Rehoboth Baster Community

Rehoboth Baster Community

Who are the Rehoboth Basters ?

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The Community of the Rehoboth Basters numbers some 35,000 people, living in an area of 14.216 square kilometres south of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. They settled in their lands in the early 1870's. They developed their own legislation, years before the Germans installed their colonial rule over Namibia in 1885 and as such they constitute an indigenous people in present-day Namibia.

The first Baster communities emerged between the Cape Colony's northwestern frontier and the lower course of the Orange River at the end of the eighteenth century. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, missionary organizations, such as the "London Missionary Society" and the "Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft" established congregations in the territory of the Basters and supported the local communities (gemeentes) in developing written forms of regulations that were already in custom for a long period. Several of these political institutions were adopted from the neighbouring Khoi tribes , in particular the offices of "Chief ' (Kaptein) and "Sub-chief ' (Onderkaptein) and the annual tribal gathering. The regulation of public life depended largely on the introduction of written congregational constitutions (or gemeenteordenings"), not only for the christianized people within the community but also for the Heathen, who were treated on equal footing. All community-members were liable to pay taxes and levies, to attend church services, to send their children to school from the age of seven and to have births and deaths within their families registered with the authorities.

Every community elected yearly between their members a " Council " (Raad), responsible for the control of the civil and ecclesiastical order, the settlement of. disputes between the community members, the punishment of offences and the distribution of garden-plots and arable land. During such meeting, the community decided also about the acceptance of new members. At their public gathering on the 24th of March 1868, the community of Basters of Tuin decided to emigrate beyond the borders of the Cape Colony. In order to find new places for settlement on the northern banks of the Orange River, the Council of Tuin sent out an advance party under the leadership of "kaptein" Hermanus van Wyk . He conducted several negotiations with the tribal governments in Nama- and Hereroland and he participated in a common Peace Conference at Okahandja in 1870. At the beginning of the people's "Great Trek" from de Tuin to Rehoboth, the Basters drafted a Provisional Constitution during the trekkers' sojourn in Warmbad on the 15th December 1868.

A revised form of this Constitution was promulgated on the 31st of January 1872 at Rehoboth and it was again renewed and amended on the first of January 1874. This legislation became known as the "Vaderlike Wette" (Parental Laws). These laws did not only restrict themselves to constitutional matters (such as the election of a Chief and of a Council, citizenship.... ) but included at the same time civil and criminal laws and regulations.

The German colonial administration concluded a "Schutz- und Freundschaftsvertrag" ( Treaty of Protection and Friendship ) with the Rehoboth Basters on the 15th of September 1885. According to this Treaty, "the German Emperor recognized the rights and freedoms acquired by the Basters at Rehoboth for themselves.. .". Further, the Treaty mentions that all disputes between Rehoboth community members "will be tried by their own judges and according to their own laws". An important passage in the Treaty is Paragraph 7, which reads as follows "if there should be any other matters to be settled between the German Empire and the Kaptein of the Basters at Rehoboth, these will later be solved by agreements between the two Governments". Despite the efforts of the German administration and legislation to increase their, influence in the Basters community, the Council of the community continued to enact new laws. The Councillors also played a leading part in the rebellion of April 1915 against the Germans.

The form of local self government remained unchanged during the period of military occupation of South West Africa by Union forces (1915-1919) and in the first years of the mandatory system. On the 17th of August 1923, two members of the Executive Council of the Basters (the Government) and seven members of the "Raad" (the Parliament) signed an Agreement with the South West Africa Administration. But a majority of the Rehoboth Basters rejected the Agreement because "it limited their rights to self-determination and it failed to restore rights to land filched under German regime." Finally, this opposition led to an open rebellion in 1925 and the formation of an oppositional "Nuwe Raad" (New Council). The S W.A. Administration reacted with Proclamation 31 of 1924, whereby the "Kaptein", the traditional courts and officials appointed by the "Raad" were temporarily dispensed with and their powers transferred to the Magistrate and his Court. It is important to notice that Proclamation 31 did not repeal the Agreement of 1923; it only suspended a number of provisions.

Local self-government of the Rehoboth Baster community was partly restored with the Proclamation 9 of 1928, whereby an " Advisory Council " was introduced. In a first period, the Council consisted of three elected members and three members appointed by the S W.A. Administration. According to a Proclamation in 1935, the three appointed members of the Council were to be elected. The "Advisory Council" governed the community in all "internal matters", such as the approval of loans to citizens, buying and selling of land, village affairs, ... The oppositional "New Council" continued to function in the period between 1925 and the early thirties. On their initiative, a number of petitions were sent to the "League of Nations", requesting the restoration of full selfgovernment. Finally, on the 11th of April 1933, there came an end to the division of the community and a new "Advisory Council" was elected by all members of the community.

