Life in Namibia and Angola a century ago (book review)

William Chapman: ReminiscencesWilliam Chapman: Reminiscences by William Chapman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I saw this book in the Protea Bookshop in Pretoria, I immediately bought it, mainly because of my interest in family history and Namibian history. My wife Val’s paternal great grandfather, Frederick Vincent Greene, was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, in 1868. His father, Frederick Thomas Green, a Canadian, lived in Damaraland for 25 years as a hunter and trader, and when he died in 1876 William Chapman attended him at his death bed, at Heigamkab in the dry bed of the Swakop river. He describes the scene in his book in some detail.

The late Mr Frederick Green had arrived shortly before at the bay [Walvis Bay] and had gone with his family on a trip to Cape Town so I decided to wait for his return and then go with him to the interior. During the time I was waiting for Mr Green I enjoyed the hospitality of Mr John Gunning, the manager of Mr A.W. Eriksson’s store in Walvisch Bay.[1]

When Mr Green returned I joined him and we left the Bay for the interior, he was very unwell. After reaching Hykamgap in the Swakop River he became worse and died on the 4th May 1876, succumbing to what Mr Palgrave said was an acscess on the liver, the last days of his illness being marked by vomiting. I was in the wagon with him during the last night and present when he breathed his last. Poor man, he left a widow and a number of children!

Chapman goes on to give a summary of what he knew of the life of Fred Green, who had been a friend of his father, James Chapman.

Family historians like to get birth, marriage and death certificates for information about their ancestors, but there was no registration of these events in Namibia in those days — at that time the country consisted of a number of mini-states that sometimes quarrelled among themselves. Fred Green’s death took place during one of the peaceful interludes, though he himself had participated in some of the earlier battles. But Chapman gives as much information as most death certificates, and with a more human touch.

William Chapman went to Damaraland as a teenager to seek his fortune. He had a romantic notion of following in the footsteps of his father James Chapman, and saw Fred Green as a Nimrod who would teach him the ropes. He was 16 at the time.

Instead he had to be content with Fred Green’s brothers-in-law, William and Charles Stewardson, teenagers not much older than himself, who were equipped and sent out to hunt and trade by the aforementioned Mr A.W. Eriksson. It makes me wonder about the youth of today. How many parents would send three kids aged 16 or 17 out on a business trip, putting them in charge of expensive equipment, and in a country full of wild animals, some of which they would hunt, and others which would hunt them? Though I suppose we do send them to war, to hunt and kill other human beings.

But William Chapman did not get on well with the Stewardson brothers, nor they with him. Reading between the lines, it sounds like a high school kid being excluded from a gang. The Stewardsons had been brought up rough, in a desert country. Chapman was the citified kid, who had been to a relatively posh school, which taught him gentelman’s manners. The Stewardsons preferred the company of their Damara and Herero servants, and at nights around the campfire preferred to talk to them, in their own languages, thus excluding the city slicker, who spoke only English and Dutch.

Chapman grew up fast, however, and eventually went into business on his own account, and migrated northwards to Angola, where he farmed, hunted and traded for 48 years.

The book is in two parts. The first part, the reminiscences proper, he began to write in 1916, mainly for his children, or at least at their request, and is the story of his life and of the people he encountered. The second part is an account of the Dorsland Trekkers, who left the Transvaal when it was under British rule about 1880, and went north-west through what is now Botswana, ending up in Angola, which was gradually coming under Portuguese rule.

It seems that he may have intended the second part for publication, but never actually got round to finishing it, because there are blanks for things like dates and names to be filled in later, and towards the end it is in obvious need of much editing. Most of the last part is a series of anecdotes intended to show how terrible Portuguese rule in Angola was, and why the Dorsland trekkers left after having lived there for nearly 50 years. There is no account of how they left and what subsequently happened to them.

Except for those last 50 or so pages, the book is very readable, and gives an interesting picture of what life was like in Namibia and Angola a century or more ago. There are also several photographs.

One of the things that struck me was some strange inconsistencies. I’m not sure if they were mere personal idiosyncracies, or if they were attitdes common among white people living there at the time. At times Chapman rails against the Portuguese for their unjust treatment of the “natives”, and gives accounts of such practices as forced labour, imprisonment (and even killing) without trial, confiscation of livestock and so on. And then in another place he accuses the Portuguese of over-familiarity, giving chairs to natives to sit on when they meet for discussions and similar malpractices. The British and the Boers, he avers, would never sink to that level.

The value of the book is enormously enhanced by comprehensive annotations by the editor, Nicol Stassen. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to identify people and places mentioned in the text and to provide useful information about them in footnotes. It is almost worth buying the book for these alone.

Notes

[1] John Gunning, A.W. Eriksson and Fred Green were brothers-in-law, since they had all married into the Stewardson family. Frank and Fanny Stewardson (Francis and Frances, if you want to be formal) went to Namibia from the Cape in the late 1840s, and their daughter Kate married Fred Green, Fanny married Axel Eriksson, and Charlotte married John Gunning.

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The Dixon family of Namaqualand (book review)

Die Dixons van NamakwalandDie Dixons van Namakwaland by Ledivia van Vuuren

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.

We were interested because some members of my wife’s family had married into a Dixon family (as described in the blog post in the link above) and they also appeared to be business partners of the Dixon family, but most of the records we had found were confusing and it was possible that there was more than one Dixon family. We made contact with the author of this book, but weren’t able to get hold of a copy because of a postal strike. Now at last we have a copy, and things become a little bit clearer.

It seems that there were definitely two Dixon families, and Edward C. Tabler confused them in his book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland and conflated them into one.

