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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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January 1677. At the tip of Africa, where a supply station has been established at the foot of Table Mountain, the Dutch ship ‘Bode’ sets sails to explore the coastline north of the Gariep/Orange River mouth. In early March the ‘Bode’ arrives at Sandwich Harbour. The crew goes ashore but is attacked by Khoisan who live there. After a brief skirmish the sailors retreat aboard ship and leave the bay. Thus the inhabitants of today’s Namibia have put up resistance against European intruders for more than three centuries.

Adventurers, explorers, hunters and traders travelling north from the Cape start to cross the Gariep/Orange River in the late 18th century. Missionaries soon follow suit. Often they are in fact called by tribal chiefs because they are seen as attracting traders. Livestock is exchanged for European merchandise, most notably weapons, because Nama, Oorlam and Herero clash repeatedly.

Namibia Independence, 45 Cent, issued in 1990, artist: Theo Marais

However, the European influence on the country’s fate begins only at the end of the 19th century. In 1884 Imperial Germany extends its protection to a coastal strip in the southwest which Adolf Lüderitz, a merchant from Bremen, acquired from the Oorlam in Bethanien. In 1886 Germany and Portugal agree on the northern border of the German protectorate. Like all the European colonial powers, Imperial Germany wants cheap sources of raw materials for its aspiring industry, but the vast country is also interesting for settling. In the beginning of the 20th century local population groups rise against German rule.

This first battle for independence (1903 until 1908) is lost, however. Herero, Nama and Oorlam are defeated by the technically superior Germans, some of their numbers are heavily reduced and they are now subjected to a strict regime. Most of their land is confiscated and sold to settlers. The position of these population groups does not change much when South African troops invade the country after the outbreak of the First World War and defeat the German colonial power in 1915. South Africa is granted a League of Nations mandate for the administration of South West Africa in 1920 and aspires to annexe the territory as its fifth province.

After the Second World War South Africa tries to maintain ‘white’ minority rule over the country’s ‘black’ majority with the Apartheid system. In Namibia the removal of people from the ‘Old Location’ in Windhoek to Katutura causes a violent rebellion in 1959. A total of 13 people are shot dead by the police. Three months later, on 21 March 1960, the massacre of Sharpeville in South Africa causes a worldwide outrage. Sam Nujoma goes into exile, becomes the leader of SWAPO which was established shortly before and takes up the armed struggle through its military wing, PLAN. The first battle is fought at Ongulumbashe on 26 August 1966.

Resistance leader becomes president: Sam Nujoma is sworn in by the Chief Justice Hans Berker on 21 March 1990. Photo: National Archives

Resistance leader becomes president: Sam Nujoma is sworn in by the Chief Justice Hans Berker on 21 March 1990. Photo: National Archives

Now the power is no longer divided as unequally as it was during colonial times. Resistance fighters are equipped with modern weapons and receive foreign support. In 1966 the United Nations withdraw South Africa’s mandate for Namibia’s administration and recognise SWAPO as representing the majority of the population. But the Cold War helps to sustain South African policies – on the African continent the West needs South Africa as ally against Communism.

The road to Namibia’s independence is paved when the collapse of the Eastern Block becomes imminent in the late 80s and South Africa has to realise that it cannot win the battle against SWAPO by military means. In early 1989 the United Nations despatch an UNTAG force for the transition, Sam Nujoma returns to Namibia in September and elections for the constitutional assembly are held in November. The assembly approves the constitution in February 1990 and chooses Samuel Daniel Shafiishuna Nujoma as the country’s first president. Namibia, ‘Africa’s last colony’ celebrates independence on 21 March 1990 – 30 years after the Sharpeville massacre and 313 years after the skirmish at Sandwich Harbour.

