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January 1905. The steamship Professor Woermann lies in the roads off Swakopmund. Leaning against the rail young Schutztruppe soldiers, bound for Lüderitzbucht, are staring at the aspiring harbour town.

From 1905 anchorage in Swakopmund was shifted from the harbour a little to the south, where a wooden jetty had been built. In 1912 construction of an iron jetty started right next to the wooden one.

From 1905 anchorage in Swakopmund was shifted from the harbour a little to the south, where a wooden jetty had been built. In 1912 construction of an iron jetty started right next to the wooden one.

One of them is Albert Plietz: “The first glimpse of the mainland was a very desolate one. There was nothing to meet the eye but the yellow sand of dunes. At that moment probably most of us wondered what we had let ourselves into. It was really saddening to see the look on the comrades’ faces. The sun was hot as hell. Hopefully the south is better, because everybody was glad that they did not have to disembark here, in Swakopmund.” This even though Swakopmund is boasting 40 houses at the time, making it a rather sizeable place compared to conditions elsewhere in the German colony.

Swakopmund was created out of necessity because the German colony urgently needed a harbour. The bay 30 km to the south, Walvis Bay, was already in British possession when South West Africa was declared a protectorate of Imperial Germany. In 1892 the Reichskommissar (commissioner) of the German colony, Curt von François, started to search the central part of the coastline for a site suitable for a harbour.

“After the way he sounded off in August 1889 it was to be expected that the Cape’s official in Walvis Bay would do anything to prevent troops and munitions from passing through in transit. He was less interested in preventing the passage of provisions for the troops since most of the provisions were shipped from Cape Town. It was advantageous for Walvis Bay that the settlers spent their disembarkation fees etc. on British territory, had to find their first accommodation and buy their first necessities there. More than ever it therefore seemed vital to me to build landing facilities in Swakopmund in the near future.” (von François 1899, p. 157)

On 4 August 1892 the crew of the gunboat Hyäne discovered a spot where the coast could be accessed – later the pier (Mole) was built there – and marked it with two beacons. This date is celebrated as the day when Swakopmund was founded. Another reason for building a harbour in this particular spot was the availability of potable water in the Swakop River mouth nearby. Von François set up a military station slightly to the north, which consisted of accommodation facilities and a storage shed put together with corrugated iron.

The surf boat and eleven Kru sailors, requested by von Francois for the landing operations in Swakopmund, arrived in January 1893. In August that year the first steamship, the Marie Woermann, called at Swakopmund with 120 Schutztruppe soldiers and 40 settlers onboard.

The lighthouse and the district office (Bezirksamt) in 1905 overlooking the pier (Mole) and harbour cranes for unloading shipments.

The lighthouse and the district office (Bezirksamt) in 1905 overlooking the pier (Mole) and harbour cranes for unloading shipments.

The Walvis Bay trading company Mertens & Sichel opened a branch in Swakopmund in 1893. The following year 19 inhabitants were recorded for the settlement. One of them, Kurd Schwabe, who was appointed station commander of Swakopmund in the end of 1893, described life between the desert and the sea in a letter to his family back home.

“My abode consists of two parlours (if you want to call them that), a larger one and a hole where I have set up my bed. (…) Windows – none, but the wind makes up for that and whistles through a thousand gaps. Every now and then I take the time to plug the cracks with tow, assisted by Schneidewind. In the absence of floorboards the floor is the fine sand of the higher lying area, teeming with millions of sand fleas. Boxes and crates serve as furniture, some of them for sitting on, others for storage. (…) Barely 20 paces from my palace towards the sea a cave has been dug into the sandy precipice of the higher level and boxed up with boards. The roof across huge whale bones, which you find scattered everywhere in the sand, consists of corrugated iron, pieces of sailcloth and scraps of roofing paper covered with a layer of sand. This is not the dwelling of jackals, oh no, but that of a father and son by the name of Unglaube. They have set up their field smithy in front of their mansion. Both are industrious and skilful, making good money with wagon repairs and similar.”(Schwabe 1904, p. 115f)

In early 1895 the Damara & Namaqua trading company arrived on the scene, built three accommodation facilities and set up its business. Soon afterwards the first zoning map was designed for Swakopmund, a postal agency was opened and a scheduled postal cart connection to Windhoek was established. Now the little settlement started to grow; in 1897 it had 113 registered inhabitants.

