Reconstruction by Way of the Soil

by G.T. Wrench

Chapter 18

German Colonies: The Mandates

The Germans were the last Europeans to colonize. They were also the people most imbued with the faith of modern science, and this taught them, with a clear conscience, to pursue the rights of the fittest to its extreme, logical conclusion. Armed with this faith, they conquered three areas in Africa: South-west Africa, the Cameroons, Tanganyika.

The Germans date their colonial empire from 1884, when Lüderitz hoisted the German flag at Angra Pequena, a port of South-west Africa, Nachtigal did the same at Duala, a port of the Cameroons, and Karl Peters and his companions landed at Zanzibar. So began their part in the exploitation of the Dark Continent.

Many countries had preceded them, Portugal, Britain, France and Belgium and, in their exploitation of their new territories, had not always refrained from cruelty. One of them, Belgium, under the influence of its king, was in the nineties to give an example of cruelty on such a large scale and so pitiless that, when knowledge of it became public, it projected a widening wave of horror through the United States, Britain, France, and Belgium itself. The period of harsh treatment of natives had come to an end as far as the great publics of Western Europe and America were concerned.

With this equal start in the three colonies in the year 1884, the German version of the policy of exploitation began.

As regards South-west Africa, a dry land and chiefly of agricultural value because of its pasture land, Paul von Rohrbach defined the policy in the Deutsche Kolonialwirtschaft, in these words, as quoted by Mr. G. L. Steer in his book of convincing thoroughness, Judgment on German Africa, 1939: 'The decision to colonize South-west Africa could after all mean nothing less than this: that the native tribes would have to give up their lands on which they had previously grazed their stock in order that the white men should have the land for foraging their own.'

The Hereros and Hottentots were the chief peoples concerned in this appropriation. It was begun with a harsh oppression of both peoples, particularly of the prouder and more warlike of the two, the Hereros.

One of their chieftains described the German methods in words, again quoted from Mr. Steer's book, which is my guide in this chapter: 'Our people were being robbed and deceived right and left by German traders. Their cattle were taken by force. They were flogged and ill-treated and got no redress. In fact, the German police assisted the traders instead of protecting us. Very often one man's cattle were taken to pay other people's debts. If we objected and tried to resist, the police would be sent for and, what with floggings and threats of shooting, it was useless for our poor people to resist. If the traders had been fair and reasonable, like the old English traders, we would never have complained. But this was not trading at all. It was only theft and robbery.'

The Hereros rebelled in 1904, and fought according to their savage code, calculated to call for reprisals. They were defeated and, to finish the work, General von Trotha issued an order of total extermination, the Vernichtungs-Befehl. This is how it ran:

'I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Herero nation. The Hereros are no longer German subjects. They have murdered and robbed, they have cut off the ears and noses and privy parts of wounded soldiers, and they are now too cowardly to fight ... The Herero nation must now leave the country. If they do it not I will compel them with the big tube. Within the German frontier every Herero, with or without a rifle, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will not take over any more women and children, but I will either drive them back to your people or have them fired on. These are my words to the nation of the Hereros. The great General of the Mighty Emperor, von Trotha.' By the end of 1905 official extermination had reduced the Herero people from 90,000 to 15,000.

In October 1904 the Hottentots also rebelled and were partly exterminated. As to the human result upon the Protectorate of the policy, Leutwein, the German historian of the south-west, declared: 'At the cost of several hundreds of millions of marks and several thousand German soldiers we have, of the three business assets of the Protectorate, mining, farming and native labour, destroyed the second entirely, and the last as to two-thirds.'

Before the Germans were themselves conquered in the Great War, the condition of the natives is thus summed up by Mr. Steer: 'Officially still, the native was a State serf, guilty of serf-like offences. Out of 4,356 convictions against natives, in the Protectorate between 1 January 1913 and 31 March 1914, 3,167 were for desertion, negligence, vagrancy, disobedience, insolence, laziness and contravention of the Pass laws; crimes not of man against man, but of the slave against his boss.' This did not include the punishments of 'Väterliche Züchtigung', or paternal punishment, allowed to the German master over their serfs, which led Governor Seitz, in order to avoid a further native revolt, to threaten in 1912 'to withdraw labour supplies from those "who rage in mad brutality against the native, and consider their white skin a charter of indemnity from punishment for the most brutal crimes".'

