Sunday, May 10, 2015

Disputed Victories

CELEBRATING DELIVERANCE. Rehobothers celebrating victory at Sam Khubis with traditional 'lang-arm' dance.  But should Namibia's president be welcome?

YESTERDAY'S commemorations of VE Day - victory seventy years ago - were overshadowed in Moscow by concern that the huge display of hardware might not be the way to de-escalate conflict over the Ukraine; and in London by realisation that the Tories may interpret their election victory as mandate to proceed with wrecking every social advance since 1945, from the National Health Service to the European Court of Human Rights.

The defeat of Hitler's Germany in 1945 is not the only victory celebrated on May 8. In Namibia, south-west Africa, the Rehoboth Baster people particularly commemorate the Battle of Sam Khubis, a hundred years ago on May 8, 1915, a couple of weeks after the Gallipoli landings in faraway Turkey which gave rise to ANZAC day, and part of the same world conflict.

The Basters, mostly descendants of white Europeans and native African women, had adopted a way of life like that of white settlers and taken up their Calvinist christian religion, but in an increasingly racist and discriminatory South Africa their chances of integration, or independent development with their own farms etc, were denied. So in 1868 they left their original home in the Cape Colony, and trekked northwards in search of land.

Settling in Rehoboth, given its Biblical name by German missionaries, in what is now central Namibia, they set up the Free Republic of Rehoboth, with its own flag and constitution, in 1872. 
During the German annexation of South West Africa, the Baster Kaptein Hermanus van Wyk signed a 'Treaty of Protection and Friendship' with the German Empire on 11 October 1884. This permitted some autonomy to the Basters, but at the expense of recognising German colonial rule and under a National Service agreement in 1895, providing soldiers whom the German forces were able to use against other African peoples.

In 1904 it was Basters like Hendrik Campbell from Rehoboth, compelled to take part in the war against Herero rebels, who reported how German troops were killing prisoners and destroying villages, in what turned from a war of repression to one of deliberate extermination.

The Rehobothers' loyalty and willingness to get along with German settlers did not spare them from increasing discrimination and racism. Indeed, just as the German colonialists' treatment of the Nama and Herero peoples can be seen as the first acts of 20th century genocide, so much of the racist laws and ideology which the Nazis would apply in Europe can be traced to legislation and ideas adopted to enforce white rule and racial 'purity' in South West Africa.

 In 1914, seeing no reason to get caught up in the war between imperial masters, or go down with the German colonial Schutztruppe facing superior South African forces, the Rehoboth Baster leaders attempted to negotiate neutrality for their people. The Baster Council disapproved recruitment of a mounted unit by the Germans, and Basters ordered to guard prisoners of war preferred defecting. Shooting incidents occurred between Germans and Basters.   

Treating the Basters' position as armed revolt, Governor Theodor Seitz cancelled the protection treaty with them and ordered his forces to attack Rehoboth. German forces killed civilians, and chased after refugees who had made for the mountain of Sam Khubis.  There on the mountainside, fifty miles south east of Rehoboth, about 700 Basters - men, women and children - set up camp, and prepared to resist attack.   On May 8, 1915 the Germans attacked this last entrenchment, but despite repeated attempts and superior weaponry, they could not destroy the Basters' position.

By nightfall, the Basters were running out of ammunition, and believing they faced defeat, they prayed.
   God van ons vaderen / sterke en machtige God / heilig is Uw naam op die ganse aarde / Uw die de hemelen geschapen heft / neigt Uw oor tot ons / luister na die smekingen van Uwe kinderen / de dood staart ons in het gesicht / die kinderen der bose zoeken onze levens / Red ons uit die hand van onze vijanden / en beskermt onze vrouen en kinderen / En dit zult vier ons en onze nacheschlacht zijn een dag als een Zondag / waarop wij Uw naam prijzen en Uw goedertierenheid tot in euwigheid niet vergeten