This book deals with only one of the families, and makes no mention at all of the other, but that at least helps us to say that people who can be identified as members of this family are very unlikely to be members of the other.

Both Dixon families were probably Irish in origin, however.

The two Dixon families are:

1. Benjamin Dixon and Lodivia Manifold (the subjects of this book)
2. Peter Daniel Dixon and Whilhelmina Hendriks

I will refer to them as the “Ben Dixon” and “Peter Dixon” families.

Ben Dixon became a business partner of James Morris, and their two families set out for Namibia in 1843, travelling overland by ox waggon. They were Wesleyan Methodists and travelled part of the way with some Wesleyan missionaries, and stayed at mission stations on the way. They crossed the Orange (Gariep) river on Christmas day 1843, and reached Walvis Bay in about June 1844. This is all described in detail in the book, seen through the eyes of the Dixons’ eldest daughter Jane, who was 13 years old when they left, and had her 14th birthday on the journey.

The Dixon and Morris families built two houses and a store on the Kuiseb River, at a place they named Sandfontein, about three miles from the present town of Walvis Bay, and began trading for cattle, which they exported to St Helena to provide meat for the British garrison there. In September 1844 Mary Morris gave birth to a daughter at Sandfontein (she was named Sarah Ann Kuisip, because she was born on the Kuiseb River, though that is not mentioned in the book).

They kept a couple of lion cubs as pets, and various sailors from ships in Walvis Bay harbour wanted to buy them, and when they would not sell, tried to steal them. Walvis Bay harbour was amazingly busy in those days, mainly with ships collecting guano from the offshore islands, and sometimes there were 10 or 12 of them in the bay at the same time, come to re-stock with stores before going back to collect more guano.

For a while the business prospered, and then things went bad. Fewer guano ships arrived, and many of the people inland who traded cattle for goods did not pay for the goods, and so Ben Dixon and James Morris had so go on debt collecting tours. The debtors, however, sometimes decided that they easiest way to pay their debts was simply to steal the cattle from someone else, or even from those to whom they were owed. One group bought a waggon for a number of cattle, and then took the cattle back to haul the waggon home. Complaints to the British government about this led to the St Helena contract being cancelled.

James Morris took a large herd of cattle overland to Cape Town, to try to sell them there, and returned by sea with his sister Fanny and her husband Frank Stewardson, and their two children. Fanny and Frank Stewardson were my wife Val’s great-great-great grandparents, so snippets like that were of special interest to us.

So one thing that we learned from the book was that while that Ben Dixon and the Morris and Stewardson families were in a business partnership together, they did not intermarry.

Eventually Ben Dixon returned to the Cape Colony, but instead of going back to Cape Town he settled in Little Namaqualand, on a farm near the town of Garies. Their eldest daughter Jane married William Latham, and remained in what is now Namibia until her husband’s death, then went to stay with her parents. The second daughter, Rebecca, married Frank Bassingthwaighte, and their family remained in Namibia, and some of their descendants are still there today. The younger members farmed in the Northern Cape, and so the Ben Dixon family is mainly associated with Namaqualand, as the book’s title suggests.

The Peter Dixon family seems to be entirely different, though also perhaps originally from Ireland.

Peter Daniel Dixon was the son of McCombe Donald Dixon and Maria Sprewt. He was born in the Cape Colony about 1821, and married Wilhelmina Hendriks, by whom he had at least 7 children. He was trading in Walvis Bay in the early 1860s, and his daughter married Fred Green, the elephant hunter, but died in about 1860, and they seem to have had no children. Fred Green then married Sarah Kaipukire, and after a separation or divorce, married Catherine Stewardson, the daughter of Frank and Fanny Stewardson mentioned above. So Fred Green was married into the Peter Dixon family, but was also friendly with the Ben Dixon family.

Peter Dixon married a second time to Annie Cloete, probably in Damaraland, but if they had any children, we know nothing of them. We are hoping to visit Namibia in May, and to do some research in the archives here, and reading this book was in part a preparation for that. When visiting archives a long way away, with limited time, it is useful to know what you are looking for, and also to know what you are not looking for. It can save a lot of time not going down false trails.

But though it appears that we are not related to the Ben Dixon family either by descent or marriage, the book was nevertheless a fascinating and informative read, and gives a good insight into life 150 years ago.

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Gunning for the Dixons

For many years we have been puzzled by some Dixon family connections in Namibia.

We are interested in the Morris and Stewardson families, and we know that a Morris family (related to us) went to Damaraland (now part of Namibia) in 1843/44 with a Dixon family, and each family built a house at Sandfontein on the Kuiseb River, near Walvis Bay.

Mary Elizabeth Morris gave birth to a daughter there, whose name was Sarah Annie Kuisip Morris — named after the river where she was born. All this we know from estate files and divorce papers in the Cape Archives and various printed books.

Sarah Annie Kuisip Morris’s aunt Frances Morris arrived soon afterwards, with her husband Frank Stewardson, and they had three sons and four daughters. We have no idea what happened to the sons, but the daughters married Oscar Lindholm, Axel Eriksson, John Gunning and Frederick Green. Fred Green was Val’s great great grandfather.

Frederick Green’s first wife was a Dixon — Kate Stewardson was his third wife. But we don’t know his Dixon wife’s first name.

And two Gunning girls —  Charlotte Annie Gunning and Catherine Elizabeth Gunning — married Dixons. But we don’t know the first names of those Dixons.

This is where things begin to get complicated, because it appears that there were at least two, and possibly three or four different Dixon families in Damaraland in the period 1840-1880.

