Category Archives: South Africa

Fall of German South West Africa

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 334-359:

German South West Africa—modern-day Namibia—while not Germany’s largest African colony and arguably its least beautiful, was nonetheless the most populous, prized, and dearly won. GSWA’s flat brown, wide-open spaces were well suited to cattle ranching. About 12,000 German colonizers lived a kind of Texas life on isolated ranches, in cow towns and small cities with names like Swakopmund, Grootfontein, and Windhoek, the colonial capital, which boasted substantial half-timbered German-style buildings, beer halls, modern sanitation, electric lights. Windhoek’s powerful Telefunken wireless transmitter facility, which enabled High Command in Berlin to communicate with their commerce raiders and U-boats at sea, was the main British strategic objective in the war in GSWA.

“Coming out of the desert, Windhoek was a revelation, and a great tribute to German colonization,” commented Major Trew, when Windhoek was taken. “The government buildings are most ornate and would have done credit to any city in the world.” The town itself was dominated by an absurd replica of a traditional German castle.

Victorious British Imperial troops also found comfort in the arms of the lonely German women of Windhoek—after the manner of conquering armies from time immemorial. A charming, susslich Viennese beauty known only as Regina ran a private club for officers of the German General Staff that now, suddenly, catered to their British counterparts: Regina remained a German patriot, she insisted—never mind the fortunes of war that at the moment dictated otherwise. And she invited a bevy of similarly patriotic friends for evening dances with British officers to the music of a gramophone. They tangoed, they waltzed. Whatever else they did remains unmentioned. In exchange, Regina and her friends enjoyed the dubious benefits of British military rations and polished off their regimental champagne reserves.

After the fall of Windhoek, the rest of German South West Africa quickly succumbed to a fast-moving campaign described by the Cambridge Military History of World War One as “one of the neatest and most successful . . . of the Great War.” The Germans experienced GSWA’s loss as a painful diminishment of national pride: First because, as historian Edward Paice puts it in his monumental study, World War I: The African Front, “Africa mattered to the European powers at the beginning of the twentieth century.” And second, the British victory rendered worthless the colony’s vicious and hard-won pacification by German forces less than a decade earlier. The high cost of that pacification had been spiritual as well as physical: General Lothar von Trotha’s merciless suppression of the native Hereros would be labeled genocide by later generations—the first such charge laid at the feet of the German people in the bloody century just dawning.

Abandoned German settlements, half buried in sand, their thick plaster and brick walls pockmarked with bullet holes, can be seen in Namibia to this day, bizarrely preserved by the super-arid climate. At Riet and Pforte, Jakkalswater and Trekhopf, rust-free relics of the battles of more than 100 years ago still lie strewn across the brittle surface of the desert.

The German defeat in GSWA in 1915 had followed hard on the heels of lesser but equally painful disasters in German Togoland and the Cameroons.

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First Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa

Orthodox priest and blogger Khanya recently filed a firsthand report (with photos) on the founding of the First Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa. In the distant background of the first photo you can see the recently built Midrand Nizamiye Mosque, the first Turkish mosque in South Africa and “the largest religious complex in the southern hemisphere.”

Here’s a bit of the text of his report (with a few typos corrected).

Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria and Bishop Petronius of Zalău in the Sălaj County of Romania laid the foundation stone of St Andrew’s Romanian Orthodox Church in Midrand, Gauteng. It is the first Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa.

In 2001 Father Mihai (Mircea) Corpodean came to be a priest for the Romanian community, but since they had no church of their own, and the Churchy of St Nicholas in Brixton had just lost its priest, the bishop at that time, Metropolitan Seraphim, asked Fr Mihai to become parish priest at St Nicholas. St Nicholas was started as a multiethic parish, and welcomed the Romanian community, and we still use some Romanian in services there.

It took the Romanian community quite a long time to find a suitable piece of land, and in 2008 Fr Mihai moved to New Zealand, and Fr Razvan Tatu came to replace him, and began holding Romanian service at St George’s Hotel near Oilfantsfontein.

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Congo War Realignments, 1998

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 3298-3323:

With a mutiny festering in the slums of Kinshasa, and rebels advancing rapidly from the west, Kabila knew that he would not be able to hold out without the support of the region. A regional summit of the South African Development Community was quickly called, and Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe glowered at each other across a table without coming to a conclusion.

It was a decisive moment in the war. In 1996, almost the whole region had jumped on the bandwagon against Mobutu, while world powers looked the other way. It had been a continental war, inspired by security interests but also by ideology. In 1998, the odds were stacked differently. The region split down the middle, with Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi on one side and Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Zimbabwe on the other.

