German South West Africa


German South West Africa (German: Deutsch-Südwestafrika, abbreviated DSWA) was a German colony in what is now Namibia from 1884 to 1915. The colony covered an area of 835,100 km² and had a population of around 200,000, of whom about 15,000 were white (mostly German) in 1914, the rest being made up of indigenous Herero, Nama and Ovambo tribes.

The colony was founded by the Bremen merchant Adolf Lüderitz, who bought a piece of land called Angra Pequena from a local chieftain in 1882 and founded the present town of Lüderitz, which was then placed under the jurisdiction of the German Empire in 1884. Lüderitz and, after his death, the German Colonial Society for South West Africa added further territory to the borders of German South West Africa, which became a crown colony in 1890 and was finally established by treaties with the Portuguese and then the British. The colony”s economic development was initially driven by private investment, followed by the development of local agriculture with strong state support, and then, following the discovery of mineral-rich areas (semi-precious stones, diamonds, gold, other precious and non-ferrous metals), the development of mining and the development of railways. However, alongside the economic boom, the German colony faced serious internal problems arising from the conflicts between the indigenous tribes and the German government. At first, the Germans benefited from the antagonism of the local tribes, but new laws infringing on the rights of the indigenous peoples, the arrival of settlers and Christian missionaries led the Nama and later the Herero to take up arms, which they could only overcome by deploying a large mainland force and decimating the indigenous population.

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, the German colony became a theatre of war, and the local colonial defence force (Schutztruppe) could not compete with the well-supplied and outnumbered South African troops, from whom it was forced to retreat. The German colonial troops unconditionally laid down their arms at Khorab on 9 July 1915, after which the whole area came under the military occupation of the South African Union and the colony ceased to exist. Following the peace treaties that ended the First World War, the territory was given to the Union of South Africa as a mandate territory by the League of Nations.

The first Europeans to establish contact with the people of the area were seafarers and traders led by Diogo Cão and Martin Behaim in January 1486. Shortly afterwards, the famous Portuguese navigator and explorer Bartolomeu Dias also passed the coast of the territory in search of a sea voyage to India, and the present Namibian coast was first depicted on the German map Insularium Illustratum by Heinrich Hammer in 1496.

In the following centuries, the first European settlements were established in the area, but they remained small and primitive. The London Missionary Society established a small mission at Blydeverwacht in February 1805, but their efforts met with little success. In 1840, they handed over all their activities to the Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft, whose first representatives were Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt and Carl Hugo Hahn, who arrived in October and December 1842. The missionaries from the Rhine founded churches throughout the country, initially playing an important role in the dissemination of culture and later in political life. At the same time, merchants and farmers arrived, establishing warehouses and estates throughout the country.

The organisation and development of the German colony

On 12 November 1882, Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz, a merchant from Bremen, asked Chancellor Bismarck to guarantee the security of his future site in South Africa. Once he had received this, his employee Heinrich Vogelsang purchased a piece of land called Angra Pequena from a local chieftain, where the town of Lüderitz was founded. Lüderitz, in order to avoid British intervention, placed the area under the jurisdiction of the German Empire on 24 April 1884. To clarify the situation, the German Imperial Navy cruiser Nautilus arrived in early 1884. With a favourable report and the tacit agreement of the British, further ships visited South West Africa, the Leipzig and the Elisabeth. On 7 August 1884, the German flag finally appeared in this corner of Africa. The German claims were confirmed during the Berlin Conference and the newly appointed West Africa Commissioner, Gustav Nachtigal, arrived on board the Möwe in October of the same year.

The German Colonial Society for Southwest Africa (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft für Südwest-Afrika or DKGSWA) was founded in April 1885 with the support of German bankers, industrialists and politicians, and soon bought up Lüderitz”s declining businesses.

Soon afterwards, Lüderitz drowned in the Orange River during an expedition in 1886. Following his death, the Company purchased all of Lüderitz”s land and mining rights, continuing the policy set out by Bismarck of favouring private capital over public funds for the development of the colonies. In May of the same year, Heinrich Ernst Göring was appointed as Reichsleiter in the name of the Emperor and set up the administration in Otjimbingwe. It was then, on 17 April 1887, that a law was passed granting different rights to Europeans and the indigenous population.