They were:

1. The Ben Dixon family
2. The Peter Dixon family
and possibly
3. The Sidney Dixon family (Sidney may be an alias for Ben)
4. Another Peter Dixon family

A book has recently been published on the Ben Dixon family. We are havingdifficulty in getting a copy because of the post office strike, but have been in touch with one of the authors.

We have collected a fair amount of information on the Peter Dixon family, mainly in the Cape Archives, and the author of the Ben Dixon book has told us that none of the names in the two families match — they really do seem to be two entirely different families, with no links at all.

We’re hoping to go on a research trip to Namibia later in the year, and tie up some of these loose ends, but in the mean time we’re trying to .sort out what we know of the Dixon families, so that if we do discover which Dixons married the Gunning girls, we’ll know which Dixon family they belonged to — it would be funny if one married into one family, and the
other into the other family.

Of the Peter Dixon family we know that he married twice, first to Wilhelmina Hendrikse, and second to Annie Cloete. The children of his first marriage are listed on his death notice in the Cape Archives, but those of the second marriage weren’t known — presumably they stayed in Damaraland and never went to the Cape.

It is through his son Daniel Esma Dixon (there are lots of Daniel Esma Dixons in this family) that we know that Fred Green married a Dixon — in testimony in a court case in Windhoek in 1911 he said that he had arrived in Walvis Bay from Cape Town in 1861 with his brother in law Fred Green, at the age of 14. His sister had died the year before, and Fred Green was cohabiting with a Herero woman (she later gave evidence in the same court case, and her name was Sarah Kaipukire) Daniel Esma Dixon then went to his father in Walvis Bay, and returned to the Cape for a while. He later farmed at Ubib, near Karibib. We seems to be the most probable father of the Dixons who married the Gunning girls, but we’ll probably have to wait till we get to Windhoek to find out.

I’m just wondering if anyone else has connections with Dixon families in Namibia.

Attempted murder

Attempted murder — but who was the intended victim?

The German missionary Carl Hugo Hahn wrote the following entry in his diary on 11 July 1859:

Der früher erwähnte Willem Meintjies hat einen Mordversuch auf Fr.[?] Stewardson gemacht. Man benachrichtigte mich davon von der Mine aus, und Jonker, den ich davon in kenntnis setzte, versprach auf Bestimmteste, ihn einfangen zu lassen.

I’m not a German fundi, so I tried Google translate and Bing, without much success; their efforts did not make much sense. One said a suicide attempt, the other an assassinatuion attempt. So my attempted translation is as follows:

“The previously mentioned Willem Meintjies made a murder attempt on Fr. Stewardson. They informed me of this from the mine, and Jonker, when I informed him of this, promised that he would definitely arrest him” (Hahn Diary, 11 Jul 1859).

I would be grateful if anyone who knows German better than I do could comment on and possibly improve the translation.

But the biggest problem is not so much the translation as the interpretation, and for that some of the background and backstory is needed.

C.H. Hahn was a missionary of the Rhenish Mission Society in Germany who was based at Otjimbingue on the north bank of the Swakop River in what is now Namibia. But back then there was no Namibia, just a lot of principalities that often squabbled among themselves.

That would not have seemed strange to C.H. Hahn, since the Germany he came from was also not a united nation, but a lot of small kingdoms and principalities. But it was the very next year that Otto von Bismarck began his project of uniting Germany under Prussian rule. He succeeded 10 years later, and moved on to what became Namibia, and began to unite it under German rule. But in 1859 none of that had happened.

Jonker was Jonker Afrikaner, the ruler of one of the principalities, with its capital in Windhoek, about 150 kilometres from Otjimbingue. Willem Meintjies was one of his underlings, an assistant.

The “mine” was Matchless Mine a copper mine in the Khomas Hochland, south of the Swakop River (The Swakop was dry most of the year, and only flowed after it rained, but there was water under the dry bed, so it was a wagon route to the coast — the trek oxen could graze on its banks, and drink water if one dug in the sand.

Frank Stewardson had a contract to transport ore from the mine, and goods to the mine, and he and his family lived at or near the mine. His name was Francis, and his wife was Frances Morris, the sister of James Morris of Wynberg in the Cape, who had been a trader in Damaraland some ten years previously.

Namibian countryside. This picture was actually taken at Brandberg, north-west of Otjimbingue, and about 110 years later, but it shows the kind of country they trekked through with their ox waggons.

Namibian countryside. This picture was actually taken at Brandberg, north-west of Otjimbingue, and about 110 years later, but it shows the kind of country they trekked through with their ox waggons.

The editor of the diaries, Brigitte Lau of the Windhoek Archives, put a question mark next to the “Fr.” in front of “Stewardson” in the diary, probably because it could have been short for “Frau”, which would have meant that it was Mrs Stewardson who had been victim of the murder attempt. It could also be short for Mr Stewardson’s first name, Francis or Frank. But that would not be why Brigitte Lau put a questi0n mark there, because she thought Frank Stewardson’s first name was Ian, and listed him as such  in the index to the diaries.

That was because a bloke called Colin Bell wrote a book called South West pioneer : a memorial tribute to James Frank Bassingthwaighte, first permanent white settler in South West Africa. While Bell acknowledged that his book was a fictionalised account — he was writing a historical novel, not actual history — he did not say which bits were fact and which were fiction. He did not know the first names of Mr and Mrs Stewardson, so he made them up — Ian and Norah. I don’t blame him for that — it took us 30 years to find what their first names were — but he could have said so.