After the Great War, South-west Africa was allotted as a Mandated Territory to the Union Government of South Africa.

In the Cameroons the Germans adopted the same policy, but it did not lead to any rebellion and annihilation such as that of the Hereros. The policy was to hand over the land and the natives, as and when required, to great German commercial companies. Governor Jasko von Puttkamer was the chief support of these companies and he carried out the government with German efficiency in their interests. 'Administrative recruitment' was the name under which the natives were used precisely and only as the planters and traders needed them. At first rubber was the chief source of wealth, but when the energetic Puttkamer in 1895 saw the coffee, cocoa and banana plantations on the neighbouring Spanish island of Fernando Po, he initiated estates for these products upon the lower lands of the lofty peak of Kamerun. Concessions were given by Puttkamer to German companies, and plantations were opened out on land taken from the Africans in possession, who were induced to work for the planters by being left sufficient plots on which to grow their own food.

The demand for porterage now increased to carry the products of the new plantations, as well as the rubber, to the coastal ports. Men were taken from their farms and families by 'administrative recruitment', to carry loads on ceaseless journeys, the police acting, as in South-west Africa, on behalf of the planters and in no way protecting the natives. For the sake of the planters, 10 per cent of the population were forced to be their serfs.

Puttkamer's exactions, financial machinations and private life were rooted out by the Social Democrats in Germany. He was disgraced and dismissed in 1907, but so wealthy and influential had the planters become that his policy continued to dominate in order to keep the labour market full, which the disease and hardship due to porterage in particular depleted. A better spirit prevailed or was enforced upon the German Colonial Ministry. A German medical service was organized to check the loss of labour due to diseases, the most feared of which was sleeping sickness. Some little official attention was also paid to education. One thousand children were to be found in government schools in 1914 and there were 40,000 in German and American missionary schools. There were reforms but minor reforms. As far as they went, they were for the good of the natives, but 'administrative recruitment' remained. The natives were still the serfs of their masters and discipline was enforced by severe paternal punishments. Planters were accused of the 'physical and moral annihilation' of the native, and it was not until the fatal year of 1914 that the Colonial Minister, Dr. Solf, was able to announce a doctrine new to the Germans: 'The colonies will prosper with the natives and for the natives, not in spite of them and against them.'

After the Great War the Mandate for the government of the German Cameroons was divided into two. The greater share was given to the French, the lesser to the British. The French now ruled a population of 2,400,000; the British one of 800,000.

The conquest of the third colony, Tanganyika, was due to Dr. Karl Peters. Of Dr. Peters, Mr. Steer writes: 'Of all the German pioneers Hangman Peters was the most unprincipled and bloody. I have not written of his cruelties, because I do not regard him as typical of the old German colonists; none but Trotha was as foul as the merciless doctor. But evidently the Nazis of 1934 held him to be typical; nay more, a prototype. Their propaganda has pursued him with praise in the five years since they gummed a memorial to him on their envelopes,' for his portrait figures on a stamp, which celebrated Germany's Colonial jubilee in 1934, and is placed as the frontispiece of Mr. Steer's book.

In 1888 Dr. Peters acquired Tanganyika by what Mr. Steer calls 'a novel piece of international theft, to which all civilized powers were parties'.

For ten years Peters conquered and enjoyed his power sadistically. Then his hangings and shootings of natives and the flogging of his concubines became known to the Social Democrats of the Reichstag. In 1897 he was brought to trial before the German Colonial Disciplinary Court. He was dismissed from the governorship and took refuge in England. Nevertheless, the hatred which he had aroused amongst the natives did not subside. Too many German bullies remained behind; too many native chiefs had been robbed. One called Mkwawa rebelled; and was defeated. His German conquerors cut off his head and actually sent it as a trophy to Berlin. A special clause was inserted in the Treaty of Versailles which ordered its return to his tribe.