This time, the motives for deployed troops were less noble. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, for example, was of the same generation as Laurent Kabila and had provided arms and money for the first war effort; Kabila still owed him somewhere between $40 and $200 million dollars for this first engagement. More importantly, his own besieged government was fraying at the edges after eighteen years in power. A mixture of corruption, poor economic management, and the expropriation of 1,500 white farms had prompted food riots, a fiscal crisis, and international opprobrium. As expensive as the military adventure in the Congo was, it also offered many much-needed business opportunities for Mugabe’s inner cabal. Shortly after toppling Mobutu, his state ammunition factory obtained a $500,000 contract from Kabila’s government, a Zimbabwean businessman extended a loan for $45 million, and businessmen close to Mugabe began negotiating potentially lucrative transport, food, and mining deals with the Congolese. When Rwanda attempted anew to overthrow the regime in Kinshasa, this time without rallying a regional alliance around them, Mugabe saw his investments in jeopardy.

Angola’s interests were much more related to its twenty-three-year-old civil war with UNITA. For decades, the rebels had maintained rear bases in Kinshasa, where Savimbi had frequently met with Mobutu and CIA operatives and had sold tens of millions of dollars of diamonds. In May 1998, Jonas Savimbi’s rebels had scuppered a peace process that they saw as increasingly biased toward the government. They launched attacks throughout northern Angola, close to the border with the Congo. In addition, another Angolan rebel movement, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), appeared to be making inroads in Cabinda, a tiny Angolan enclave just north of the Kitona airbase, where around 60 percent of Angola’s oil is drilled, providing it with about half of all national revenues. According to French government officials, FLEC had been in touch with the Rwandan government before the Kitona airlift.

The diplomatic tug-of-war continued for several days, with South African president Nelson Mandela attempting to mediate between the two sides to prevent a continent-wide war breaking out. His attempt earned him the scorn of Mugabe, who told him to shut up if he didn’t want to help defend the Congo. Kabila’s office was equally blunt, suggesting that “age had taken its toll” on the venerable African leader.

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Africa’s New Leaders vs. Mobutu, 1996

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 993-1030:

By mid-1996, Museveni [of Uganda] and Kagame [of Rwanda] had stitched together an impressive alliance of African governments behind their drive to overthrow Mobutu. The war that started in Zaire in September 1996 was not, above all, a civil war. It was a regional conflict, pitting a new generation of young, visionary African leaders against Mobutu Sese Seko, the continent’s dinosaur. Never had so many African countries united militarily behind one cause, leading some to dub the war Africa’s World War. Unlike that war, however, the battle for the Congo would not be carried out in trenches over years, leading to millions of military casualties. Here, the battles were short and the number of soldiers killed in the thousands, figures dwarfed by the number of civilians killed. Unlike World War II, the African allies banded together not against aggressive expansionism, but against the weakness of the enemy.

The leader of this coalition was its youngest, smallest member: Rwanda. It was typical of the RPF, who had played David to Goliath several times before and would do so again later. At the outset, it seemed to be the perfect embodiment of a just war: Kigali was acting as a last resort based on legitimate security concerns.

What seems obvious in hindsight—that Mobutu’s army had been reduced to a mockery of itself, that Mobutu’s hold on power had crumbled—was a vague hypothesis in RPF intelligence briefings at the time. When Kagame told his officers that they would go all the way to Kinshasa, they nodded politely but in private shook their heads. That was a journey of over 1,000 miles, through unknown terrain, similar to walking from New York to Miami through swamps and jungles and across dozens of rivers. They would have to fight against 50,000 of Mobutu’s soldiers as well as perhaps 50,000 ex-FAR and Interahamwe. It seemed impossible. “We never thought we could make it all the way to Kinshasa,” Patrick Karegeya, the Rwandan intelligence chief, told me.

It is easy to forget, now that greed and plunder claim the headlines as the main motives for conflict in the region, that its beginnings were steeped in ideology. The Rwandan-backed invasion was perhaps the heyday of the African Renaissance, riding on the groundswell of the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, and of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Rwanda from dictatorships. It was an alliance motivated in part by the strategic interests of individual governments, but also by a larger spirit of pan-Africanism. Not since the heyday of apartheid in South Africa had the continent seen this sort of mobilization behind a cause. For the leaders of the movement, it was a proud moment in African history, when Africans were doing it for themselves in face of prevarication from the west and United Nations. Zimbabwe provided tens of millions of dollars in military equipment and cash to the rebellion. Eritrea sent a battalion from its navy to conduct covert speedboat operations on Lake Kivu. Ethiopia and Tanzania sent military advisors. President Museveni recalled: “Progressive African opinion was galvanised.”