    God our father / strong and powerful / holy be Thy name all over the earth / Thou that made heaven / bow Thou down to us / listen to the cries of Thy children / death stares us in the face / the children of evil seek our lives / Save us from the hand of our enemies / and protect our wives and children / and this shall be for us and our kin a day like a Sunday / on which we shall praise Thy name / and Thy gratitude shall not be forgotten in eternity

Next morning it seemed this last plea to the Almighty had worked. The Germans had retreated and the Rehobother Basters were spared. It turned out that advancing South African troops from Walvis Bay were threatening to cut off a Schutztruppe contingent near Windhoek, so the troops attacking Sam Khubis were ordered to pull back and take the train the following morning to join their main force.

South-West Africa was occupied by South African forces in 1915, but General Botha rebuffed Baster offers to join them, saying the war with Germany was not the concern of coloureds. After the war the Basters applied to become a British Protectorate, like Basutoland, but the South Africans were able to block this. Taking over South-West Africa under a League of Nations mandate, they made no concession to Baster aspirations, even taking away those rights they had been granted under the Germans.

Ten years later a rebellion broke out at Rehoboth, but it was suppressed by colonial forces, armed with machine guns and supported by two aircraft. They marched into the town and arrested more than 600 people.

In 1963, after repeated petitions to the United Nations to end Apartheid South African rule, a group of Namibians fled to Botswana, from where they planned to recruit and organise for the armed struggle led by the South West Africa People's Organisation, SWAPO.  Among the four was a political campaigner from Rehoboth, Hermanus Christoffel Beukes (also known as Oom Maans Beukes), born in 1913 under German rule. Kidnapped by South African agents, the four were then released under international pressure.

The UN decided to take responsibility for South West Africa, and in 1973 it recognised SWAPO as the legitimate representative of the Namibian people. But it was not until after a prolonged armed struggle and the war in neighbouring Angola that the South Africans withdrew, and Namibia obtained independence in 1990. But this was no unblemished victory. Critics, including veterans of the armed struggle and descendents of the country's first freedom fighters, say SWAPO failed to live up to the promise of uniting all Namibians in the struggle, that corrupt leaders held back supplies that were desperately needed by the fighters, and that SWAPO's security organs meted out repression, torture and murder to dissidents within its ranks as well as rivals.

Some of this information was documented and brought to the outside world by survivors, though some Guardian journalists, liberals, "solidarity" professionals and Stalinists, not wanting to spoil their celebration of the new regime, preferred not to listen.

Though SWAPO under Sam Nujoma formed Namibia's first government and remains the dominant party, it faces a left-wing opposition drawn from former fighters and the nascent workers' movement.  From this background came the following letter to the President, as preparations were under way to commemorate the centenary of the Rehobothers' victory at Sam Khubis:
27 April 2015

Dr Hage Geingob
The President
The Republic of Namibia


Mr President,

RE: Your attendance of the 100th Commemoration of ‪#‎Khubis‬

We are submitting this letter to you in addition to the letters from members of the Rehoboth Community and our party, the Workers Revolutionary Party. We do so due to the particularly direct personal and intimate interest we have in this matter to which impersonal and general political statements cannot give expression.

Nevertheless, we are submitting this letter for the historic record.

Hewat is a grandson of Johannes Timotheus Beukes, who was the commander of the forces at #Khubis which defeated the German army on 8 May 1915 and saved the Rehoboth Baster Nation from extermination. He is the brother of the Late Martha Ford, who was a Politbureau member of SWAPO in exile. Prior to that, she was a National Executive member of the SWAPO within the country. He is the uncle of the Late Winston Ford the son of Martha Ford and he is the cousin of the Late Priscilla van Wyk, who fled into exile in 1978.

Erica is the sister of the Late Walter Thiro, who fled into exile in January 1979.

