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Namibians pay homage to chief who fought Germans

Nama-speaking tribes in Namibia will flock to a tiny village this weekend to pay tribute a famous chief who raised the banner of revolt against German colonial forces but was killed in battle a century ago.

Tribal members will descend on Gibeon, a small town about 360km south of Windhoek, to commemorate Hendrik Witbooi, who perished on 29 October 1905 while fighting the German army.

”The centennial anniversary of our hero and ancestors, who bravely fought colonialism, will provide us with a unique opportunity to reflect on our proud history,” said Hendrik Witbooi, great-grandson of the late chief.

”We will also think of the next century and focus on nation-building, peace and harmony,” Witbooi added.

The ancestral Witbooi followed his grandfather, Chief Kido Witbooi, and about 20 000 Orlam and Nama people who crossed over from South Africa into southern Namibia and settled at a fountain in April 1863, later to be named Gibeon.

They were of Khoisan origin, descendants of the original population of South Africa, who were nearly exterminated by Dutch and British colonialists and had migrated from the Cape northwards to escape oppression in South Africa.

Their family name Witbooi, which literally means ”white boys”, refers to the white scarves they wore around their hats to distinguish themselves from the rest of the 11 Nama-speaking sub-tribes.

Barely 21 years after they settled down in Gibeon, the southwestern African nation became a German colony and soon led to conflict with the rulers over land and grazing rights.

Witbooi, whose portrait is displayed on all Namibian bank notes, became the traditional leader of his group.

Witbooi demonstrated extraordinary diplomatic and military skills and also kept a diary and journals as well as copies of letters he wrote to other chiefs and colonial authorities.

The chief and his warrior horsemen caused the German colonial administration a lot of trouble in Robin Hood style, robbing their ox wagons loaded with supplies coming from the coast towards Windhoek.

After the Herero ethnic group started their uprising in January 1904 against German colonialism, the Nama under Witbooi followed suit in October of the same year.

A year later, on 29 October 1905, a German soldier in battle shot the 75-year old Witbooi in southern Namibia, while leading his people on horseback.

”Historians reckon that half of the approximately 20 000 Nama-speakers died during the uprising and in the prison camps”, Daniel Fleermuys, coordinator of the commemoration, told Agence France Presse.

The German government, which apologised last year to the Herero and Nama tribes for atrocities caused during colonial rule, is supporting the Witbooi commemoration.

”My government has rendered financial assistance for this historic event,” said Wolfgang Massing, the German ambassador to Namibia.

An international honour was bestowed on the Witboois in June 2005, when the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation announced that Witbooi’s letter journals would be part of Unesco’s Memory of the World Register.

Written in Cape Dutch, the correspondence give insights into the nature of colonialism and into the differences between African and European cultures. – AFP



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