Absent from these talks, however, were the Congolese. Their country was to be liberated for them by foreigners who knew little to nothing of their country. And of course, these foreigners would soon develop other interests than just toppling Mobutu. Within several years, the Congo was to become the graveyard for this lofty rhetoric of new African leadership as preached by Mbeki, Albright, and many others. Freedom fighters were downgraded to mere marauding rebels; self-defense looked ever more like an excuse for self-enrichment. Leaders who had denounced the big men of Africa who stayed in power for decades began appearing more and more like the very creatures they had fought against for so many decades.

In 1996, however, the future remained bright.

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Chasing Identity Mirages in South Africa

From The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, by V. S. Naipaul (Knopf, 2010), pp. 212-214:

IN THE Apartheid Museum one wall was engraved with the names of some of the repressive racial acts that had helped to keep the state in order. There was no longer apartheid, but it had lasted long enough—thirty-six years—for people to be made by the intrusive laws. Fatima, our guide and arranger, had been made by the laws. Someone less remarkable would have been crushed. Fatima had literary ambitions; this idea of nobility helped her to keep her soul. She also had an idea of other cultures outside—in the beginning she dreamed of the Islamic world—and though this Islamic dream was misguided, it also in the end helped her.

She told us when we met that she was “coloured.” This was a South African word, it could mean someone of mixed race in a purely descriptive way. It had another meaning as well, and then it was loaded with unspoken insult. It came from the remote past and it implied that an ancestor was a Bushman: the equivalent here of what a pigmy was in Gabon, physically negligible, but also to be considered the first man, full of wisdom about trees and plants and poisons. In the “Origins Centre” at Witwatersrand University they endlessly ran short films (scratchy and loud from being run over and over again) about Bushmen singing and dancing and hunting the magnificent eland, which they poisoned and killed in a terrible way.

On her mother’s side there was a great-grandfather who was English. Her great-grandmother was Xhosa. She claimed to be of mixed race (already the fantasy created by apartheid legislation), but Fatima saw photographs of the lady and thought she was very much a Xhosa woman. Fatima’s paternal grandfather was very black, but the family spoke Afrikaans and hated dark skin; and when Fatima went to visit them they took her to the hairdresser and had the kinks in her wiry hair straightened out so that she could look white.

So she grew up as “just a coloured girl,” without any identity. The Xhosa girls at school all had identities, and she had nothing. She grew up in a coloured community. She had Muslim neighbours and she saw they had feasts and rituals and a complete Muslim identity; and it was no doubt to grasp at this identity that when she was twenty she married a Muslim cleric. She was very pleased to have done that, feeding off the religion from the source, as it were. She began to “cover up”; she started with a head scarf, and soon she was all covered, except for the face and hands. She did this on her own, but then her husband made more and more demands. He didn’t like her sitting in taxis with other men; he didn’t like her shaking hands with them. He threatened to divorce her. Her job as a reporter became impossible; her dream of an Islamic identity fell to the ground. It had already taken a knock when she went to Durban and tried to attach herself to the Indian community there. They weren’t easy; they wanted to know her family name, her village; invariably, at the end of this inquisition, when they understood that she was coloured, they dropped her. She read a lot about Islam; she got to know more than the Indians and Muslims who quizzed her; it didn’t help. She went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, but felt nothing; she saw only the restrictions on her as a woman.

She began to look then for a black identity, but it was hard. Her coloured background again got in the way; the blacks rejected her as someone without a country or culture. So the whole South African journey for her was a discovery of pain: from her coloured beginnings to the Islamic dream, to the Indians of Durban, to the blacks of the townships. There were townships in Durban but they were near the airport and she didn’t see them. She saw them properly only when she came to Johannesburg and began to work with the blacks. It was only then that she understood the great pain and, with that, the deception, for Africans, of political freedom and the end of apartheid.

Fatima said, “I see that the blacks here reach out more than the white South Africans. They, the whites, want the blacks to be ‘there,’ not near them. They cannot reach out or forgive, and they want a distance from the black. They are full of preconceived ideas, like Soweto is dangerous and that a black boy friend is bad.”

I had wanted, when I began this book, to stay away from politics and race, to look below those themes for the core of African belief. But rather like Fatima looking for identity, I felt stymied in South Africa and saw that here race was all in all; that race ran as deep as religion elsewhere.