In 1897 construction work started on the narrow-gauge railway line to Windhoek. Each kilometre of railway that edged forward through the Namib towards east shrunk the distance which had to be covered by ox wagon. Railway traffic from Windhoek to Swakopmund started on 19 June 1902, boosting the economy. The long waiting periods for transport opportunities inland had become a thing of the past.

Soon afterwards the pier (Mole) in Swakopmund was completed. It had taken three-and-a-half year to build. Inauguration festivities took place on 12 February 1903. Steamers finally moored in the harbour now. Together with the pier the lighthouse was put into operation. Initially 11 m tall, its intermittent light was visible 14 sea miles out at sea. The German colony was proud of its artificial harbour and the railway line into the interior. And Swakopmund’s inhabitants were very pleased that they scored a water pipe when the harbour was built.

Swakopmund’s first lighthouse around 1900. In the following ten years it was raised twice.

Swakopmund’s first lighthouse around 1900. In the following ten years it was raised twice.

After the turn of the century colonial-style houses were built of stone. Previously the street scene had been characterised by prefabricated wooden structures. In 1901 the railway station was completed; the building is part of the Hotel and Entertainment Center now. Other historic buildings include Ludwig Schröder House, built for the Woermann Shipping Line in 1903, and Woermann House with its striking tower and two gables. Completed in 1905 as headquarters of the Damara and Namaqua Trading Company this building was originally known as Damara House.

Elisabeth Brock, who arrived from Germany in December 1903 with her husband, described Swakopmund with approving words: “Early on Monday, the 28th all passengers were taken ashore with the large lighter. (…) Swakopmund looks quite impressive even from a distance, and on arrival I also found it to be a very pleasant place. There are several charming buildings – the railway station, the lighthouse and the telegraph office are particularly noteworthy. A beautiful large store is being built for the Damara Company. It looks similar to the shipping line’s premises in Hamburg (…). Of course you are still wading through sand a lot but there are already quite a few cemented sidewalks and proper steps to the higher lying streets, even some facilities and gardens.” (Brock, s. 16)

Since the pier silted up more and more, to an extent where after just two years steamers were rarely able to sail into the harbour, a newly-built wooden jetty was taken into use in 1905. It soon became clear that this structure would not be able to defy the forces of nature for very long. In 1912 construction work started on an iron jetty right next to the wooden one. The new jetty was to have a total length of 640 m, but when it was 262 m long the First World War put a sudden end to construction work. Imperial Germany lost its colony in south-western Africa. Naturally, the subsequent South African administration used the deep-sea port of Walvis Bay. Swakopmund lost its importance as a harbour town and turned into what it still is today: the most popular holiday resort in Namibia.

The Gondwana History series is a selection of memorable glimpses of Namibia’s history. Collections of the stories are also published as several small volumes in English, German and Afrikaans. Gondwana History III is available since early June at the offices of the Gondwana Collection in Klein Windhoek (42 Nelson-Mandela-Avenue), all the Gondwana lodges and in bookshops.

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Few tortoise species are as well-known as the African leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis, former scientific name: Geochelone pardalis). The reasons for being so easily recognised are their attractive markings, appealing size (in some areas females may reach up to 70 cm!) and their distribution throughout Africa.
Leopard tortoise. Photo: Alfred Schleicher

Leopard tortoise. Photo: Alfred Schleicher

Leopard tortoises are found in an area stretching from southern Sudan and parts of Somalia across Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa and all over southern Africa. This versatile species occurs in Mozambique and South Africa as well as Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia, in the arid regions of Namibia as much as in the rain forests of Angola, no matter whether annual rainfall is just 100 mm or well above 2,000 mm.

The leopard tortoise favours semi-arid thorny to grassland habitats but seems to thrive anywhere from coastal to mountainous landscapes. It is able to cope with heat as well as extreme cold, aridity as well as humidity. Tortoises in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in South Africa are known to dwell in the abandoned holes of small predators during the cold winter months. Likewise, in the arid scenery around the Tiras Mountains in southern Namibia, they shelter in similar holes to survive the heat and extended periods of drought. There, however, the occurrence of leopard tortoises is no doubt proportionately much smaller than it is in the vast savannah of Serengeti National Park in East Africa, for example.

Leopard tortoises are herbivores which graze on grasses like lawnmowers. They also favour various fruits, succulents and thistles and even eat the dung of other herbivores. The key to success seems to be versatility combined with resilience.