This led to a gradual deterioration in relations between the colonists and the natives over the next few years, further complicated by the presence of British settlers in Walvis Bay, as well as many settlers with smallholdings and missionaries. A complex web of treaties, agreements and disputes resulted in a steady growth of discontent in the area. As a result, in 1888 the first Schutztruppe (Colonial Guard) squad arrived in Otjimbingweba, consisting of 2 officers, 5 non-commissioned officers and 20 black soldiers.

By the end of the year, the German envoy had forced the Walvis Bay natives off their land, despite the failed negotiations. The South West Africa Company was close to bankruptcy by the 1890s, and they turned to Bismarck for both help and troops. The area was declared a Crown Colony in 1890 and relief troops arrived. In the same year, the Heligoland-Zanzibar Agreement was signed, adding the Caprivi Strip to the colony, which looked like a promising trade route.

Internal conflicts, followed by a transitional period of peace

By the end of the 1880s, tribal rivalries in the colony – initially exploited by the Germans – were a serious threat to the colonial power. In 1885, the Herero tribes and their leader Samuel Mahahero accepted the German protection treaty, in the knowledge that it would provide valuable support against the territorial ambitions of the Boer settlers and the (partly Christian) Nama and Orlam tribes, who had immigrated under British pressure. However, Mahahero soon became disillusioned with his German allies, the Germans were unable to defend them against the Nama”s extensive attacks, and Mahahero first terminated the treaty with the Germans in 1888, and then, under the command of Curt von François, withdrew from the colony in 1890, under the influence of German troop units arriving from the mainland, because only with the help of the Germans could he secure absolute power over the Herero tribes, which was threatened by the Nama, with its experience of war and European firearms, and their leader, Hendrik Witbooi. By 1893, significant military reinforcements had arrived from the mainland, and von François was appointed local military commander and provincial chief of the colony in 1891, concentrating both political and military power in his hands. Under the new leader, German soldiers left Windhoek on 12 April 1893 to attack Hornkranz, which had been reinforced by Witbooi. In the Battle of Hornkranz, François” forces defeated Witbooi”s men, the German losses were light, while the Nama losses were estimated at one hundred and fifty, the majority of them women and children who had fled to the town. Despite the defeat, most of Witbooi”s men successfully retreated to the Naukluft Mountains, where the Germans had difficulty in following them.

The German forces returned to Windhoek victorious, but their initial joy proved short-lived. The Nama leader began a guerrilla war against the Germans, capturing and destroying a German freight train in August, attacking post stations with his men and capturing a considerable number of horses, making it difficult for German troops to pursue them effectively. Later in the summer, the Germans received further reinforcements from the mainland, and following their arrival, François again attempted to destroy the rebel Namas. His plan was to chase Witbooi”s men, isolate their resistance, and then force them into open battle-and destroy them. But each time the Namas evaded the German ambushes and repeatedly attacked their rearguards. Only on 1-2 February 1894, near the Onab valley, did the German commander succeed in provoking a battle, where the German troops, supported by artillery, fought fiercely against the defending Nama, but they again managed to break out of the attackers” ring and escape into the mountains.

Seeing the costly, protracted fighting, the German government soon dismissed von François from his position as provincial governor, and Major Theodor von Leutwein arrived from Berlin in February 1894. Unlike his predecessor, Leutwein sought to resolve the situation primarily through negotiations and treaties. After his arrival he entered into negotiations with the neighbouring tribes and tried to win their support. In the name of the emperor, he recognised the authority of the local chiefs and obliged them to maintain ”order and tranquillity” in their lands in return for an annual pension. At the same time, he tried to negotiate with Witbooi himself, with whom he agreed in May to a truce until the end of July. He also maintained a personal correspondence with the head of the NAMA in the hope that he could persuade him to surrender. The Christian Nama leader, however, proved to be a learned adversary, able to back up his independence aspirations with rhetorical turns and state theorising, and the correspondence soon broke down. The German provincial chief acknowledged the Nama chief”s ambitions, but declared that he was ”a threat to the German defence power”. Despite the failure of the peace talks, the armistice saw the German colonial troops continue to increase in numbers and Leutwein, reinforcing his forces, prepared to crush Nama resistance. Witbooi and his followers retreated from the German troops into the Naukluft mountains, where the Germans followed them, blocking all mountain passages of escape. The battle of Naukloof began on 27 August. Both sides tried to control the high ground and water sources in the rough terrain, but the Namas, unable to escape and short of supplies, surrendered on 9 September. The governor succeeded in getting the captured Nama chief to sign an agreement of German patronage, under which the prisoners were soon released, their tribe was not disbanded and they were allowed to keep their firearms, but were placed under the control of a German garrison (the Nama chief did not terminate the agreement until 1904).