In 1989 Hewat and Erica were informed by returning members of SWAPO who were imprisoned in holes in Lubango, Angola that Erica’s brother Walter had died in these holes after having been slandered, tortured and imprisoned. His body was disposed of in an unknown manner. They were also informed that Priscilla van Wyk who had fled Namibia to escape arrest was used after her arrival in Zambia as a slave and personal attendant by Pendukeni Emvula-Iiitana – the present Home Affairs minister.

It was reported in 1984 that Priscilla suffered distortion of her face due to extreme anxiety and constant fear. Priscilla later died in the USA after her escape from Zambia.

In 1996, Hewat travelled to Angola to attempt to convince Martha Ford to return to Namibia. The family was under the impression that she refused to leave Angola due to her son’s death in 1978. However, upon his meeting with Martha the full truth started to emerge. Martha had left Namibia in 1978 to Angola with her two children, Shireen and Winston. She was quickly disillusioned by the SWAPO leadership’s sexual abuse of young girls and traitorous politics. She expressed her criticism openly. During about October 1978 the SWAPO leadership shot and killed Winston Ford, then 10 years of age, as reprisal, she told Hewat.

She further unfolded the circumstances of his death: Winston remained in a SWAPO camp in southern Angola. The SWAPO leaders first had him dropped–off in a remote wilderness where it was assumed he would be killed by wild animals or he would succumb without water and food. He made it back to the camp however where he was later shot. When Martha came back to bury her son, the officials refused her to inspect his body. She was secretly informed by women that he was shot.

After she left SWAPO as a member, the SWAPO leadership conspired with the MPLA including the poet Lusio Lara to confine her to Angola. It became clear to Hewat after listening to Martha that she stood in danger of being killed should she make a serious attempt to leave Angola. She lived in squalor. Hewat abandoned his attempts to get her out of Angola and returned to Namibia to ask the family to support her materially.

Her health deteriorated until she was a shadow of her former self. Only then did the Angolan regime allowed her to leave. She died in Namibia due to years of neglect.

The SWAPO leadership in particular yourself, Mr President, refuse to account for the whereabouts of the remains of Winston Ford and Walter Thiro amongst others.

You now stand invited by a group in Rehoboth to attend the 100th Commemoration of the Battle of #Khubis. This group of people are mostly not descendant from fighters of #Khubis. They have been tied to the homeland policy of the South African regime which turned Rehoboth into a Bantustan despite its rejection by the Community. They are ‘kulaks’ – rich peasants – who seek the total privatisation of the Rehoboth Community’s collectively-owned land. They have reportedly travelled to China this year to acquire funds on the strength of your government to erect a lodge on the site of the Battle. They have allotted this land in 1992 to themselves through their connection to the former Bantustan and their newfound connection to the SWAPO regime. This group consists of farmers who use the most horrific racist methods of deprivation and humiliation against Ovambo contract labourers, Namas, Damaras and Basters.

To us it is no surprise that your regime is in a good relationship with this group or class of persons.
We note that they have even shifted the Commemoration to 6th of May to accommodate you!!!
In your State of the Nation address you amongst others relegated the national languages of this country to alien languages with English – a foreign language - the official language. You put the obligation on people to create their own facilities to be able to speak their languages. This has completed your policy of expropriation of Namibians.

Given your policy of Total Expropriation of Namibians both materially and spiritually and your crimes against us as a family we demand that you stay away from our most sacred moment, the 100th Commemoration of our salvation from German extermination.

In conclusion,
The fact that your leadership is guilty of crimes against the Beukes and the Thiro families and in particular that you have done absolutely nothing to resolve outstanding issues such as the return of our peoples’ remains make it unacceptable for you to attend our Commemoration.
As a member of the SWAPO Politbureau you were co-responsible for all the above.

Do not attend!

Hewat and Erica Beukes
On behalf of the Beukes and Thiro families.

ERICA and HEWAT BEUKES at meeting in Kilburn twenty years ago. 

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