Adaptability is also reflected in the reptiles’ size within different tortoise populations. The largest ones are found in areas where food is plentiful and, perhaps, where the reptiles have enough time to grow. In many African cultures large leopard tortoises are seen as a food source. For the San (Bushmen) in the Kalahari this tortoise used to be a special treat and the empty shells were treasured as containers for collecting berries and roots. But the numbers of tortoises always remained stable, even though baby tortoises have many natural enemies to contend with – hornbills, eagles, hawks and secretary birds. Bush fires are another threat.

Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise), issued in 1982, artist: Arthur Howard Barrett

Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise), issued in 1982, artist: Arthur Howard Barrett

Leopard tortoises are very prolific. In years with generous rainfalls females lay up to three clutches of up to 12 (sometimes 20) eggs each, even in Namibia. Eggs are the size of a ping-pong ball. Females, as in all tortoise species, use the strong nails of their hind legs to dig a nesting hole of 30 to 35 cm deep. They moisten it by emptying their anal bladder and then, sliding down the hind leg, one egg after the other is dropped to its place in the hole. After the last one the nesting site is carefully covered up again and smoothed over with the plastron to make it less conspicuous.

Incubation time differs from 80 to 120 days in areas which are humid and always warm, to more than one year in mainly arid regions – like Namibia, for example. This is another form of amazing adaptability: if the rains stay away the hatchlings would find no grass and starve. It does in fact happen that fully developed baby tortoises hatch but stay in their nesting hole in a state of ‘drought hibernation’, waiting for the proverbial better times. After sufficient rain has fallen they will finally make their appearance. In typical tortoise manner the baby ‘leopards’ are immediately able to look after themselves without restriction and have all four little feet firmly planted on the ground.

In some parts of their original habitats leopard tortoises have nevertheless become rare. The reason will most certainly be the impact of the most destructive of all living creatures, modern man. Because even the most adaptable species are unable to cope with fast changes in their habitat. Perhaps we, as humans, should take a leaf out of that book.

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It’s surprising to think of penguins in the African heat rather than in colder climes, but the African penguinis endemic to the southern tip of Africa. An unusual flightless bird, ungainly on land, it is an agile master of the water world as it careens swiftly through the water powered by its webbed feet and small flipper-like ‘wings’.Because of its loud braying call, it was once referred to as the Jackass penguin. The tough 60-70 cm bird has an attractive black-and-white colouring that serves as camouflage; the white underbelly to disguise it from underwater predators below and the black back from predators above. Its disguise has not protected it, however, from its greatest competitor – man, and African penguin numbers have plummeted over the last century to a fraction of what they were. In 1956/57 the total population was estimated at 141 000 breeding pairs, a number which had decreased by 60% in 2009 to just over 25 000. The Namibian population comprised approximately 5 000 pairs in 2008/9 and the South African, 21 000.Historically, the decline in penguin numbers has been attributed to the harvesting of penguin eggs and the collection of guano. Without the guano layer, penguins are unable to dig their burrows, which protect them from predators and provide cover from the hot African sun.

Jackass Penguin, issued in 1997, artist: David Thorpe

Jackass Penguin, issued in 1997, artist: David Thorpe

The African penguin is now facing an even more severe crisis – food scarcity, being unable to compete with the commercial fisheries. Many penguin mortalities have also resulted from oil spills. Natural predators include seals and sharks in the ocean and the mongoose, gull and genet on land. The dramatic decline in numbers led to the African penguin being reclassified on the IUCN’s Red List in 2010 from Vulnerable to Endangered.The distribution of the African penguin Spheniscus demersuscoincides with the area influenced by the nutrient rich waters of the Benguela Current that runs up the coast of Africa and the availability of off-shore nesting sites. (Some mainland sites have been colonised in recent years. This has been attributed to an eastward shift of pelagic fish.) Its breeding range extends from Hollamsbird Island, off central Namibia, to Bird Island in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape. In Namibia, Halifax Island, Mercury, Ichaboe and Possession islands account for approximately 96% of the Namibian penguin population. Sardines and anchovies, the penguins preferred diet, were overfished in the 1960s/70s making it difficult for penguins on islands like Halifax to find food. The guano layer covering the island was also removed for fertiliser during this period.Several distinctive behaviours are evident in the penguin colonies during the year, most noticeably the annual moult, where penguins fatten-up for weeks before their 20-day starvation period when they are unable to enter the ocean, and the breeding season. In Namibia most penguins moult in April and May, and in South Africa from November to January.