Following the armed conflict with the Nama, the area has enjoyed a decade of peace, apart from a few localised clashes. As provincial chief, von Leutwein decentralised the administration, establishing three local centres of power in Windhoek, Otjimbingwe and Keetmanshoop, and also saw the beginning of a period of strong development of the German colony”s agricultural and mining industries. Numerous deposits of semi-precious stones, diamonds, gold and other precious and non-ferrous metals were discovered, which led to the construction of the first mines, and the development of the local road and rail networks. The latter was strongly supported by the governor himself, who believed that the building of advanced railways rather than military force was the way to demonstrate the strength of German power. In 1897, it was decided to build the State Railway (Deutsche Kolonial Eisenbahn Bau und Betriebs Gesellschaft), which would run between the port of Swakopmund and the administrative centre of Windhoek. The 383 km line was completed by the summer of 1902, followed later by a second line. From 1903, the Otavi Mining and Railway Company also started building a new railway line, the main line of which ran from Swakopmund to the mines of Tsumeb, which opened after the turn of the century. The first telegraph line was opened on 13 April 1899, and the first local telephone network was built in Swakopmund in 1901.

Rebellion against German rule and retaliation

The first Hottentot uprising against the German colonial system took place in 1893 and 1894. Its leader was the now legendary Hendrik Witbooi. In the years that followed, there was a steady stream of small and large rebellions and uprisings. The most significant of these was the Herero War (also known as the Herero Genocide) of 1904.

The first shots were fired on 12 January, and the attacks were mainly aimed at remote farms, where around 150 white settlers were killed. Initially, the German Schutztruppe units and auxiliary troops could not do much. When the Herero went on the offensive, they repeatedly surrounded Windhoek and Okahandja and destroyed the railway bridge at Osona. To put down the rebellion, an army of 14 000 men was sent from Germany under the command of Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha. The rebels were then easily defeated at the Battle of Waterberg.

Before the battle, von Trotha sent an ultimatum to the rebels, ordering them to leave German territory or they would die. In response, the Herero retreated to the waterless western branch of the Kalahari Desert, the Omaheke area, where many died of thirst. The Germans guarded every waterhole and were ordered to shoot any Herero they saw. In the end only a few rebels managed to reach neighbouring British territory.

Then in the autumn of 1904, the Nama tribe rose up again against the Germans. The leaders were once again Hendrik Witbooi and Jakobus Morenga, who was known in the German press as ”the Black Napoleon” (der schwarze Napoleon in German), while in the English press he was affectionately called ”Black de Wet”. This rebellion was finally put down by the Whites by the end of 1907, beginning of 1908.

Approximately 1749 Germans and between 25,000 and 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama were killed during the rebellions.

World War I in South West Africa (1914-1915)

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, fighting began in the German colonies, and after the entry into the war of the British-allied South African Union on 23 August 1914, it also began in German South West Africa. Open hostilities in the region in the First World War began on 13 September 1914, when South African troops launched an attack on the Ramansdrift police station. Several German settlers were taken prisoner in the attack and transported to a prison camp near Pretoria and from there to Pietermaritzburg. On 14 September, South African warships opened fire on the port of Swakopmund to silence the radio station there. This was repeated three more times by warships on the 23rd, 24th and 30th, but to little effect. On 19 September, South African troops landed at the port town of Lüderitz in the south of the country. The town was successfully captured by the invaders, setting the stage for the invasion that was to follow. In the northeast, between 21 and 23 September, South African and North Rhodesian forces successfully took control of the so-called Caprivi Strip, but a day later, German colonial military units occupied the South African enclave of Walvis Bay. On 26 September 1914, a battle took place between the South African forces and a German force of 1,800 men under Joachim von Heydebreck near Sandfontein, about 35 km from Raman”s Drift. The Germans ambushed the soldiers who were watering at the oasis and then decimated them with heavy machine gun and cannon fire. After a fierce firefight, the exhausted South African soldiers surrendered with their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Grant.