But this sort if thing is so typical of family history research. You find a tantalising hint of an incident, but many of the vital details are missing. You have to read between the lines to try to see what happened, and even then there are more questions than answers.

  • Who was the intended victim, Frank or Frances Stewardson?
  • What was the motive? Had they quarrelled, or was he trying to rob them?
  • What happened to Willem Meintjies? Was he arrested? Was he tried? Where and by whom?

And, for that matter, what happened to Frank and Frances Stewardson? We don’t know where or when they died. We know something about their four daughters, and who they marriedf, but their three sons are just as much a mystery.

Morris family of Cape Town, Namaland and Damaraland

The Morris family has been one of our long-standing family puzzles.

From Edward C. Tabler’s book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland (Cape Town, Balkema, 1973) we learned that Val’s great great grandmother Kate Stewardson’s mother was a daughter of one of the Morrises — Thomas Morris the elder and Thomas Morris the younger, the latter being a nephew of the former.

Further research showed that “Thomas Morris the Elder” was actually James Morris, and that it was his sister Frances Morris who married Frank Stewardson, though we haven’t found a record of their marriage. There is more about the Stewardson family here. According to research done in the Namibian Archives, James Morris was born in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, England on 8 August 1817.

There is a document in the Cape Town Archives  giving a partial history of the Morris, Huskisson and Titterton families of Cape Town (Cape Archives, Accession A610), drawn up by a William Charles Titterton in about 1951. He was a grandson of James Morris.

Thanks to FamilySearch, we were able to to discover the baptisms of the Morrises in the parishes of Nether Seal and Over Seal, near Ashby de la Zouch. Their parents were Thomas and Sarah Morris.

Children of Thomas Morris & Sarah at (Nether) Seal

  • Thomas baptised 25 May 1806
  • William baptised 23 Oct 1808
  • Sarah baptised 14 Feb 1813
  • Elizabeth baptised 7 Sep 1815
  • James baptised 8 Aug 1817
  • Frances baptised 27 Aug 1820
  • Catherine baptised 1 Dec 1822

Thanks to some very helpful people at the Rootschat site we were able to learn that the Thomas and Sarah Morris lived at Donisthorpe, on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire, where Thomas was a baker and later a butcher, and that he was born there about 1781. At that time there was no church in Donisthorpe, which explains why the children were baptised at Nether/Over Seal. Donisthorpe got its own church in 1838, though it apparently closed recently, so it is back to square one.

It also appears from the 1851 census of Donisthorpe that Thomas Morris the eldest married a second time to Susanna, who was born in the Cape of Good Hope, so he himself must have been in the Western Cape at some time.

These discoveries made over the last few months, enable us to construct a very provisional Morris family history.

Thomas Morris was a butcher, and at least four of his children emigrated to the Cape Colony in the 1820s or 1830s, where his eldest son Thomas was also a butcher. Perhaps the whole family emigrated, or perhaps the father just visited them there. Though they were baptised in the Anglican Church at Nether/Over Seal, in the Cape the family were Methodists.

Thomas Morris had a contract to supply meat to the British government and his younger brother James went to Namaland and Damaraland (now part of Namibia) apparently with the object of procuring a regular supply of cattle for the market. The Hereros (then called “Damaras” by outsiders) were great cattle herders. So James Morris and his wife Mary Elizabeth Huskisson went with another family, the Dixons, overland through the Northern Cape and Namaland, visiting Methodist missionaries on the way. The Morrises had two sons with them. Eventually they reached Walvis Bay in mid-1844, and they wanted to return to Cape Town by sea.

As Tabler (1973:78) puts it

Morris and Dixon reached Walvis Bay in mid-1844, and Morris and his family sailed for Cape Town in Lawton’s vessel so that Mrs Morris could be confined there, but contrary winds drove the ship back. Morris joined Dixon at Sandfontein where they built a store and each man built a house. Mrs Morris gave birth to a daughter there.

And the Methodist baptism register in Cape Town shows the daughter, Sarah Ann, as being born on 6 September 1844, and being baptised on 6 December 1847.

James Morris apparently continued to live in Damaraland until the end of the 1840s, when, according to Tabler, he handed over the business to his nephew Thomas, who was dead by August 1863, and was buried in the Kuiseb River canyon. The problem here is knowing where this Thomas fits into the family. We know that James Morris’s elder brother Thomas had a son Thomas, but he appears to have been alive in 1864, because when his father went insolvent then, he was occupting most of the property. The other brother, William Morris, may have had a son Thomas, but we have found no record of his marriage or children. There are records of a William Morris (perhaps more than one) in the Western Cape in the middle of the 19th century, but the problem is knowing which records pertain to which William, and which of them, if any, was a member of this family.

Frances Morris, the sister of Thoms, William and James, also went to Damaraland in the later 1840s with her husband Frank Stewardson, and their daughter Kate (Val’s great great grandmother) was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay about 1848. According to the Lutheran missionary C.H. Hahn, James Morris, the Wesleyan trader, lived in fierce enmity (arger Feindschaft) with his brother-in-law Frank Stewardson, which might explain the lack of any mention of Frances in the Titterton history.

We’re trying to sort out these relationships as we hope to go to Namibia later in the year and do some fossicking in the archives in the hope of finding more, and tying up some loose ends. One of the more interesting loose ends is Abraham Morris (1872-1922), the leader of the 1922 Bondelswarts Rebellion. According to the Dictionary of South African Biography (Vol III, p 634) he was the son of an English trader and a Bondelswarts mother and was educated in the Cape Colony, so he could quite possibly be related — but how?