African penguin. Photo: Gondwana Collection

African penguin. Photo: Gondwana Collection

There are also regional differences of breeding season, with the peak of the breeding season occurring in Namibia in November and December and in South Africa from March to May. The African penguin is monogamous, the breeding pair sharing the 40-day incubation and feeding duties. About 60 days after hatching, the chicks’ down has already been replaced by blue-grey waterproof plumage, and from 60 to 130 days the ‘baby-blues’ are ready to leave their natal colony. They will return after 12 to 22 months, after journeys of up to 1 900 km, to moult into adult plumage.There are ‘happy feet’ and success stories these days as more protection is being granted to the species, nesting boxes supplied and organisations like SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) rehabilitating abandoned chicks and oiled birds. Over a hundred birds from Lüderitz were transported to Cape Town in a rescue mission in 2009 where the oiled penguins spent 4 weeks rehabilitating before their release and long swim back to Namibian waters. After 18 days, the first of the group were seen arriving home.

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The previous issue discussed the futile efforts of the first Trek Boers to establish the Republic of Upingtonia around Grootfontein.
Although the Republic of Upingtonia, which was founded in 1885, was short-lived, it formed the basis for later Boer-settlements in the Grootfontein District. The German government also recognized the validity of the land purchase made by W.W. Jordan. The South West Africa Company, which was founded in 1892 in London, became the beneficiary of its concessions, which mainly included mining rights and the development of roads and railways, as well as the partition of land into settler farms.In 1891, some Transvaal-Boers, amongst them commandant Jean M. Lombard and B.D. Bouwer, who had occupied the farm Strydfontein during the time of the Republic of Upingtonia, requested the German Consul in Pretoria to settle in ‘Damaraland’. They also asked to return to their former farms in the Grootfontein District. The area however, had changed owner and now belonged to the South West Africa Company.

Dorslandtrek, issued in 1974, artist: Kobus Esterhuyzen

Dorslandtrek, issued in 1974, artist: Kobus Esterhuyzen

In March 1892, some one hundred Boer-families left Transvaal and trekked via Rietfontein, along the border of Hereroland and Otjituwo to Grootfontein. Most of them proceeded further to Angola. Forty families stayed behind and were subsequently settled there in 1893 by the representative of the South West Africa Company, Dr Georg Hartmann. The S.W.A. Company was most accommodating towards the Boers, as they wanted to keep them there. They were encouraged to purchase land, for which they were allowed to pay in the form of cash and/or farm products.According to Dr Hartmann, there were 98 Trek Boers living around Grootfontein in October 1894. J.M. Lombard, C. de Jager, G. Kriek, I. du Toit, D. Jordaan and M. Botha were living at the fountains of Grootfontein, while H. du Plooy, A., H. and B. Smith, G. Fourie, H. Joubert and J. Diderikzen occupied the farms Volstruisfontein, Gemsboklaagte, Kereefontein and Kalkfontein. As from 1895 more farms, some of which had already existed in the 1880s, were allocated to the Boers. Among them were Strydfontein, where commandant Lombard settled, Venterspost, Kransfontein, Spitskoppe, Jagersfontein, Uitkomst, Khusib, Okamambuti(fontein) and Olifantsfontein, where the German farmer Carl Heinrich Schulz settled in 1896. Other Boers, who arrived from Omaruru, included Dreyer, de la Porte, Nieuwenhuizen, Barnard, Siemens, Britz, Poolman and Prinsloo.

Signing of agreement between governor Leutwein, commandant Lombard (left), Dr Hartmann (2nd f.l.) and Samuel Maharero (right); standing translator Kleinschmidt; Grootfontein, 1895. Photo Collection: National Archives of Namibia

In August 1895, the German governor Leutwein visited Grootfontein and found a ‘friendly Boer settlement’there. During his visit the northern border of Hereroland was demarcated. Furthermore an agreement was signed with the Boers, which stipulated that 40 families, who had to become German citizens, would be allowed to settle on the land of the Company. They also had to commit themselves to permanent settlements and perform military services.In September 1895, Lieutenant Steinhausen was dispatched to Grootfontein to become the first District Head. 1896/97 brought some excessive rains, which was followed by a severe fever epidemic in Grootfontein. Although the Boers had erected 6 dwellings and a church already, many of them left the unhealthy place and settled at Omaruru. Meanwhile Dr Hartmann and Lieutenant Steinhausen had also left. Dr Philaletes Kuhn, who became Steinhausen’s successor as from 1897, laid dry the swamps and thereby improved the health situation in Grootfontein, which prompted the Boers to return. As they did not have a market for their products, many of them made a living by becoming transport drivers. In 1899, Grootfontein became an independent district from Outjo.