However, the Entente”s operation was subsequently halted by the outbreak of the so-called Boer Rebellion or Maritz Rebellion in the territory of the Union of South Africa. This was sparked off by the Boers living in the area against the pro-British government, and German Schutztruppe troops were actively involved with local rebels on their side. The rebels proclaimed a pro-German South African Republic, but the majority of the military sided with the government and the rebellion was completely defeated by the beginning of the following year. The suppression of the internal rebellion allowed the South African military leadership to resume offensive operations at the turn of 1914-15. At the head of the troops was the country”s prime minister, Louis Botha, who by the end of December had recaptured Walvis Bay, which he had lost in September, and on 15 January 1915 he captured the port of Swakopmund. In February, German troops invaded South Africa, but were defeated at the Battle of Kakamas by Jacob Louis van Deventer”s troops. The South African forces, attacking from several directions, gradually pushed forward during the spring, capturing Berseba on 21 April and defeating the German troops again on 26 April near Trekkopjes. On 12 May the attackers entered the capital Windhoek, which had already been evacuated by the Germans.

The last big battle of the campaign took place near Otavifontein, where 800-1000 Germans faced the outnumbered South African troops. The result was beyond doubt, the Germans were decisively defeated and the troops were pushed into the northern areas of the country. The last German commander, Victor Franke, with his troops, who had adopted delaying tactics and were short of supplies and water, finally laid down his arms near Khorab on 9 July 1915. At the end of the campaign, the victors had taken some 5,000 prisoners and captured 59 guns. The prisoners were transferred to prison camps set up for them, and most of the captured German officers were interned in Okawayo.

The end of the colony, the legacy of German rule

The colony virtually ceased to exist following the military occupation by the forces of the Union of South Africa and the surrender of the remnants of the Schutztruppe. Prisoners of war were taken to internment camps, but were soon released, along with previously interned soldiers and civilians, who were allowed to return to their farms and towns. The abolition of the German colonies in Africa and Asia was formalised following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which gave them, as mandated territories of the nascent League of Nations, to the powers that had maintained their military occupation of those territories. The former German colony of South West Africa came under the administration of the Union of South Africa.

The first real leader of the colony was Heinrich Ernst Göring, who was appointed as Reichsleiter by the German Emperor Wilhelm I. Under his leadership, the administration was set up, initially based in Otjimbingwe, with only 3 officials representing the mother country. This number was soon reduced and the headquarters moved to Windhoek in December 1891. The territory was divided into 6 districts:

These were under the control of the local police authority, while the mining authority was based in Windhoek. The location of the police forces was as follows:

In 1890, after the territory officially became a crown colony of the German Empire, official provincial governors were appointed to lead German South West Africa. The first of these was Louis Nels, followed by Curt von François, who is credited with founding the towns of Windhoek and Swakopmund and building the Alte Feste (Old Forest) fortress in Windhoek, the headquarters of the colonial army. The same year saw the establishment of the local judiciary, the arrival of the first judge in 1891 and the introduction of German criminal law in 1895.

Theodor Leutwein was appointed in 1894 and served as governor from 1898. His political aim was to establish and maintain a colonial system by peaceful means, avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. This was to be achieved by three things: negotiation with the chiefs, patience and apparent leniency. Initially, the governor succeeded in putting an end to the tribal tensions, which were no longer to the advantage of the German government, and corresponded personally with the most important Nama leader, Hendrik Witbooi. The colonial administration paid the Herero and Nama chiefs an annual pension and allowed them to exist independently under ”German patronage”. Another of Leutwein”s measures was decentralisation to facilitate the management of the colony. He established three regional centres of administration in Windhoek, Otjimbingwe and Keetmanshoop. However, this kind of politicisation finally failed around 1902-03, and the government was forced to call in German troops from the mainland, who put down the tribal uprisings with bloody means, decimating the indigenous Nama and Herero.

From the beginning, the colony”s leadership granted different rights to white settlers and indigenous blacks, with the first written law being promulgated in 1886, which stated that blacks and whites had different rights. In 1905 the Mixed Marriage Act came into force. It stipulated that whites could no longer marry black women and that a German who was already married to a black woman would lose his or her rights as a citizen. At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church also declared that “marriage between blacks and whites is not blessed by the Church”.

The 1907 Labour Act forgot about the black workers who had their land and cows taken away. In addition, all workers were required to have a ”passport”, which was a numbered metal sheet and a work book (Dienstbuch), and were re-settled at the place of work. It was also in the same year that the colonial government announced that no state-owned farms could be sold to farmers who were in a relationship with indigenous women.