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Thinking about it, now would actually be a good time to light a fire and spend the night in the bush. However, Omaruru isn’t much further from here and he easily finds his way in the dark. He is also spurred on by ambition. The trip to Walvis Bay took him less than three weeks, which is really fast but quite normal for him. Wouldn’t they be amazed, however, if he already returned tonight? And terribly pleased about this particularly heavy bag with the letters they always waited for so eagerly? Ignoring the heavy load on his shoulder he continues his trot through the bush. There! Isn’t that the glow of a fire ahead of him? Suddenly a voice booms through the darkness: “Stop! Who is there? Watchword?” It startles him. He hadn’t taken into account that he doesn’t know the watchword. “Tooke”, he calls and because he does not recognize the voice he hastily adds “the postal runner”. “Watchword?” the voice asks again, louder now and nervous. His anxiety turns into fear – the soldier on watch does not know him and will shoot if he does not come up with the correct watchword immediately. “Post, post…” he shouts breathlessly. “Post, post…” he still gasps after a blow hits him on the chest and knocks him down…

Postal runner Richard 'Tooke' Karambovandu shortly before his tragic death in September 1897. Source: Lichtbildstelle des Fernmeldetechnischen Zentralamtes (FTZ) in Darmstadt (seit 1995 Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum der Deutschen Telekom AG in Berlin)

Postal runner Richard 'Tooke' Karambovandu shortly before his tragic death in September 1897. Source: Lichtbildstelle des Fernmeldetechnischen Zentralamtes (FTZ) in Darmstadt (seit 1995 Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum der Deutschen Telekom AG in Berlin)

This is what the last moments in the life of Richard ‘Tooke’ Karambovandu may have been like. Unfortunately there is no source to tell us what really happened on that first day of September 1897. There is no doubt, however, that a tragic mistake was made. Tooke, the postal runner, was highly appreciated by all and part of a trained Herero unit with the Schutztruppe. He was laid to rest with military honours in the cemetery of the Rhenish Mission in Omaruru. His grave can no longer be identified because the customary wooden cross of that time has not withstood the ravages of wind and weather, or termites of course. But 100 years after his death Namibia Post has given him a monument which is visible far beyond Omaruru, and even beyond Namibia’s borders: a postage stamp designed by Namibian artist Joe Madisia. A picture of Richard ‘Tooke’ Karambovandu, which must have been taken shortly before his death, served as reference.

1897 was a bad year for the area of today’s Namibia.  Rinderpest was rampant and cattle died by the thousands. It was a catastrophe for the transport system which mainly relied on the ox wagon. Mail was also affected because at that time postal traffic had already reached a volume which could not be handled with postal runners alone.

Nine years earlier, on 16 July 1888, the first postal agency for South West Africa had opened in Otjimbingwe, with Hugo von Goldammer as the first postmaster. Why Otjimbingwe? Because the office of the Reichskommissar was there. He was chief administrator of the ‘Protectorate of German South West Africa’ which Imperial Germany had proclaimed in 1884.

The beginnings of the postal services were very modest: the post office was a small hut, the full-time police constable doubled as the postmaster. For many years letters and parcels were still distributed via the missionary stations as well. In October 1891 the postal agency was transferred from Otjimbingwe to Windhoek, where a fort had been built in which the imperial commissioner took up residence.

Following the collapse of the transport system in South West Africa in 1897, the Berlin Reichstag approved funds for building a railway line from Swakopmund to Windhoek. As a result the number of post offices mushroomed – first along the railway line, then in other places as well. Postal traffic was temporarily impaired by the Herero and Nama wars from 1904 to 1907, but thereafter the construction of other railway lines – Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop, Windhoek to Keetmanshoop and Seeheim to Kalkfontein-Süd (Karasburg) – led to the establishment of a well-organized public postal service. A regular shipping service was also started between Swakopmund and Germany. The two years of waiting that a German missionary had to endure in 1840 before receiving an answer to his letters had shrunk to just six or seven weeks…

Stamp mail runner Omaruru - Joe Madisia 1997

Contact for collectors: Philately Services, Private Bag 13336, Windhoek; Tel +264 (0)61 2013097/99, philately@nampost.com.na

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