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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, November 28, 2004

Colonial Warfare, pt 2

Gen. Lothar Von Trotta. He killed....

their ancestors

Most colonial wars were savage, bloody affairs filled with massacres. A relevant example is the end of Poruguese rule in Africa.

COIN: The Portuguese in Africa, 1959-1975

When the Portuguese arrived in Africa late in the 15th century, they were the first European colonial power to establish itself on the continent. When they left in 1974, they were among the last to leave. The last fifteen years of this long and unhappy sojourn were marked by unrelenting guerilla warfare throughout the African colonies. Portugal was ruled by a dictatorship that dated back to the 1920s. Faced with monetary, diplomatic, and human costs that no small, relatively poor country could long bear and with the seeming success of France's operations in Algeria before it, Portugal's saw aviation as the key to the preservation of its overseas territories and its claims to a place among the world's first-rate powers.

Portugal was something of an accidental colonial power in Africa. Portuguese sailors first stopped in Africa for water during their great trading voyages to the Orient. They returned for slaves, a traditional feature of the African economy that could be used to fill the labor needs of Portugal's Brazilian plantations. The slaves were supplied by a powerful, native kingdom, Bakongo, in what is now northern Angola and far southwestern Congo. At first, Bakongo could meet the demand by selling prisoners of war it had taken in day-to-day disputes with its neighbors. But the swelling demand from Brazil soon depleted the supply of prisoners and forced Bakongo into more and more wars. As the number of its enemies grew, Bakongo needed more modern weapons, especially guns, which in turn had to paid for with still more slaves. It was a vicious circle. Inevitably, the Bakongo state became over-extended, suffered reverses on the battlefield, and suffered dissension at home. Within 50 years or so, the kingdom had collapsed and its great cities had been swallowed by the jungle. Almost reluctantly, Portugal took charge of the country in order to protect its watering stations and its source of slaves. The Portuguese made little attempt to colonize the territory, and, as the demand for slaves waned and the routes to the East lost their crucial importance in the world economy, the colonies gradually lost their importance to the home country. By the middle of the nineteenth century, all but autonomous.

So things stayed until the early 1930s. In May 1926, rightwing army officers overthrew the Portuguese government and, in 1932, installed António Salazar as de jure prime minister and de facto dictator, a position he retained until 1968. Salazar had a rather old-fashioned notion of what constituted the wealth of nations, and his single-party New State and infamous secret police (Polícia Internacional de Defesa de Estado or PIDE) saw to it that he never heard anything more up-to-date. For Salazar, colonies were what made a modern nation great. Colonies provided captive markets for home-produced goods, ready sources of cheap raw materials and foodstuffs, and an outlet for the homeland's surplus population. Accordingly, from 1930 on, Salazar did all he could to integrate the African colonies into the nation. He encouraged colonization on a large scale, using generous subsidies, free housing, and land grants as inducements. For the first time, Portuguese settlers began to arrive in large numbers in Angola and Mozambique.

While African- and European-born residents of the territories enjoyed theoretical equality as citizens of the Portuguese state, and while the ideological, doctrinaire racism of Anglo-Dutch southern Africa was rare, Africans had many legitimate grievances. Chief among these was the practice of extorting involuntary, uncompensated labor from indigenous citizens. Until 1962, when it was belatedly abolished, the colonial administration justified this part-time slavery by pointing to the cash taxes that European and well-to-do African citizens paid. The rural African could not pay in money, so, the argument went, he paid in kind. The reasoning was entirely specious, of course. The burden imposed on subsistence farmers and day laborers was in actuality enormous compared to the modest assessments paid by those who had money. The arrival of European colonists in large numbers during the '30s made the plight of rural poor considerably worse. Europeans expected a European-style road and rail infrastructure. .....

..... In 1961, repression provoked a large-scale rising in Angola. Guerillas from the outlawed MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) attacked police barracks and prisons across northern Angola, in hopes of freeing the political prisoners that the PIDE had seized. Their example inspired spontaneous attacks on rural government offices, isolated European-owned plantations, and Catholic missions. Four hundred Portuguese were killed. Wealthy Europeans fled, while panicky poor and lower middle-class Portuguese formed vigilante squads and indiscriminately terrorized their African neighbors. Often these groups operated with the connivance of police and army units. As many as 40,000 Africans were killed. Rebellions quickly sprang up in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique as well.

Portugal found itself ill-equipped for this sudden and unexpected crisis. It was now a poor nation, with a small population. Captive markets had not produced the bonanza that Salazar's economic theories predicted, and the colonial subsidies now made the colonies a drain on the treasury, even without the added expense of combat. There was little spare cash for armaments and little spare manpower for the army. The war zones were far from the home country, and transport was woefully inadequate. The dictatorship was not particularly popular either in Europe or in the United States, so no extraordinary aid could be looked for from either quarter. Yet aid for the insurgents would undoubtedly be plentiful, given the newly independent African states that now surrounded Portuguese holdings and the readiness of Russia and China to supply arms to insurgent movements.