The name of the army was Schutztruppe (in Hungarian Gyarmati Véderő), a name adopted by the armed forces of the colony following a royal decree in 1894. The first military unit to arrive in South West Africa was the Truppe des Reichs-Kommissars (”Truppe des Reichs-Kommissars”) in 1888, under the command of Lieutenant Ulrich von Quitzow, who was accompanied by two officers, five non-commissioned officers and twenty Africans (enlisted from the Bastards and the Namas). A year later the first military fort, Wilhelmsfestes, was erected near Tsaobis.

By January 1890, the Schutztruppe had grown to fifty men, stationed in the settlements of Tsaobis, Neu-Heusis and Okahandja. Curt von François established the army”s headquarters at the Alte Feste (Old Forest) in Windhoek. At the time, 32 German soldiers were stationed here. In 1891, additional soldiers from the mainland arrived as reinforcements, bringing the total South West African military force to 225 (four officers, a doctor and 200-20 other ranks) by 1893. The original garrison under Curt von François was allowed to demobilise and settle at the same time, but all remained eligible for conscription as reservists. By 1897 the colonial garrison had grown to about seven hundred.

By 1914 they numbered nearly 1500, most of them German. This army was divided into 12 companies: 9 companies of mounted infantry (one of them equipped with camels) and three artillery batteries, with the strongest artillery concentrated here in the German colonies in Africa. They were stationed all over the country. The camel patrols deserve a special mention, and later became the icons of the German Schutztruppe in South West Africa. In addition to these units, a considerable number of German settlers joined the German forces at the outbreak of the First World War, and the Schutztruppe was reinforced by the South African Free Corps (in German Südafrikanische Freiwilligen-Korps or Freikorps for short, Vrijkorps in Dutch), which was formed by Boer volunteers from the police and the South African Free Corps (in German Südafrikanische Freiwilligen-Korps or Freikorps for short, Vrijkorps in Dutch). During the Entente campaign in South West Africa, both sides used masses of blacks for reconnaissance and load-carrying duties.

With the approach of the First World War, it became increasingly necessary for the German colonies to have a certain amount of air power. The nucleus of this was an aviation club with a growing membership, the Deutsch-Südwest-afrikanischer Luftfahrerverein (“South West African Air Force Association”). In 1912, the association drew up guidelines for the future development of aviation in the German colony, which were soon submitted to the then governor of German South West Africa, Theodor Seitz. The Association”s paper showed that, in addition to mail service, message delivery and reconnaissance, aircraft could be of enormous benefit in the event of a war in the colony. The governor and the local Schutztruppe unit commander, Joachim von Heydebreck, were interested in the idea, and the latter also pointed out in a memorandum to the German Ministry of Colonial Affairs that the French colonies were already in the process of developing support for air transport. After the initial reluctance of government circles, the training of pilots could soon begin, airfields were built and the first aircraft arrived in the colony in May and June 1914. These were Otto Doppeldecker, Aviatik Doppeldecker and Roland-Taube aircraft. After the outbreak of the World War, these aircraft carried out several reconnaissance and bombing missions against enemy troops, and after the military occupation of the colony, all three aircraft were destroyed by their own crews to prevent them falling into enemy hands.


The German South West Africa Police (Landespolizei) was founded in 1905, although due to the riots of the period it could not start operating until 1907, before which the Schutztruppe units had also been used for police duties. Unlike the police forces of other German colonies, which were paramilitary units with black volunteers recruited by white officers to put down local riots, the South West African police force was almost entirely staffed by local Germans and focused exclusively on policing. In 1907, the organisation began with four hundred members, and in the same year they received their first motor vehicle, although horses and camels were their usual means of transport. Their uniforms were at first identical to those of the Schutztruppe soldiers, distinguished only by the police insignia, but later they were given their own uniforms. By 1914, their ranks included a total of seven German officers, five hundred German policemen of various ranks and fifty African auxiliaries. Following the outbreak of the First World War, the police force was significantly reduced in number, with the majority of its members joining the Schutztruppe and taking over its equipment.