In the steps of Fred Green

Twenty years ago this month we went to Namibia on holiday, and one of the reasons we wanted to go was to learn more about Fred Green, Val’s great great grandfather, who was a trader and elephant hunter there for about 25 years, from about 1850 until his death in 1876.

Frederick Thomas Green (1829-1876) Born Montreal, Quebec. Died Heikhamkab, near Walvis Bay

We’ve been scanning some old photos, including photos of that holiday trip, and so it seemed a good time to share them and some of the related family history, old and new. Val had been to Namibia a year before, about a week after it became independent, and spent some time in the archives looking up the history of the Green family, and meeting some relatives and other researchers, like Dag Henrichsen, from Switzerland, who was particularly interested in Fred Green’s eldest daughter, Ada Maria Green, known as Kaera. Val also met a cousin, a descendant of Kaera, Mburumba Kerina, who is credited with the invention of the name Namibia.

In April 1991, however we all went, driving via Upington and the Augrabies Falls on Bright Monday, spending a night in Karasburg, and reaching Windhoek the next day. It was the first time I had been back to Namibia since being deported nearly twenty years before. It was interesting to see how things had changed in twenty years, and especially since independence. Some friends in Windhoek said that the biggest change had taken place overnight — the moment that the South African army withdrew to south of the border the whole country breathed a sign of relief and peace descended. There were several new buildings in Windhoek, which seemed somehow brighter and more cheerful.

We went north to stay ar Gross Barmen, and from there visited Okahandja, Omaruru and Otjimbingwe, places that Fred Green knew well 130 years before. You can read more about Fred Green’s life and times here and here.

8-Apr-1991, Monday

Abstract

Bright Monday. Leave for Namibia. Visit Kuruman, Aughrabies Falls, stay in Karasburg

Left for Namibia at 03:30, and travelled down the freeway to Muldersdrift, then through Tarlton and Ventersdorp. It began to get light then, and between Ventersdorp and Coligny for quite a long way there were road works and deviations. At Biesiesvlei Val took over driving, and we stopped for breakfast in Vryburg at a restaurant that served a “Kalahari breakfast” of eggs, wors, bacon and chips. We reached Kuruman at about 11:00 and had a look at the eye, and the fish in the pool next to it, and filled up with petrol.

Augrabies Falls, on Orange River below Upington

Social weavers' nest on a telephone pole

We reached Upington about 14:00, and bought Kentucky fried chicken for lunch, then drove on to Keimoes where we filled up with petrol, and reached the Aughrabies falls at 15:00, and spent about an hour there wandering around and looking at the falls from various viewpoints. Simon found a colony of dassies. We drove west across a flat plain, and contemplated going to Pofadder and possibly sleeping there. I’d always wanted to see Pofadder, because of the name, and it seemed the most isolated place in South Africa, but the scenery looked boring, and so we decided rather to go to Karasburg via Onseepkans, and it was a scenic drive down to the Orange river with the sun beginning to go down, social weaver nests on the telephone poles, and groves of kokerbome on the hills, and one next to the road that we stopped to photograph.

Kokerbome (Quiver trees), found in Northern Cape and southern Namibia

Kokerbome (Quiver trees), found in Northern Cape and southern Namibia

At the border there was a square army tent with a black guy and a white guy in camouflage uniform, looking bored. They stamped our passports, and we crossed the river. It was quite wide there, flowing slowly through pools and reeds – nothing like the roaring rush of water through the gorge upstream at Aughrabies. On the Namibian side there was an identical tent, but the immigration/police officers smartly dressed in navy blue trousers and white shirts. One was reading an English novel with the help of a dictionary – with the official language being English now, a lot of people will have to learn it.

We drove into the setting sun towards Karasburg, and arrived there at 19:00. We asked for a room at the Kalkfontein Hotel, and they guy there offered us his “five-star” room, with six beds, and air-conditioner and a bathroom and shower for the all-in price of R175-00 – not bad for these days. We went straight to dinner – mutton stew and vegetables – and then straight to bed. It had been a long day of driving.

9-Apr-1991, Tuesday

Abstract

Karasburg to Windhoek. Supper with Enid Ellis

We woke up about 06:50, and had breakfast at the hotel – similar to what we had had yesterday, wors, eggs, bacon and chips. They had stickers from UNTAG and the Australian Army, relics of the transitional period last year. The atmosphere seemed relaxed and friendly. in marked contrast to what it had been when I left nearly twenty years ago. We left just after 08:00, and drove to Grunau, where we stopped for petrol at the Shell garage just north of the village. There was a shop in the garage with an amazing range of merchandise on sale, and a sign on the door that said “Come in” in English, Afrikaans and Kwanyama – the last seemed rather strange this far south. We bought a map and some postcards, and on the way to Keetmanshoop I wrote postcards to Joy Bidgood, Marios and Kia Prelorenzo. We took photos of the Karasberge – I had been through them many times, mainly at sunrise or sunset, but had never really taken pictures of them, and they were always to me the real sign of entering or leaving Namibia, even though they are about 200 km from the border.

At Keetmanshoop we bought a lot of stamps. Some cars had new number plates, with an N, followed by the number, and then a K, instead of the old SK ones. Others had green numberplates with GRN on, which I assumed stood for “Government of the Republic of Namibia” in place of the old A…G numbers. As we went north from there Val and the children stuck stamps on to the “Blue Press” that we were sending out. There was one section where they were working on the road, and we had about 15 km of gravel detour, with great clouds of dust. There were many heavy trucks on the road – far more than I remember from twenty years ago. Mukurob, the finger rock, which used to be visible from the road, was also gone – it had fallen down a couple of years ago.