There was never peace in these colonies. There was always some kind of rebellion going on and the methods to repress them were brutal.

The End, But Not The End
"Peace would be the equivalent of my death and the extinction of my nation." Hendrik Witbooi 1905.

Peace came to the Wiboois in a most ironic way. Theodor Leutwin was replaced by Friedrich von Lindequist as governor of the colony and Lieutentant General von Trotha was replaced by Colonel Dame. The German government vacillated between sending 5000 more troops or attempting to negotiate terms of peace with the Hottentots. The German national sentiment had turned against a continuation of hostilities and the German colonists needed to resolve the peace almost as badly as the Witboois.

When Hendrik Witbooi lay dying he related his last wish, "It is enough. The children should now have rest." Neither Witbooi nor the Hottentots could know how close they were to winning the war. When Isaak Witbooi, Hendrik's son, was elected principle chief, the Hottentot coalition began to fall apart. A significant part of the tribe broke away under Samuel Isaak and surrendered to the Germans. This included 74 warriors, 44 women and 21 children. The rest of the tribe surrendered on December 24th. Even Cornelius led his 86 warriors, 36 women and children into captivity on March 2nd, 1906.

So ended the free Witbooi nation. For two years, 1200 poorly armed warriors had fought 20,000 well armed German soldiers. There had been nearly 200 military engagements and the Germans had lost 1000 men. Like the Herero, military defeat was only the beginning of the suffering and death that awaited in the "death camps."

Colonial war kills the colonized in large numbers.

The anti-colonial struggles of 1904 - 08 were characterised by what have traditionally been referred to as the Herero and Nama uprisings. In January 1904, war broke out between a united Herero nation and the German colonial administration. The colonial power was caught by surprise and suffered many defeats in the early stages of the war. After about six months, however, the picture was changing. The battle at Hamakari, near the Waterberg, on August 11 1904, marked the beginning of the end for the Herero, who fled in their thousands into the dry Omaheke sandveld, perishing in high numbers. A couple of hundred Witbooi fighters had been conscripted by the German forces to take part in the fighting against the Herero leading up to the battle of Hamakari. A number of these deserted, fleeing back to the south where they told gruelling tales of mass-murder and racism. These stories were one of many factors that led to Hendrik Witbooi's rebellion against his former German allies. With the Witboois up in arms, much of the south soon followed suit, resulting in a further three years of armed conflict in the territory.

Concentration camps

With large parts of the Herero nation either dead or in exile and the south in a state of war, the German colonial venture was facing a considerable labour crisis. Newly confiscated lands could not be properly utilised without labour, nor would any other wheel in the colonial machine be able to turn without access to unskilled and inexpensive labour. There were therefore two options for the German administration: either Herero still hiding in the country and those in exile be lured back into German territory and forced to labour, or alternatively a military expedition be launched against the Owambo kingdoms to enable a more systematic labour recruitment there. The former was deemed the more sensible model as the German army, already facing fierce resistance in the south, did not want to fight a war on two fronts.

The first step to encourage the repatriation of Herero was a promise that those who returned would have nothing to fear. The German officer Von Estorff wrote: "I do not lie, I will issue letters to you so that nothing will happen to you". Under this assumption many Herero came out of the bush. Most were directed towards the collection points at Otjihanena and Omburo which, to emphasise the 'peaceful' German intentions, were run by the evangelical mission. Missionaries were the only Europeans that had any credibility left with the Herero.

According to Missionary Dannert of Omaruru, the response of a Herero elder to a proposed return from the bush was: "We know our Omuhonge (teachers), they will not try to trick us". He was wrong. From the collection points and mission stations, starved and demoralised Herero were sent directly to the nearest concentration camp under military escort.

The largest of the concentration camps were found in Swakopmund, Karibib, Windhoek, Okahandja, and Luderitz. In these camps the prisoners would typically be fenced in, either by thorn- bush fences or by barbed wire.

Thousands of people were cramped into small areas: the Windhoek Camp held a little under 5 000 prisoners-of-war in 1906. Rations were minimal, consisting of a daily allowance of a handful of uncooked rice, some salt and water. Disease was uncontrolled as the lack of medical attention, unhygienic living quarters, insufficient clothing and high concentration of people meant that diseases such as typhoid spread rapidly.

Beatings and maltreatment were also part and parcel of life in the camps - the sjambok often swung over the backs of prisoners who were forced to work. The mortality figures of these camps are comparable only to losses suffered during the Holocaust. In statistics compiled by the German High Command in 1907, 7 682 prisoners-of-war are calculated to have died. Of an estimated 17 000 prisoners, that's a mortality rate of 45,2 per cent. The frightening part is that these were mere estimates, other official figures were even higher, and some camps were not closed down for another two to three years, leaving further casualties to be added to the morbid list.

posted by Steve @ 6:38:00 PM

6:38:00 PM

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