Rehoboth Baster Community
Remembering the Battle of Sam Khubis
Every year since 1977, the Rehoboth Basters gather at Sam Khubis, some 80 km south-west of Rehoboth for a two-day festival commemorating the “volk’s” near-extermination at the hands of the German colonial forces.
“The Rehoboth Basters then made a vow to commemorate the days as sacrosanct,” says organizer of the Sam Khubis committee, Herbert (Jacky) Britz.
Outnumbered and without ammunition, the Basters believe they survived the merciless attacks of the German Schutztruppe on May 7 and 8, 1915 in the koppies of Sam Khubis by divine intervention, when the German troops suddenly and hastily retreated.
A story carried over by his mother, Mans Ferris, now 86 years old, remembers how the Basters ran out of ammunition. The embattled Basters managed to furtively steal some weaponry from their attackers, but soon realized that at the end there was no way out but to face a “total wipe-out”.
“It was then that the Basters decided that the only thing left for them to do was to pray, which they did, making a promise that should they survive the battle, Sam Khubis would be considered a holy day,” relates chairperson of the organizing committee, Herbert (Jacky) Britz. A number of historians hold that the sudden German retreat was due to the approaching South African allied troops of the World War I political configuration.
The solemn commemoration started with a church service in Rehoboth and a procession through the streets of the town.
Women donned festive white pinafores with their traditional dresses and starched white bonnets.
Afterwards, the gatherers went to the former battlefield of Sam Khubis, where some of the clashes were recreated.
The theme of this year’s commemoration was ‘The Role of the Rehoboth Baster Culture’, borne out of the acknowledgement of the current problems faced by the Baster community, said committee member, Albert Alberts. “But it is not a party political event, but merely a focus on our history and culture,” he stressed.
“Each and every culture has and should have a contribution to make towards unity and peace in Namibia,” reiterated Bishop Zephania Kameeta in his address to the procession on the first day of the festivities.
“This commemoration and similar ones at other places will be of great relevance for ourselves and our children; if we do not look back at the past but also at today and the future with a strong emphasis on education about the values of the family and nation, its importance for unity, peace and prosperity and how to achieve that.”
In the context of nation-building, noted Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, John Mutorwa, the commemoration of Sam Khubis contributes to the country’s maturing statehood. “Through our rituals we come to terms with our history,” the minister said. Background to the Battle of Sam Khubis
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, a Baster corps of about 176 men was established under an order of the German colonial authorities in the country, with the explicit understanding that no Baster would be used to fight against German enemies.
A number of events stirred suspicion on the side of the Basters that the Germans tried to co-opt the Basters to fight on the side of the Germans in the forming warring factions: members of the corps were provided with weapons, and uniforms were handed out which the Basters refused to wear; some members of the corps were sent to Kraaipoort and Nauchas, and others were sent further westward to Jakkalswater and Ururas along the Walvis Bay border. Captain Cornelius van Wyk, brother of Hermanus, at a meeting at Swakopmund, explained to a certain General Botha, that the Germans forcibly tried to co-opt the Baster forces.
In February 1914, 46 members of the corps were ordered to Uitdraai to guard over 120 prisoners of war under the command of German officers. Again in April of that year, the Baster Council was asked to send members of the corps to Otjiwarongo to guard another set of prisoners of war.
This reportedly caused huge protest from the Basters who met with a Colonel Francke at the railway station at Bahnhof. The colonel’s reaction was swift and terse: either the Basters went to the north where they were sent, or the entire Baster volk would all be disarmed.
The Basters were given a three-day grace to reach a decision. Their decision was that no one would go north, and neither would they be disarmed. Later in April 1914, the men at Uitdraai deserted their posts. This news was immediately telegraphed to the Baster Council.
From that point onward, things started to unravel swiftly and irrevocably. The Baster soldiers put in care of the Germans’ horses were secretly disarmed. When one of these soldiers tried to escape, he was shot at. “The shooting echoed through the sleepy town at two in the morning, unleashing fear and panic,” relates Britz.
That same night, Baster soldiers at Sandputs were disarmed. One trying to flee was shot dead. The next morning, one soldier did get away and took the news to the Baster Council. Consternation then broke loose. People scattered from the town when German troops marched into town and, by midday, armed Baster men had formed laagers at the western and southern borders of Rehoboth.
Disarmed men, women and children hastened towards Sam Khubis. In an attempt to prevent full-out war against the factions, the Baster Council went to Windhoek to meet with the governor, but no agreement could be reached. Pieter Mouton gathered able-bodied men at Schlip to advance to Sam Khubis.
A German sergeant refusing an order from the marching Basters to stop at the Schlip police station was wounded and disarmed.
The battle lines had been drawn firmly in the sand that set off a number of smaller skirmishes before the battle of Sam Khubis.
On April 22, 1915 a group of women, children and men were attacked by German soldiers at Heuras. Two people were killed. The groups suffered heavy losses in livestock and other wares. After some days, the embattled group reached Sam Khubis.
When Captain Cornelius van Wyk realized the pending danger to his family, he sent them to find shelter in the mountains not far from his farm. With them, were the families of Frederik and Stoffel van Wyk. German soldiers found them, and two children, three women and the son of Cornelius van Wyk were shot and killed.
This rankled the Baster volk to the core, and skirmishes continued unabated when the Germans officially declared war against the Basters on April 22, 1915.
The Aftermath of Sam Khubis “When one considers that the Basters by 1913 accounted for 3 000 souls, with 600 horses, 5 500 cattle and 42 000 small livestock, 150 wagons, then any logically-thinking person will come to the conclusion that the aim of the attacks on the Basters was to annihilate the entire Baster volk,” commented Britz.
Britz said that when a Baster delegation visited the former German Ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, in 2006 to convince him of Germany’s “moral duty” for an apology, Massing reportedly said: “In comparison with the Hereros and Namas, the German-Baster incident is a minor incident and not so complicated.”
The Ambassador did, however, according to Britz, capitulate under pressure and offered an apology for Sam Khubis.
The Basters had since made an appeal to the Government of Namibia to have Sam Khubis recognized as a national commemorative day. The volk also last year made a demand for German reparation for its losses.
With these appeals yet unanswered, the Sam Khubis festival grows from strength to strength with each passing year, declares Britz. “This year’s festival was a resounding success, and we anticipate that the following years will be even bigger.”