Commandant Lombard remained a renowned and leading personality in Grootfontein throughout his life. He was not only instrumental in founding the first school of the district in 1900 at his farm Strydfontein, but was also elected into the German ‘Landesrat’ in 1906 as representative of the Boer community in the country.

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Today many people are not aware that the Trek Boers laid the foundations of the Grootfontein District and played an important role in the further development of this historical town.

In former times, Hai║om-Bushmen and Bergdamara inhabited the area around Grootfontein. Although the OvaHerero had also temporarily dwelled here in the past, they left and never returned out of fright of the Bushmen, who robbed their cattle and dug copper for the AaNdonga, who regarded the area as part of their country.

Between 1874 and 1881, the so-called Thirstland Trekkers moved from West Transvaal in three major treks through the Kalahari, along the southern banks of the Okavango, via Namutoni, Kaoko Otavi, Rusplaas and the Kunene River to Humpata in Angola. At the Okavango, the adventurer and trader Will Worthington Jordan joined them in 1878. He soon became their intimate friend.

Dorslandtrek, issued in 1974, artist: Kobus Esterhuyzen

Dorslandtrek, issued in 1974, artist: Kobus Esterhuyzen

Many of the Boers did not feel at home in Angola. Thus, in 1884, a number of them decided to either return to Transvaal or to settle in the Rehoboth area, which Jordan had purchased for them. However, the plan was shattered as the area had been allocated to the Basters.

Jordan thereupon bought the land around Grootfontein from the Ndonga-chief Kambonde Kampingana in April 1885. The area measured 957 square miles and stretched from Etosha Pan in the north, from Okaukuejo and Naidaus in the west and from there in a straight line across to the Omuramba uamatako in the east. For this tract of land Jordan paid 25 guns, a ‘salted horse’ and a casket of brandy. The Bushmen and Damara were not recognized in this transaction at all.

Shortly afterwards around 20 Trek Boer-families settled at the place called Otjivanda tjongue (leopard hill) or Gei-│ous, which they called ‘Grootfontein’. Their names were Labuschagne, Prinsloo, Bouwer, Venter, Van Vuuren, Du Plessis, Opperman, Botha, Robbertse, Jordaan, Du Toit, Lourens, Holsthuizen, Du Preez, Van den Berg, De Klerk and Van Wyk. In October 1885, they concluded a treaty with Jordan and founded the ‘Republic Upingtonia’; it was named after the Prime Minister of the Cape Province, Sir Thomas Upington. Upon Jordan’s initiative a council was elected, which consisted of 13 members. G.D.P. Prinsloo was president, C. Leen secretary, Louw du Plessis magistrate and D.P. Black ‘veldkornet’, while B.D. Bouwer was commandant.

Initially the Boers remained together and erected some rudimentary block huts around the fountains of Grootfontein. Later they built so-called hartebeest houses on their farms. In the lower lying areas they cultivated wheat, mealies and tobacco. The water from the fountains was used for irrigation.

The farmstead at Strydfontein, Grootfontein District. Photo Collection: National Archives of Namibia

The farmstead at Strydfontein, Grootfontein District. Photo Collection: National Archives of Namibia

Between 1885 and 1887, 43 farms, which measured around 3,000 acre, were allocated to the Boers. Amongst these were some of the still known farms, e.g. Strydfontein, Rietfontein, Tygerfontein and Bavejaansfontein. At the end of 1885 a number of Boers left and moved to Waterberg.

Meanwhile, Herero-chief Maharero had rejected the bill of sale as he maintained that the area belonged to him. Together with his agent R. Lewis he installed a trade embargo against the Boers. In addition, Kambonde’s brother Nehale murdered Jordan in June 1886 near the mission station Omandongo and near Grootfontein Bushmen killed the Boer Du Toit. Henceforth the Boers called Upingtonia ‘Lydensrust’. In April 1887, the Swiss scientist Hans Schinz visited Grootfontein and described the Boers in a favourable way. Although the German government had extended its protection over the Boer Republic at the end of 1886, they could not expect any protection, as there were no protection forces yet. Malaria, which took a large toll amongst the Boers, and continued attacks by Bushmen broke their strength and hope. In mid-1887 they left Grootfontein and returned to Transvaal and Angola. Some of them settled at Omaruru to become transport drivers.

Read further in the next issue on the second group of Trek Boers, who settled at Grootfontein.

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The secret of Mannie Heymans success has been revealed at the Tourism Expo. Gondwana Collection Namibia is sponsoring Mr. African a motorized mountain bike, to keep him competing at the top of his league throughout his golden years.

