Language version


Reviewing German Draconian Colonial Laws In Namibia




For all the problems which German settlers claimed to have with Hereros or Namas as workers after the genocide drew to a close in 1907, these population groups could still sometimes be drawn into waged labour by partially playing on their allegiance to their livestock.

From 1907, a series of draconian ordinances were promulgated to prohibit black Namibians from owning livestock unless they had official licences.

Deprived of so-called ‘traditional livelihoods’ it was assumed that they would be coerced into the colonial workforce.

Farmers used livestock and grazing to ensure a steady supply of labour; some Nama and Herero workers were ‘permitted’ to keep livestock informally on the white-owned farm.

According to the Landestag, black Namibians owned about 25% of all small livestock and more than 20 000 head of cattle. Most of this was, of course, ‘informal’ and under-reported and facilitated by settlers to attract workers.

This becomes clear when we learn that between 1911 and 1914 the colonial governor received only 34 applications for licences to own livestock.

As hunter-gatherers, the San were not dependent on colonial settlers, and it was easier for them to ‘drop out’ or disengage from the colonial economy when they wanted to. Facing an inability to manipulate the San, settlers regarded them as ‘worthless’ and of little ‘economic value’.

These colonial ordinances also declared anyone with no ‘visible means of subsistence’ to be a vagrant, and they were subjected to arrest and imprisonment.


This meant that all hunter-gatherers were by legal definition vagrants. Directly and indirectly, these ordinances facilitated the genocide of a people whose very mode of existence was outlawed. The brutal reality was that far from being the pristine hunters of the colonialist imagination, the vast majority of San were an impoverished rural lumpenproletariat.

In the hierarchical typology developed by scientists and endorsed by settlers, San ranked below Herero and Nama people because they supposedly had no property, which meant that to many colonialists, the San were vogelfrei (outlawed). To be vogelfrei meant that they were beyond the protection of the laws of the state.

Their alleged incapacity to work was also tied to notions of property. Most importantly, if the San had no property, it meant that their San lands were seen as Herrenlos (without a master) or terra nullius and thus available for the taking by settlers.

During these times, settlers were normally single, white males, thinly dispersed on isolated uneconomic farms – especially in the north-east of Namibia.

When this is considered alongside their excessive alcohol consumption, we can see how rumours could spread to develop a paranoid ethos in which the San featured prominently as the ultimate bogeyman: untrustworthy, treacherous vagabonds who were difficult to track and could use invisible poison.

Settlers were able to project their worst fantasies and nightmares onto the San, who further served as convenient scapegoats to cover the incompetence of these inexperienced and underfunded farmers.

By and large, German colonial policy was intended either to force the San into the Kalahari or to exterminate them, though there were some efforts to ‘habituate’ them to work for wages, and even lesser efforts to make a San ‘reserve’.

In 1912, German parliamentary deputy Alfons Mumm recommended a San ‘reserve’ stretching from Grootfontein to the Kavango. Mumm saw the San as collateral damage in a tragic history, dispossessed by farmers and railroad companies, and riddled with venereal disease.

This reserve option was unpopular and never put into motion, as most officials emphasised an inherent ‘wanderlust’ among the San and noted that the deep Kalahari desert was effectively a reserve anyway. Some others argued that the San were a ‘bastard race’ with little need to be ‘preserved’.

The Austrian geographer Franz Seiner was a major proponent of the need to habituate the San to work as labourers for the colonial economy. The only way to ‘tame’ San, he argued, was to have the men deported to the coast and the children and wives placed on farms. These children would be ‘re-socialised’ at an early age and divorced from their traditions.


While a few scholars and missionaries opposed a policy of exterminating the San, they were largely inconsequential; most influential scientists saw extinction as inevitable.

Consider Siegfried Passarge, professor of geography at the German Colonial Institute. To him, the San were incapable of adapting to agriculture or pastoralism, leading him to conclude that extermination was necessary: “What can the civilised human being manage to do with people who stand at the level of sheep stealer? Jail and the correctional house would be a reward, and besides do not even exist in that country […] Does any possibility exist other than shooting them?”

Or ponder the views of Schultze-Jena, who coined the term Khoisan. To him, San were the lowest of the low: “If we consider the natives according to their value as cultural factors in the protectorate, then one race is immediately eliminated right off: the Bushmen. The Bushmen lack entirely the precondition of any cultural development: the drive to create something beyond everyday needs”. In a sense they were parroting and reinforcing the views of settlers, black and white.

If we define genocide along the same lines as the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – something which Nama and Herero genocide activists have rightly done – then it is impossible to deny the genocide of the San community during these years. Some of these trends lived on during the South African mandate years as well.

Genocide takes shape not just through large battles and ‘extermination ordinances’, but also through complex legal infrastructure and the shaping of a colonial mentality intended to dehumanise a people and destroy cultures.

Even today the term “Bushman” is a widespread term of abuse and dehumanisation among black and white Namibians.

To deny that the San were victims of genocide perpetuates our own racist bias.

Robert Gordon taught at the University of Vermont and the University of the Free State. He is the author of ‘The Bushman Myth: The Making of a Namibian Underclass’. He can be contacted at

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Afghanistan: Stay Home, Female Kabul Government Workers Told




The new Taliban mayor of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has told female municipal employees to stay home unless their jobs cannot be filled by a man.