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Sudetenland, Ireland, and Rand Uitlanders

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 346-347:

The term Sudetenland was not much used before the 1930s. At the end of the First World War an attempt had been made to associate the predominantly Germanophone periphery of Bohemia and Moravia with the new post-imperial Austria by constituting Sudetenland as a new Austrian province, but this had come to nothing. The Germans who found themselves under Czechoslovakian rule after the First World War – they accounted for over a fifth of the population, not counting the mainly German-speaking Jews – had at no time been citizens of the Reich of which Hitler was Chancellor. They were first and foremost Bohemians. The role of Bohemia in the evolution of National Socialism had nevertheless been seminal. It had been there that, before the First World War, German workers for the first time defined themselves as both nationalists and socialists in response to mounting competition from Czech migrants from the countryside. It had been in Bohemia that some of the most bitter political battles in the history of inter-war Czechoslovakia had been fought, over issues like language and education. The industrial regions where German settlement was concentrated were hard hit by the Depression; Germans were over-represented among the unemployed, just as they were under-represented in government employment. On the other hand, Czechoslovakia was unusual in Central and Eastern Europe. It was the only one of the ‘successor states’ that had arisen from the ruins of the Habsburg Empire that was still a democracy in 1938. It also occupied a strategically vital position as a kind of wedge jutting into Germany, dividing Saxony and Silesia from Austria. Its politics and its location made Czechoslovakia the pivot around which inter-war Europe turned.

The first and greatest weakness of Chamberlain’s foreign policy was that by accepting the legitimacy of ‘self-determination’ for the Sudeten Germans, it implicitly accepted the legitimacy of Hitler’s goal of a Greater Germany. Chamberlain’s aim was not to prevent the transfer of the Sudeten Germans and their lands to Germany, but merely to prevent Hitler’s achieving it by force.* ‘I don’t see why we shouldn’t say to Germany,’ so Chamberlain reasoned, ‘give us satisfactory assurances that you won’t use force to deal with the Austrians and Czecho-Slovakians and we will give you similar assurances that we won’t use force to prevent the changes you want if you can get them by peaceful means.’ His comparison with the English settlers in the Transvaal on the eve of the Boer War said it all; Chamberlain did not mean to imply that a war was likely, but that the German demands for the Sudetenlanders were as legitimate as his father’s had been for the Uitlanders. To use a different analogy, it had taken generations for British Conservatives to reconcile themselves to the idea of Home Rule for the Irish; they conceded the Sudeten Germans’ right to it in a trice. Since Versailles, Germany had been aggrieved. The transfer of the Sudetenland was intended to redress her grievances in what Chamberlain hoped would be a full and final settlement.

* The ‘Uitlanders’ (Afrikaans for ‘foreigners’) were the British settlers who had been drawn to the Transvaal by the discovery of gold. They were treated by the Boers as aliens, furnishing the British government with a pretext for intervention in the region. Joseph Chamberlain, the arch-enemy of Home Rule for Ireland, demanded ‘Home Rule for the Rand’, meaning that the Uitlanders should be granted the vote after five years’ residence.

POSTSCRIPT, pp. 367-368:

What was more, Hitler gained immediately from Munich. With Czechoslovakia emasculated, Germany’s eastern frontier was significantly less vulnerable. Moreover, in occupying the Sudetenland, the Germans acquired at a stroke 1.5 million rifles, 750 aircraft, 600 tanks and 2,000 field guns, all of which were to prove useful in the months to come. Indeed, more than one in ten of the tanks used by the Germans in their Western offensive of 1940 were Czech-built. The industrial resources of Western Bohemia further strengthened Germany’s war machine, just as the Anschluss had significantly added to Germany’s supplies of labour, hard currency and steel. As Churchill put it, the belief that ‘security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves’ was ‘a fatal delusion’: ‘The war potential of Germany will increase in a short time more rapidly than it will be possible for France and Great Britain to complete the measures necessary for their defence.’ ‘Buying time’ at Munich in fact meant widening, not narrowing, the gap that Britain and France desperately needed to close. To put it another way: it would prove much harder to fight Germany in 1939 than it would have proved in 1938.