We stopped at Mariental for hamburgers – real ones this time. There were many more cafes and shops selling food. Last time I had stopped at a cafe the menu had “Rice – or something else” and a “hamburger” consisted of very greasy mince on toast. Now they had some quite  good ones. We posted some of the Blue Presses, and pushed on to Windhoek. Rehoboth, too, seemed much developed. There were street lights on the main road, and many more prosperous-looking houses. We reached the Auas mountains about 15:30, and stopped to look  over Windhoek and take some photos, and when we started again the car battery light came on. We called at a garage at the bottom of the hill, and found that it was just that the ignition lock had been in the wrong position.

We drove into town, getting lost because of the new bypass roads a couple of times, and went to the post office, and posted the Blue Press for people within Namibia. We then went to Klein Windhoek, past 41 Klein Windhoek Road, where I had lived 20 years ago, and called on Val’s cousin Enid Ellis, and stayed for supper with them. Enid’s husband Justin was away at a conference. We saw their son Hugh, now aged 12, for the first time since he was three months old, and their daughter Bronwen, aged 7, for the first time ever. Bronwen was embarrassed because she had been to the beach at Swakopmund, and had been bitten by sandfleas, and was all over itchy bites.

I phoned Dave de Beer, who was staying at the Safari motel, and had said he would be here accompanying a group of European parliamentarians on a tour of Namibia. He wasn’t available, but I left a message for him to phone me back, and soon afterwards he did. He said we should go to see him about lunch time tomorrow at the hotel, as, though he would later be going to Johannesburg, we thought it

would be good to meet again on Namibian soil. Enid said that locally people spoke of the GRN number plate vehicles as standing for “Go Round Namibia”.After supper we drove to the Daan Viljoen Park on the Khomas Hochland road, and slept in a couple of huts there.

10-Apr-1991, Wednesday

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Spend morning in Windhoek archives, lunch with Dave de Beer. Enid Ellis & her children come to have a braai with us at Daan Viljoen Park

We went in to Windhoek in the morning, and parked in a parking ground opposite the Zoo Gardens, and went in to Wecke and Voigts, where I had bought a hat once. I looked for another hat like the one I had lost in Swaziland, but they only had JB Stetson Texan-style hats that would have been OK if it hadn’t been for the TV character J.R. Ewing. But in a shop next door they had some nice hats. A little further down the road there was a new pedestrian mall that went over Stuebelstrasse, and was very pleasant. We stopped at a kiosk there for some ham and salami brotchens for breakfast, and a guy came up and said he was hungry, and we gave him some money and he promptly bought chips and all the most bulky things he could get. We left the children looking at shops for stickers and T shirts and things, and went to the archives, where we saw Brigitte Lau, and told her about our project for transcribing Ada Leinhos’s case against the South West Africa Company. She said we had given so much stuff to the archives that she would give us a free copy of the German war map, which showed Frederick Vincent Green’s birthplace of Ehangero, on the Omuramba Wamatako, about 20km west of the present Okahandja-Otjiwarongo road. We looked up a few other things, and photocopied some missing pages from the court case.

Then we went to the Safari Motel to wait for Dave de Beer, whose conference was finishing. We had lunch at the Safari Motel with Dave, who told us something of what he had been doing. He had visited Gobabis with his parliamentarians, and they had stayed at the hotel there, and seen the jail. They had also visited Epukiro, where chief Munyuku was cooperating with the establishment of community farms. Dave said they were particularly concerned about health services, and that the nurses said that there was a lot of high blood pressure among Hereros, presumably because of all the milk and meat they eat. He said that in Ovamboland the traditional healers were cooperating with the health services, but when he asked about it in Hereroland, people were very cagey, though he had no idea why that should be so. He also said that Mburumba Kerina had been kicked out of parliament – I hadn’t known that he was in, but apparently he had represented a small coalition of his own group and the Rehoboth Basters, and Sam Nujoma had taken him and some of the other original petitioners to the United Nations along with him when he went there to apply for membership of the UN, even though they were now political rivals. This had led to Mburumba Kerina and Sam Nujoma being reconciled, and Mburumba joined SWAPO, so his original group obviously no longer wanted him as their representative. He said Assaria Kamburona was very active politically in the DTA, and that political differences had split the Oruuano Church, though he didn’t seem to have much evidence for that. Hiskia Uanivi is still, apparently, active in his Communist Party. While we were talking, Zephania Kameeta walked by, and said we could see him tomorrow at the Lutheran Church offices, where he is staying in a guest room.

We took Dave to the Anglican cathedral, and looked for Roger Key in the deanery, but he was out, so Val took some pictures of us together up by the bell, and we took some photos of the whole family there. We went down to the diocesan office, now in Fr Willie van der Sijde’s old house, and spoke to the diocesan secretary, who said that the diocese was chronically short of money and didn’t have enough to pay clergy stipends – though it was in the pockets of the people. It reminded me of the day I arrived [in 1969], when Dave himself was diocesan secretary, and he had R95.00 in the account and had to pay stipends the following week. We gave a calendar to Dinah Handura’s daughter, who worked in the office. Dinah had cleaned our house in Klein Windhoek.

Then we took Dave to the centre of town, and went to the OK Bazaars (another innovation since I was last here) and bought some ingredients for a braai tonight, and went back to the Daan Viljoen Park to prepare it. Enid, Hugh and Bronwen joined us about 16:30, and after walking around the dam we had a braai – except for Bronwen, who is vegetarian, and we chatted about old times, and caught up on the news of what we had been doing since we had last met 12 years ago, when we were in Melmoth and Enid was about to leave for England. The children all played soccer, and seemed to get on well together.