Mannie Heymans at the Gondwana Stand on the Namibian Tourism Expo 2012

Mannie Heymans at the Gondwana Stand on the Namibian Tourism Expo 2012

To see what is happening on the Gondwana Stand at the Namibia Tourism Expo click here.

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Although you may think that mini-bus taxis, buses and bakkies are the modern means of transport in an ever-expanding Africa, on the dusty roads of the Namibian interior, far from crowded cities and the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, it is also the donkey cart that is one of the quintessential Namibian forms of transport.

A donkey cart on a dusty Namibian gravel road.

A donkey cart on a dusty Namibian gravel road.

The many gravel roads that bisect rural Namibia are arteries in the vast country, ideal for this transport of old that has survived the centuries, providing a vital form of affordable non-motorised transportation for local inhabitants and for carrying essentials such as firewood and water. Donkey carts convey people from village to village, to wells and clinics, and transport children to school. They are a common sight in the communal areas from southern to northern and eastern to western Namibia as they wind their way to their destinations at a pace appropriate for rural Africa. The two-wheeled ‘4x4s’ of the Namibian countryside are often emblazoned with car names like ‘Toyota’, ‘Ford’, ‘Opel’ and even ‘Mercedes Benz’ and are led by teams of up to five donkeys. Humorous inscriptions such as ‘Take me home’, ‘Lady man’, ‘Barjero – It’s a lifestyle’ and ‘The king of the road’ are often also added.

With these donkey carts poor Afrikaner farmers from South Africa trekked northwards over the Gariep (Orange) river in the 1920es in search for a better life.

The donkey descended from the African wild ass and was domesticated about five thousand years ago in Egypt or Mesopotamia. From there, it spread around the world to be used for transport and as a pack and draft animal. Donkeys, like horses, are not indigenous to southern Africa but were imported into South Africa at the time of the first Dutch settlers in the mid-1600s when the Cape of Good Hope became a re-provisioning station for the ships rounding the tip of Africa on their journeys to the East. The hardy Equids were introduced as pack and draft animals and to breed mules (a hybrid bred from a female horse and male donkey), which were more in demand for their superior strength, stronger hooves and surefootedness. The first shipment of mules and donkeys is reported to have arrived at the Cape in 1656. Donkeys were introduced into what is referred to as southern Namibia today in small numbers as settlers began to cross over the Orange/Gariep River from the latter part of the 18th century. Later on, towards the end of the 19th century, German settlers brought in donkeys to breed mules for use in the diamond fields and for military purposes. In the depression years following World War I, there was an influx of Afrikaner farmers travelling north from South Africa in two- or four-wheeled wooden donkey carts, replacing the ox-wagon as a means of transport. In later years as cars gained popularity, the majority of donkey carts were made using remnants of old cars. The carts were made using the ‘bak’ or rear part of the car, rear axles and tyres. From the 1920s until the 1950s donkey carts were the main form of transport on the farms. When the karakul market started to peak in the 1940s, many farmers were able to purchase their first cars. Donkey carts were passed on to the workers and made their way into the communal areas. By the mid-20th century the donkey cart had become a popular form of transport.

Paulus is fetching his employer’s children from school with a donkey cart.

With the continual rise in petrol prices and the high cost of motor vehicles, people are depending more and more on donkey carts for transport. They have become part of the lifestyle and culture of rural Namibia. These valuable carts are the Chevrolets and Subarus of the countryside, often even proudly bearing number plates. The donkeys are also given amusing names. Originally custom-made, donkey carts are now innovative modes of transport constructed with recycled parts from the scrapyard. These include the tyres, and the donkey cart occupants may be required to wait while the donkey cart stops every few kilometres for the owner to jump out and pump the tyres.

A typical donkey cart of the 21st century with humorous inscription.

While the inhabitants of the north-central regions of Namibia have mostly used donkeys to plough their fields or to transport large water containers and the Himbas have used donkeys as pack animals, the Namas and Damaras of southern and western Namibia have wholeheartedly embraced the donkey cart culture.

An intriguing attraction for tourists, the donkey cart is part of the Namibian journey. You know you’re in Namibia when you see your first donkey cart hurtling along the auxiliary roads, disappearing between the long bleached grass into the distance or when you explore the hinterland. Just when you begin to think you are the only person for miles around, a donkey cart will appear on the horizon. These are the times to slow down, not to envelop its occupants in clouds of dust, wave and become acquainted with the colourful people of Namibia. Guaranteed they will be waving and smiling back, and will always have time for small talk.

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