Hamdullah Nomany said the Taliban “found it necessary to stop women from working for a while”.

It is the latest restriction imposed on Afghanistan’s women by the country’s hard-line new Islamist government.

During their previous rule in the 1990s women were barred from education and the workplace.

After seizing the country last month following the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban said women’s rights would be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”.

But the Taliban favour a strict interpretation of Islam’s legal system, Sharia law.

Since taking power working women have been told to stay at home until the security situation improves, and Taliban fighters have beaten women protesting against the all-male interim government.

The Islamist group appears to have shut down the women’s affairs ministry and replaced it with a department that once enforced strict religious doctrines.

And this weekend secondary schools reopened, but with only boys and male teachers allowed back into classrooms. The Taliban said it was working on reopening schools for girls.

According to the Kabul mayor about a third of the municipality’s 3,000 employees are women. He said some would carry on working.

“For example, women work in the women’s toilets in the city where men cannot go,” he said.

“But for the positions that others [men] can fill, we have told them [women] to stay at home until the situation is normalised. Their salaries will be paid,” he added.

On Sunday, there were small protests outside the women’s affairs ministry while another group of women held a press conference to demand their rights.

One of those protesting at the ministry said “we do not want this ministry to be removed. The removal of women [means] the removal of human beings.”

In a separate development, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said it had been unable to fulfil its duties since the Taliban’s takeover.

The organisation said in a statement that its buildings, vehicles and computers had all been taken over by the Taliban.

Continue Reading


Ruto Wants To Reconcile With President Uhuru



Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has said that he wants to mend fences with his boss as the rift deepens between the two former allies.

However, it should be noted that last year, the two leaders also tried to fix their political differences mediated by the clergy but failed to make any headway.

The union between these two former political allies collapsed on July 22, 2019 following the arrest of Cabinet Secretary to the National Treasury Henry Rotich, who was accused of corruption.

Rotich, who pleaded not guilty, was released on bail the following day. He had been appointed by Kenyatta in 2013 at Ruto’s request.

The Ruto camp has never hidden its distrust for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), an outcome of the March 2018 peace pact between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga – his long-time opposition foe.

The initiative was symbolised by the famous public handshake between the two men – a moment now simply referred to as “The Handshake”.

Ruto’s supporters fear that the rapprochement signals Kenyatta’s plan to renege on a power-sharing and succession pact, under which he would back Ruto for president at the 2022 elections after serving two terms.

The BBI aims to amend the 2010 constitution – which established a presidential system – to create, among other things, a post of prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and a leader of the opposition and increase the number of seats in parliament.

According to President Uhuru, the constitutional review (BBI) is meant to mitigate the current “winner take all” system that has caused post-election conflicts throughout the country’s history.

On May 11, 2021 Parliament approved the bill, which was then to be put to a referendum.

But two days later, a Nairobi court ruled that the process was illegal, stating that such a constitutional review could not be initiated by the president.

With the collapse of the BBI, Ruto seems to have won the fight and thus seems to be ready to reconcile with Uhuru.

However, it remains to be judged by the forthcoming days whether the two will really reconcile. President Uhuru had earlier challenged his deputy to resign if he didn’t approve of the government achievements yet he serves in the same.

Although both President Kenyatta and Ruto have never explained exactly why their relationship fell apart, it is understood they previously exchanged bitter text messages. Some have been read by their allies.

“From the messages that I was shown, the differences between the two are personal and very deep. It will take a miracle for them to be ironed out,” one source said. His opinion was echoed by others.

Continue Reading


International Community Accused Of Regime Change Maneuvers In South Sudan



South Sudanese Cabinet Affairs Minister has lambasted the international community, saying the country was lacking genuine friends but only those with the agenda of regime change.

Minister Martin Elia Lomuro (pictured above) pointed to reluctance by key members of the international community to fund the implementation of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement.

“Who says there are friends, perhaps in the region but in the international community, let me put it white and blank, we do are friends? Those that you see are working otherwise. They are for regime change,” said Lomuro.

The minister who is under UN and U.S. sanctions was speaking during an occasion marking the third anniversary of the revitalized 2018 peace agreement on Saturday. The roundtable discussion was organized by UN-owned Radio Miraya.

The cabinet minister said the lack of international support hampered the implementation of the peace agreement particularly the costly security arrangements.

Following the signing of the peace agreement, the Troika countries requested transparency in the management of the oil income before supporting the implementation process.

Peacebuilding Minister Stephen Par Kuol who also participated in the discussion argued that key members of the international community had refused to fund the implementation process because they believe the leadership was “corrupt”. So, these countries have decided to let everything be shouldered by the government.

Kuol further said it was cheaper to fund the implementation of the peace agreement than the humanitarian assistance given by these sam countries on compassionate ground.

“We have tried this (regime change) when we were in the opposition, but it did not work. So, I told these diplomats during our engagement with them to help fund the agreement so that the refugees and internally displaced persons can return to their homes. Instead of working for regime change, I ask them to support this current (transitional) government of the revitalized peace agreement, not the regime”, explained Kuol.

James Solomon Okuk, a senior independent political analyst and a researcher who published a book about the revitalized peace agreement said the accord had fallen below 10 per cent in the implementation of key provisions, especially provisions relating to security arrangement.


Continue Reading


Share via