Bridget Hayes, Bronwen Ellis, Hugh Ellis, Jethro Hayes, Simon Hayes, Val Hayes, Enid Ellis at Daan Viljoen Park, Khomas Hochland, Namibia

11-Apr-1991, Thursday

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Visit Zephania Kameeta, stay at Gross Barmen

We drove around the Daan Viljoen Park before leaving, and saw several animals – jackals, tsessebe, kudus and wildebeest. We again went to town and had brotchens for breakfast, then went to see Zephania Kameeta. He said he and his wife had bought a house in Mariental, as she originally came from there, and houses were much cheaper. Their white neighbours were very right-wing, and it was a new experience for them to have blacks living next door. Zephania said that cabinet ministers were civil servants, and so got housing allowances, but on an MP’s salary he could not afford a house in Windhoek. We remarked on the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere in the place, and he said that it had originally seemed strange to think that they could cooperate with some of the right-wing political groups like ACN, but that when they did so, things seemed to work well. Zephania said he had done research into his own family history from the church registers in Otjimbingwe, where he himself had been born, and said we should go there and ask the Pastor, Pastor Mujoro, if we could look at the early registers, which should still be there.

Zephania Kameeta & Steve Hayes. Windhoek 11 April 1991

We left Windhoek then, and drove around Katutura for a while, and stopped to take photos of the graffiti on the Ovambo compound, which were colourful, and wondered what the compound was used for now. There was a new four-lane highway as far as Brakwater. At Okahandja we drove around for a while looking for Maharero’s grave – it was far more hidden away than I remembered it, and then went on to the resort at Gross Barmen, where we stayed in a marvellous flat, complete with air conditioning, chairs and tables, and we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and in the evening went swimming before having dinner at the restaurant, and we chatted to the waiter who was Kwanyama, and knew Nehemiah Hamupembe and some of the Anglican clergy at Odibo.

The graves of Herero heroes at Okahandja: Clemens Kapuuo and Hosea Kutako

12-Apr-1991, Friday

Abstract

Visit Omaruru, drive round Erongo mountains to Otjimbingue

Anthill between Gross Barmen & Wilhelmstal

We were up early, and drove along the back road to Wilhelmstal, where I had gone when I worked for the department of water affairs. We saw lots of game – jackals, kudu and gemsbok – all along the road. We then went to Omaruru, which was much more green and pleasant than I remembered it. We stopped at a small cafe for breakfast – again our ham and salami brotchens – and handed out St Nicholas Calendars to everyone we met. We went to the municipal offices where there was a sign advertising tourist information, and spoke to a Mr Bester, a former policeman who had come here from South Africa in 1964, and stayed on when he left the police force. He told us about some of the tourist attractions in the area, and we bought a couple of booklets as well. He showed us some maps, and some reports of a geological survey done by people from Rhodes University a few years ago – they said that the nearby Erongo mountains were the largest volcanic formation in the Southern hemisphere.

We drove through the Erongo mountains, wishing we had more time to spend here and explore. I remembered one, in particular, that looked like an enormous lizard, and when I passed in when working at the Department of Water Affairs it had seemed as though this was the end of the world. Knowing the country beyond it, it now seemed much more tame. We drove south past the western edge of the mountains, stopping to take photos of the Erongo and Spitsberg. I had once travelled along this road when the sun was setting over the Spitsberg and the moon rising over the Erongo, and it had been spectacularly beautiful. But even in the middle of the day there was a grandeur to it. We stopped for cold drinks at Usakos, but most of the shops were shut for the afternoon siesta. We went on to Karibib, where I wanted to take pictures of the old hotel, but it had vanished, and someone said it had been demolished 16 years ago, which was sad, because it had been the most interesting building in the town.

The Erongo mountains in west-central Namibia -- country that would have veen familiar to Fred Green

Powder tower at Otjimbingue, said to have been built by Fred Green

We went down to Otjimbingue, and looked for pastor Mujoro, and found there were two pastors – a husband and wife, but the wife was out at the church council, and the husband was asleep and apparently not to be disturbed, so we did not get to see the church registers, but took photos of the powder tower, allegedly built by Fred Green in the 1870s. As we were leaving Otjimbingue, the exhaust pipe fell off, but we were able to tie it up with a bit of wire, and got back to Gross Barmen roaring like a ferry.

13-Apr-1991, Saturday

Abstract

Gross Barmen to Ai Ais. See Roger Key, but not Mburumba Kerina

My 50th birthday. We packed up at Gross Barmen, and drove in to Windhoek, went straight to a garage called Auto-Fit, where they repaired the exhaust pipe, and then once again parked at the Zoo Gardens parking ground, and got brotchens from Wecke and Voigts for breakfast, and then went round to Kerina’s office in Kenya House in Leutweinstrasse (he’d said the street name had been changed to Mugabe Avenue, but all the old signs were still up) – it took us some time to find it. He had said it was the former Grand Hotel, but only when we got there did my memory of it come back – I’d met some journalists there from the Argus Africa News Service once. But Kerina was not in. A guy at the reception counter was rather cynical – Kerina had said he would meet us at 09:30, and the guy said that meant he wouldn’t be in before 10:00.