In 1946 the mandate of the League of Nations was transformed into the Trusteeship system of the United Nations and the Republic of South-Africa continued to be the administrating power. In 1966 the General Assembly, by resolution 2145 (XXI) terminated South-Africa's mandate and legally took over the responsibility of the territory. However factually the Republic of South Africa continued to administer the territory under various forms until the installation of the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG). In all this period, the Rehoboth Baster community safeguarded its ancestral institutions and organisation.

In 1976, the South-African parliament voted a law No 56-(1976) which created a formal type of institutions which fitted in the traditional existing ones. This Law in no way replaced the so-called Paternal Laws but merely tried to insert them into the South African administrative structure for the territory.

Elections for a new Kaptein were held in 1977. These elections were won by Ben Africa. The results of this election were immediately challenged by another candidate, Hans Diergaardt. A court of law declared the elections invalid because of irregularities. The new elections of 1978 proclaimed Hans Diergaardt the winner. In 1979 he was installed, together with the new Kapteins’ Council and Peoples Assembly.

The UNTAG suspended the Act in 1989 without making reference to the Paternal Laws, which were not repealed as they formed in no way part of the South African legal system. By virtue of schedules to the Namibian constitution, all so-called discriminative South-African law ceased to have effect. This applied also to law 56-(1976). It seems obvious that the repeal of the above mentioned law recreated the "status quo ante" i.e. the Paternal Laws and eventual dispositions of the Treaty of 1885.

The Rehoboth government assembled on 20 March 1990, the day before Namibian independence. With the support of a large part of the population the Rehoboth government declared the independence of Rehoboth. Namibia in its turn, gained its independence from South Africa the day after, and the stalemate began. Kaptein Diergaardt and the Rehoboth government occupied Rehoboth and refused to hand over their authority to Namibia or cooperate with the new administration. Eventually the Namibian government sent in armed troops and by September 1990 the Rehoboth government ceased its occupation. All buildings and possessions of the Rehoboth government were confiscated.

On 10 October 1992 the Kaptein and Peoples Assembly officially declared the Rehoboth Basters an Indigenous People of Namibia

A Rehoboth Baster delegation, headed by Kaptein Hans Diergaardt visited the United Nations in Geneva on 19 July 1993. At the ‘Working Group on Indigenous Populations’ the Kapten called on the international community to recognize the right to self-determination of the Rehoboth Basters. For over a decade the Rehoboth Basters sent a representative to the UN Working Group every year to create awareness for the Rehoboth Baster situation.

In 1993 there was also an attempt to become a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) which did not materialise. The UNPO is an organization that represents peoples, nations and states who do not have a seat in the United Nations. These members include the government in exile of Tibet, the Kurds, Somaliland and Taiwan. In September 2005 the Rehoboth Basters reapplied for membership and were eventually admitted to the organization on 2 February 2007, through which they hope to regain part of their self-determination and a restoration of rights as well as the return of ancestral lands.

On 17 November 1996, the Rehoboth Baster community filed a complaint at the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations (UNHRC) because the Namibian government did not allow the use of Afrikaans in government communication. On 6 September 2000, the UNHRC delivered a verdict stating that the government of Namibia violated the rights of the Rehoboth Baster community by refusing to communicate with them in Afrikaans. Although the ruling was favourable for the Basters, it did nothing to improve the situation.

On 23 November 1996, representatives of the Rehoboth Basters, Griqua and Nama from South Africa established a treaty of cooperation to further the claims for Self-determination of all the Khoikhoi descendents.

On 12 February 1998 Kaptein Diergaardt died of a heart attack. On 11 January 1999 new elections for the position of Kaptein were held. These elections were won by John Mc Nab.

In 2003 the Kapteins’ Council decided to request the Namibian government to recognize them as a Traditional Authority. Many peoples in Namibia have such a status which grants them a form of self-governance on a local level in which they are able to administer their communal lands as well as provide funds to organize their activities. The lack of communal land, which was confiscated in 1991, however meant that the application by the Rehoboth Basters to be recognized as a Traditional Authority was denied. Only groups who hold communal land can be recognized as a Traditional Authority.