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India’s Diverse Diasporas

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 233-235:

The cultivation of sugar-cane in colonies such as Mauritius and the Natal province of South Africa, in Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam in the Caribbean and Fiji in the Pacific Ocean created settlements of Indian labourers as many stayed on as free labourers after their contracts had expired. In some of these places the Indians emerged as the majority of the population, but with few exceptions they did not rise above the position of labourers. Therefore the diaspora in the ex-sugar colonies is not much of an economic asset to India. Mauritius is an exception to this rule. It has shown encouraging signs of economic growth and its Indian majority dominates the politics of the island but has maintained equitable relations with the other ethnic groups. Mauritius has become a major offshore banking centre for investors who channel their investments in India through the island. This has led to the strange phenomenon whereby tiny Mauritius ranks high among the nations investing in India. Being well aware of the benefits of good relations with Mauritius, India is even prepared to protect the maritime economic zone of the island with the help of its navy….

The era of decolonization did not provide much scope for re-migration from the diaspora to India. Nor did the erstwhile colonial powers invite people of Indian origin to settle in their home countries. There were only two striking exceptions to this rule. The Netherlands became the target of a mass exodus of Indians from Surinam after that colony gained independence in 1975. This was due to the fact that the Dutch had granted citizenship to the people of Surinam and since the Indians did not get along with the Afro-American majority, they left for the Netherlands before their right of citizenship could be revoked. A similar exodus of Indians from Uganda to Great Britain had taken place after Idi Amin had established his tyrannical rule in 1971. The Indians of Uganda were not the offspring of indentured servants but had followed the Uganda railroad. The workers who built that railroad had also come from India, but almost all of them had returned to their homes in the Punjab. The subsequent immigrants from India were for the most part literate Gujaratis who manned the administrative posts of the railway or set up shops in the hinterland which had been opened up by the railway. When these people were persecuted by Idi Amin and shifted to Great Britain they did very well there as a result of their business acumen. This group of the Indian diaspora is of considerable importance for India. But, of course, the Indians who came from East Africa are only part of the Indian diaspora in Great Britain, which also consists of Indian professionals and businessmen who migrated from India to the ex-imperial country in search of greener pastures.

Another post-colonial migration which had some similarity to the export of Indian manpower in colonial times was the recruitment of Indian labour by the countries along the Persian Gulf when those countries earned millions of petro-dollars. This recruitment benefited all South Asian countries. Most of them sent unskilled labourers to the Gulf; India had the lion’s share of skilled administrative jobs. For quite some time the ample remittances of these skilled personnel filled the gap in India’s balance of payments which was usually affected by a negative balance of trade. When the first Gulf War of 1991 disrupted this profitable connection, India was hit very hard, the more so as the disaster was sudden and unexpected. When Indira Gandhi was asked in 1981 whether she could envision an Indian exodus from the Gulf similar to that from East Africa precipitated by Idi Amin, she jauntily replied: ‘The Arabs need US.’ Her successors also took this for granted and were rudely awakened by the Gulf War.

The Indian diaspora in the countries along the Persian Gulf was very different from that everywhere else. First of all it was of very recent origin. This diaspora had no second or third generation members born in the country of residence. Moreover, the Indians who came to the Gulf did not intend to settle there for any length of time. There were many educated people from Kerala among them who simply wanted to earn enough money to build a house back home. Busy construction work in the villages of Kerala provided striking evidence of this trend in the 1980s. Under such conditions there was hardly any incentive to establish Indian community centres in the Gulf countries. The Indian diaspora was not concentrated in anyone place and its members fluctuated. Nevertheless, this was the diaspora which was most important for India, due to the economic effect of its remittances. Other Indian diasporas would be less inclined to send money to India as they would rather invest it where they lived. The occasional support of poor relatives in India did not give rise to substantial remittances.

Today’s Wall Street Journal weighs in on one of the barriers to the expansion of India’s diaspora in the U.S., where “the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin which was founded in 1984 has 42,000 members” (Rothermund, p. 235):

The Chandrayaan-I blasted off about dawn from the Satish Dhawan Space Center. It is expected to reach lunar orbit by November 8. The probe, whose principal goal is to “conduct mineralogical and chemical mapping of the lunar service,” carries five scientific payloads from India and others from NASA and the European Space Agency. With this achievement, India joins the U.S., Japan, Europe, Russia and China in the lunar club.

India deserves congratulations for the Chandrayaan-I, which attests further to that nation’s remarkable strides as an economic and scientific power. That said, we cannot fail to draw attention to how this event bears on the continuing lunacy of Congress in limiting visa quotas for highly skilled immigrants.

American universities are filled with foreign students, not least from India, getting degrees in engineering and science. Many dearly wish to stay and work in the U.S. Instead, we basically kick them out after training them, owing to the Congressional limit of 65,000 H-1B visas, which are used up the day they are released in March.

Would calling this the “pre-emptive export of jobs overseas” make it any less attractive to economic protectionists?

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