Jethro, Bridget, Steve & Simon Hayes: at Zoo Park above Independence Avenue, Windhoek. 13 April 1991, Steve's 50th birthday

Roger & Shaunie Key

We went to see Roger and Shaunie Key at the Anglican Deanery, and chatted to them for a while, and Roger got me to sign the Cathedral visitor’s books. He said he’d been very surprised to receive the Blue Press we had sent him [it was Roger who told us how peace descended on the country when the South African army left]. We made another attempt to see Kerina, but he was still not there, so we left Windhoek, driving south to Ai Ais. We turned off the main road at Kalkrand, and went towards Maltahohe, reaching it at about 14:00, and filled up with petrol there. The town seemed absolutely dead. We drove on to Helmeringhausen across the flat and dusty plain, with the iron-red plateau range on the left. Helmeringhausen too was dead on a Saturday afternoon, a little hamlet with stone houses that looked as if it hadn’t changed for 80 years.

We drove on to Bethanien, and took some photos on the way, and stopped at Bethanien for petrol, and then drove on to Ai Ais as the sun was setting, seeing the Karasberge from the west this time, looking very different. It was dark by the time we got to Ai Ais, and we only just made it to the restaurant before they closed.

14-Apr-1991, Sunday

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Ai Ais to Olifantshoek

After breakfast we walked around for a while, looking at the Fish River canyon, and bought a few things at the shop, and then drove back north along the road we had come down in the dark last night, and went to the view point on the Fish River Canyon and took photos from there. We then drove to Grunau, and bought hamburgers and wors rolls for lunch. We debated going south via Vioolsdrift, Springbok and Pofadder, but decided that it was too late for that, and took the direct route through Karasburg and Ariamsvlei.

Fish River Canyon

We passed the Namibian border control post just past Ariamsvlei, quite a way before the actual border. Though it was a prefab building it looked quite smart, with the flag flying, and immigration officers who were polite and efficient. About twenty km on we came to the South African “monitoring post” – a khaki tent, no flag, and an enormous Casspir armoured car parked outside. There were three scruffy looking characters in camouflage uniform sitting at a folding table covered with cold drink cans – one to write down the information in the passports, the second to stamp the passports, and the third to read the picture story book. It could hardly have been a greater contrast.

I’d bought a copy of the Sunday newspaper “Rapport” in Grunau, and we were back to the reports of violence. Virtually nothing was said about any news in Namibia at all. We filled up with petrol in Upington, and set off for Kuruman as quickly as possible, as the car lights weren’t working properly, but by sunset we had only reached Olifantshoek, so we booked in at the hotel there. It was very pleasant. We had a good supper, and it was cheaper than Karasburg. We celebrated with a bottle of 5th Avenue Cold Duck, and when we popped the cork it hit the ceiling and squashed a mosquito there.

15-Apr-1991, Monday

Abstract

Returned home – someone had broken into the house

We left Olifantshoek after breakfast, and drove through Kuruman, Vryburg (where we stopped to get a couple of new tyres),
Biesiesvlei and Ventersdorp. We got home about 16:30, and there was a policeman there guarding the house. someone had broken in sometime, and broken seven window panes, but they appeared to have been disturbed, as apparently everything they had taken was at the police station. Marios came round, and said he thought the break-in was last night, as he had come to check the place and found all the lights on.

End of diary extracts

Much of the country we passed through on this trip would have been familiar to Fred Green, his wife Catherine Stewardson (who was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay) and their older children — Mary, who was born in Ovamboland, and Fred junior (Val’s great grandfather) who was born somewhere east of Omaruru.The graves of the Herero heroes took on a new significance when we discovered that Fred Green and Samuel Maharero had been firends (though they had also fought), and Samuel Maharero made a grant of land to Fred Green’s daughter Ada when the Germans were beginning to colonise the country. The Germans tried to give her land to a commercial company, but she took them on in court, and won. When the South Africans invaded in 1915, she had to fight the battle all over again, and won a second time, and she then lost it all when she stood surety for her no-good son-in-law.

When we started our family history research in 1974 we didn’t have a clue about the Namibian (or Canadian) connections of the Green family, and we only learnt them when we made contact with Val’s great aunt Gladys Clark, so this trip enabled us to look at things with new eyes.

Namibian cousins visit

Last month we had a visit from Val’s cousin Enid Ellis and her husband Justin, who were on holiday from Windhoek, Namibia. Val and Enid are cousins on the Pearson side of the family. We manage to see them once every 5 years or so, usually when they are passing through, and catch up with news of family and friends. This time we did it over lunch in Centurion Mall.

Enid Ellis, Val Hayes, Justin Ellis

Val (nee Greene) and Enid (nee Gammage) grew up in Escombe, in Queensburgh, Natal, near Durban and the families were very close, and they spent a lot of time together.

Steve met Justin when he came to Windhoek with a group of  students from Stellenbosch University to spend part of their summer vac there in 1970. Actually it was a funny summer, as for one week it was bitterly cold, and there was snow in the Cape, in December!

Steve and Justin met again in July 1972 (the real winter) at an Anglican Students Federation conference at KwaMagwaza in Zululand. Steve had been deported from Namibia, along with some other church workers, including the bishop, Colin Winter, and so Steve tried to persuade Justin to go there to take the place of some of those who were kicked out. Whether the persuasion did the trick, or whether it was something else, Justin eventually went.

A few months after that meeting, Steve met Val and Enid in Queensburgh, and in 1973 Val and Enid went to Namibia on holiday. In 1974 Enid decided to go back there, and later that year Val and Steve were married, and Enid and Justin as well. And a few years later Justin and Enid were deported from Namibia (an insidious habit), and spent a few years in England, returning when Namibia became independent in 1990.

Back in the 1970s we were all Anglicans. Now Enid and Justin are Quakers, and Val and Steve are Orthodox.

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