Post and telecommunications

The first post office was established in Otjimbingwe in 1888, but moved to Windhoek in 1891. Letters were transported by DKGSWA ships via Walvis Bay to Cape Town, from where they were forwarded to all parts of the world. This initial mail service ran every two months between the German and British colonies. From 1891 onwards, ships of the Woermann Line carried the mail directly to Germany. Within the colony, mail was initially delivered by camel between settlements – for example, the Northern Gulf route from Windhoek to Walvis Bay usually took 12 days. From 1893 onwards, postal ships also docked at Swakopmund to pick up additional mail.

The number of postal stations gradually increased, reaching 18 by 1899 and 34 by 1903, but in 1899 the telegraph network between the towns was also started. The first telegraph line linking the colony with Germany was inaugurated on 13 April 1899.

The first local telephone network in the colony was established in Swakopmund in 1901. In the same year, a phototelegraphic line was opened between Windhoek and Keetmanshoop, and a year later between Karibib and Outjo. In the years to come, both the number of local telephone networks and the number of villages connected to the fibre-optic network will continue to grow. By 1913, a total of 28 local telephone networks had been built with 954 subscribers, and telephone lines had reached a length of 1 078 kilometres.

In Windhoek, the construction of a powerful radio transmitter and its 120 m high tower was completed by 1913, enabling them to reach the German colony of Togo and, through it, Germany. However, the transmitter did not become operational until 1914 and was forced to move several times due to the fighting in the Great War. After the Antant occupied Togo, direct radio contact with Germany became almost impossible. The transmitter was then occupied by South African troops near Tsumeb in 1915.

German South West Africa was the only German colony where large numbers of German immigrants settled. The main attraction, apart from the economic opportunities (diamond and copper mining), was agriculture.

According to an estimate dated 1 January 1894, there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Nama, between 3,000 and 4,000 Basteros, between 70,000 and 80,000 Ovaherero, between 90,000 and 100,000 Ovambo and between 30,000 and 40,000 Dama and San natives living in the colony.

The population of the colony in 1902 was around 200 000, of whom only 2,595 were German, 1,354 Boer and 452 British, but by 1914 9,000 more Germans had arrived from the old country. At the same time, there were about 80 000 Herero, 60 000 Ovambo and 10 000 Nama natives living in the colony, the latter contemptuously known as Hottentots. An estimate from 1904 gives similar figures, putting the number of Herero (lower case) living in the colony at 80 000, the number of Nama at 20 000 and the number of Damara at 30 000, but these figures have been considerably reduced as a result of the fighting and genocide between the Herero and Nama. Following the suppression of the last resistant tribal rebellions, a census in 1911 put the numbers of the Herero, Nama and Damara tribes mentioned above at 15 130, 9 781 and 18 613 respectively (the census also mentions 4 858 San, no survey having been carried out in Ovamboland at the time).

In the early years, the bulk of imports were goods imported to meet the needs of Europeans: drink, tobacco, coffee, tinned food, clothing and jewellery. In 1897, this amounted to 887,325 marks.

From 1894 onwards, Cape Cross Station was used for seal hunting and guano extraction.


The land bought by Adolf Lüderitz in 1882 and the crown deposit that grew out of it proved to be a valuable source of copper and other non-ferrous and precious metals. The first major copper deposits were discovered in 1886, 150 km southeast of Swakopmund, and later the Gorob and Hope mines were established in this area, which began producing copper, gold and silver in 1907. After the Lüderitz interests were acquired by the DKGSWA in 1885, several major property and mining companies were formed in the area. Some of these were of English origin (Kharaskhoma-Syndicate – 1892), who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Cecil Rhodes, but most of the companies were of German origin (Kaoko Land- und Minengesellschaft – 1895; Otavi-Minen und Eisenbahngesellschaft (Gibeon Schürf- und Handelsgesellschaft – 1903). As the area was rich mainly in copper, it was copper mining that started earliest. Regular deliveries started in 1907.

The first official mining claim east of Walvis Bay was awarded to the DKGSWA after an official report that the area was rich in gold (later proved to be a fraud after only salt was found), and in 1887 a new law passed by the colonial administration transferred all mining rights to the state.

In the late 1890s, the first official reports of semi-precious stones and topaz in the area around Little Spitzkoppe were published. Soon afterwards, deposits of beryl, aquamarine and pegmatite are discovered in the Caribbean.

