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Frederick Maharero

Publishing Date : 17 September, 2019

JEFF RAMSAY
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA


This weekend’s Ovaherero Cultural Day celebrations at Takarive, provides a timely opportunity to remember Frederick Maharero (1875-1952). Following the 1923 death of his father, Samuel Maharero, Frederick established himself in Mahalapye as the exiled Ovaherero paramount whose influence extended into Nambia and South Africa, as well as Botswana.



During the 1880s Samuel Maharero had cautiously accepted the German occupation of Namibia, over the objections of some of his peers.  In this context, his eldest son Frederick at the age of 22 travelled to Germany, where he stayed for several months as a participant in the 1896-97 Colonial Exhibition, which was held at Treptow Park in Berlin. There he was joined by nine other Namibians, including two additional princes, Ferdinand Demôndja and Petrus Witbooi, along with a teacher named Josaphat Kamatoto who served as the delegation’s interpreter.  During the exhibition Namibians were notably united in their collective refusal to allow themselves to be displayed in what the German organizers of the exhibition considered to be their traditional attire and tools.


Maharero had agreed to come to Germany partially in the hope that he could establish political connections with the new colonial masters while voicing his people’s growing resentment of the heavy-handed exercise of German authority over his homeland. In this respect he, along with Demondja, Witbooi and Kamatoto, was granted audiences with the German Kaiser Wilhelm II as well as his future Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow. During these engagements the princes sought, and were assured that their peoples would be able to live in peace.


The promise of better relations, however, was soon broken by events on the ground. By January 1904 continuous encroachments by German settlers on Ovaherero lands resulted in an armed clash at Samuel Maharero’s headquarters at Okahandja sparking a full-fledged war. The resulting fighting, which spread to neighboring Nama and Damara communities, culminated in a German campaign of genocide that ultimately claimed the lives of not less than 70% of the Ovaherero population. By the end of 1905 most of the survivors including Samuel Maharero had fled into Botswana, though Frederick remained behind having linked up with Nama guerrilla fighters (to be continued).

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