-1915 by Gordon McGregor & Mannfred Goldbeck

Many regard the East Africa campaign as the ‘forgotten’ campaign. Relatively speaking, it is no longer forgotten. And in any event there are other more forgotten, if that is possible, or rather ‘ignored’ or ‘invisible’ campaigns. Here, I think of Cameroon and Togo, the Senusi in Egypt and German South West Africa (today’s Namibia).

That South African forces captured GSWA in what is, mistakenly, believed to be the first Allied victory of the war completed in six months, is generally well known. So much so, that scholars do not think there is any reason to revisit the theatre as they do East Africa leading to my reference to it as the ‘Done’ campaign at the recent SCOLMA conference.

However, a few of us know differently and none more so than people who reside or have lived in Namibia. This is leading to more becoming known about this ‘little’ campaign which will hopefully inspire more detailed research to be undertaken.

After some struggles with South African post, I finally got a copy of Gordon McGregor and Mannfred Goldbeck’s The First World War in Namibia, 1914-1915 (published by Gondwana History in 2014).

This is a slim book, and as with James Stejskal’s Horns of the Beast has numerous photos from the Namibia Archive. Of particular note is the Battle Calendar of the campaign from mobilisation to the surrender of the German forces at Kilometre 500 and a chronology of the war as it affected Namibia. The bibliography, whilst using various known texts in South Africa lists some less well-known German and Namibian publications. Disappointing, however, is a reference to Wikipedia – various articles (not listed). Whilst it’s important to list all sources used, the inclusion of Wikipedia in the Bibliography confirmed that there is not much new in this overview of the First World War in Namibia.

The value of this little publication is that it takes a holistic approach to the campaign – this in my experience is unusual. It covers the SA Rebellion of 1914 (no account of the GSWA campaign can exclude that) but more significantly it covers the role of the Rehoboth at various stages, the Cameroon company and Vrei Korps (SA forces which fought on the German side). Logistics too are covered in terms of a chapter on animals and another on insignia/badges provides insight into how the territory operated once cut off from the motherland.

I’m sure this is a little book I’m going to be dipping into a fair bit as I continue investigating the chaos of SA going to war (unlike that of Adam Cruise’s Louis Botha’s War).

Details on how to obtain a copy are on the Great War in Africa Forum