Near Tsumeb, a rich copper deposit is discovered on Green Hill in 1893, but there are also significant deposits of lead, zinc, tin, silver, cobalt, arsenic, antimony, cadmium, germanium, gallium, iron, mercury, molybdenum, nickel and vanadium. Mining began in 1906, but until 1909 only open pit mining was carried out. Initial production is estimated at 15,000 tonnes and by the outbreak of the First World War, around 70,000 tonnes of ore had been mined. The first copper smelters were also started in 1906, but they were expensive to run as the coal was imported directly from Germany.

In 1900, experts from the Hanseatische Land-, Minen- und Handelsgesellschaft für SWA discovered another rich copper deposit in the Rehoboth area, which was soon exploited in several mines.

Construction of the Khan Copper Mine, 60 km east of Swakopmund, began in 1905 and production started in 1906. The amount of raw material that could be extracted was estimated by geologists at 157,000 tonnes.

In 1909, two other societies were formed, the Afrika-Marmor-Kolonialgesellschaft and the Koloniale Marmorsyndikat, to exploit the recently discovered marble deposits. Mining began near Karibib in 1911.

In addition to diamonds, other precious stones were also found, often in the surface sand.


The development of agriculture in the colony initially faced many obstacles, mainly due to poor environmental conditions (lack of water and labour, destruction by locusts, etc.). In 1891, a farm was set up in Kibib to breed sheep and produce wool. Shortly afterwards, vegetable growing and winegrowing were introduced in Little Windhoek.

The cattle famine of 1897 caused serious problems. About half of the Ovaherero tribe”s cattle died, but white farmers fared no better. This situation was not helped by the fact that vaccines were sent from Germany to try to save the cattle. The Owa herders then sold their land and the rest of their livestock and moved to German estates as day labourers.

In 1909, Angora cats started to be bred and transported for export, and in 1913 ostriches were bred.

By 1912, the number of farms had reached 1,250, and by 1913 there were 1,331, of which 914 were owned by farmers of German origin.


The first local brewery was established in Swakopmund in 1900.

The first cannery was established in Sandwich Bay in 1887.

In 1907, Deutsche Farm-Gesellschaft AG opens a meat extract factory in Heusis.

In 1907, the Damara & Namaqua Handelsgesellschaft power station is inaugurated in Swapkmound.

Rail transport

The first railway in the colony was the Cape Cross Mine Railway in 1884. It was built by the Damaraland Guano Company Ltd. The second line was opened two years later between Walvis Bay and Plum.

Railway construction in the colony began in earnest in 1895, with the construction of a few small mine lines, but the big boom came two years later. In 1897 the colony”s management decided to build the State Railway (Deutsche Kolonial Eisenbahn Bau und Betriebs Gesellschaft) from Swakopmund to Windhoek. The cattle drought of 1897 had also encouraged the economic players to build the line, and the political authorities were also pushing for the construction of railways, because, as the then Governor of the colony, Theodor Leutwein, put it, ”it is not by an unlimited increase in the number of Schutztruppe, but by the construction of railways” that the German power in the colony could be shown. The 383 km line was completed by the summer of 1902, with the first train arriving in Windhoek on 19 June 1902.

The contract to build the second line was awarded in 1906. The line from Otavib to Tsumebig and Grootfontein was completed by 1908. The southern line network from Lüderitz to Aus was completed by 1906, Keetmanshoop by 1908 and Karasburg by 1909. The new line reduced transport costs. From Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop, the fare for 500 kg of goods fell from 30 marks to 9 marks. With the construction of the Windhoek-Mariental-Keetmanshoop line, the two networks were linked by 1912.

In 1900, the Otavi Minen- und Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (Otavi Mining and Railway Company, or OMEG) was founded in Berlin with the aim of building a railway from Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast to the mines of Tsumeb in the interior of the colony, which would facilitate the transport of mined ore. Construction of the railway line began in 1903. The first 225 km of the 600 mm gauge railway has 110 steel bridges to carry the line across an area densely cut by dry riverbeds. Construction coincided with the fighting with the Hereo and Namaqua tribes and work progressed slowly as labour was scarce and the line was often used for military operations. The main line was finally completed by August 1906, with the official opening taking place on 12 November. In addition to the main line to Tsume, a 91 km branch line from Otaví to the mines near Grootfontein was completed by 1908 at a total cost of DM 14 725 000 for a 576 km line.

By 1913, these lines were running 4 express trains, 14 mixed trains and 29 freight trains per week. Blacks and whites travelled in separate carriages on the express and mixed trains.

Road transport

A “public road” in this country meant only a dirt track, a dirt road, passable only by ox-drawn carts or mules, on which traffic was difficult and slow. This situation changed in 1896, when roads were improved between Groß Barmen and Otjiseva, Okahandja and Otjosazu and Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz. By 1902, there were 116 roads with a total length of 18 826 km.

The first steam tractor arrives in the area in 1894, with which the owner transports goods across the Namib Desert, while the first petrol-powered truck arrives in 1904. The number then rose to five in 1914.

Water transport

There are only two natural harbours along the coast of German South West Africa: Lüderitz Bay and Walvis Bay. As Lüderitz Bay was located far to the south and Walvis Bay was in British hands, the port and military post of Swakopmund was established in 1892 to bypass the British colony.

At Swakopmund, however, ships could not dock directly on the coast, but only a mile out to sea. The goods and passengers then had to be transferred to smaller boats and taken ashore. The 375 m long harbour pier with its 35 m long crossing at the end was built of stone by 1903. After that, ships could moor directly on the shore. Loading was made easier by the presence of harbour cranes and a railway line.

At the same time, the currents of the Atlantic from south to north soon started to fill the harbour with sand. By 1905, this had reached such a level that goods could no longer be unloaded and the port was finally forced to close in 1906. These events were soon to unfold after the pier was opened, and construction of a second pier in wood began in November 1904. A year later it was already operating 5 steam cranes, but this construction did not last long either. Two years after its inauguration in 1905, it too was unusable. Wooden drilling shells rendered it completely unusable, so once again the light barges had to be used. Construction of the third pier began in 1913, already built of steel, but it was not completed in its entirety until the outbreak of the First World War.

Despite the fact that the port of Lüderitz was far from the centre of the colony, improvements were also made here. For example, in 1904 a breakwater 80 m long and 5 m wide was built. The second breakwater was opened in 1905 and the construction of the third (167 m long and 8 m wide) began in the same year.

The German shipping company Woermann Line started regular sailings to Germany in 1891. A ship sailed on this route on the 25th of every month, while the coastal steamer Leutwein operated every five weeks between Walvis Bay and Cape Town. The last steamers in the colony docked at Swakmound on 7 August 1914. They brought mail from South Africa and then sailed on to South America.

The first newspaper printed in the colony was published on 12 October 1898 under the title Windhoeker Anzeiger, but it ceased publication after three years. The next papers to be published were Nachrichten des Bezirksvereins Windhoek in 1903 and the much more successful Windhoeker Nachrichten in 1904. In 1911 another German-language newspaper, the Swakopmunder Zeitung, merged with the Deutsch-Südwest-Afrikanische Zeitung a year later. Also in 1911, the first English-language newspaper in the colony, The Windhoek Advertiser, was published.


The first colonial school – “For Whites Only” – was founded in Windhoek in 1894. In the following year, boarding schools were established in all major settlements. By 1914, there were 14 primary schools in the colony (only for white children), plus a secondary school in Swakopmund and Windhoek, and a private Roman Catholic girls” school in Windhoek.


The various missionary societies were active in the area in spreading Christian doctrine, the largest of which was the Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft, which by the outbreak of the First World War had 15 mission stations, 32 branches and 48 mission schools. It had a membership of 7 508 and 1 985 students in its schools. Most parishioners were from the Nama tribe.

The Salesians of St. Francis of Harmradendi had a mission in Heirachabis. Two fathers and four sisters were active here, while 200 white and 500 Nama believers were members of this community.

The third major missionary association was the Finnish Missionary Society. They also had centres and schools all over the country, as well as a printing press.


Gert V. Paczensky. …and the whites came. Gondolat (1974). ISBN 963-280-091-5

Prothero, Georg Walter (publisher). South-West Africa. H.M. Stationery Office, London (1920) (version available online)

Gábor Búr. History of Sub-Saharan Africa. Kossuth Publishing House (2011). ISBN 978-963-09-6499-9

Dierks, Klaus. “Chronology of Namibian History”,, 2 January 2005 (accessed 19 September 2009).

Dierks, Klaus. “Namibia”s Railway System”,, 12 December 2004 (accessed 15 September 2009).

Anton, Ralph: German Protectorates (német nyelven). German colonies

István Német – Dániel Juhász: German colonial policy at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries (in Hungarian). (Accessed 12 August 2017)

External links


  1. Német Délnyugat-Afrika
  2. German South West Africa