A more serious rebellion, that of the Maji-Maji, of the combined tribes of the south, raged for two years. The Germans, failing to overcome the Africans in the field, destroyed their villages and crops by fire. Thousands of Africans died of starvation and the entire south of Tanganyika was devastated. Money became frightened and so, in 1907, Dr. Dernburg, an able business man and banker, who had been given the new appointment of first Secretary of the Colonies, left for East Africa to institute reforms and to endeavour to turn the hatred of the Africans into their natural tolerance, if not affection. Very shortly after his arrival, he announced publicly: 'I saw too many whips in the hands and on the tables of the planters and colonizers.' He attempted to permit the natives to be free producers, as well as to free those who were in German employment, limiting forced labour to public works and paying it for its work. The planters were rendered bitterly hostile by these humanities, and succeeded in enforcing Dernburg's resignation. In practice, therefore, the seizure of land, forced labour, floggings and imprisonment continued until the Great War.

After the Great War, the Mandate for Tanganyika was allotted to Britain.

The Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations brought a redemptive spirit into governance. Under the first clause of their charter, they were to be the trustees of the material and moral well-being of the natives. Each Mandatory Power had to present an annual report for acceptance and suggestions by the Commission. Reports and comments were made public. The old-time secrecy which was able to screen offences was made impossible. Mr. Steer, in his chapter on 'Mandates' Work', gives a most moving account of the improvement of the lot of the sons of the soil, which had once formed the territories of the German northerners.

Of South-west Africa, he states: 'It has multiplied by ten, the amount of land in the hands of the native in German days, and it has enabled him to keep herds of cattle and sheep again, a tribal necessity of which Germany cruelly deprived him.' The mandated natives are even better off in the south-west than are the natives in the Union; the former, for example, have to pay no poll-tax which often forces the Africans into industry where their wages never rise; their tribal institutions have been restored and the chiefs in the far north actually share in the responsibility of government. The white men, who now direct the country, are men of the Union and, therefore, versed by experience in the type of land of the south-west as also in the native character. No gross cruelties now occur, and, did they do so, they would be reported in the annual reports to the Permanent Mandates Commission. The general result has been a notable increase in prosperity.

In the Cameroons under the French Mandate there has been a similar new spirit of humanity, carried out in the way that is especial to the French. Everything local, social services, State services, the construction of the wonderful French roads, education, public health, co-operative agriculture, emanate from the top. The French have no faith in ancient systems and traditions; that they have destroyed in their great French Revolution of 1789. They have not therefore set about strengthening the tribal chiefs and restoring tribal institutions. 'Governors sack chiefs on any pretext,' says Mr. Steer. 'Tradition to them is a thing that clogs.' With the network of roads which the French build, they introduce speed of communication, enabling them to establish centralization in place of the old local administration. Within these limits, they give the Africans freedom, public service, instruction and medical aid.

Under the Mandate, French authorities have to publish, for all who wish to read, their annual report to the Mandate Commission, and it is due to this, says Mr. Steer, that the French Cameroons have the advantage of their neighbour, the non-Mandated French Equatorial Africa, whose reports are seldom read outside the Colonial Ministry. The officials of the former are spurred by the knowledge of the coming publicity. The consequence is that, whereas the Cameroons grow in strength and population, Equatorial Africa wanes in both. Under eager but careful officials, the freed natives are themselves infused with energy and zeal, and take a growing part in production. 'Production', writes Mr. Steer, 'is balanced nicely between white and black ... Some crops, such as cocoa, which were exclusively European, are now exclusively African ... Production has become so popular a pastime that the sources of white labour have dried up.' This energetic spirit has advanced hand in hand with prosperity, with the result that 'the French Cameroons balance their own budget; they have only in the 'thirties borrowed money from France, and their total debt is infinitesimal. Neighbour Equatorial is one of the territories which promotes most gloom in the French Colonial Ministry. There is always a colossal deficit. Sometimes it amounts to 30 per cent of the total receipts. There is always a crushing debt.'

The British in Tanganyika have worked in the opposite way to the French. Sir Donald Cameron, who knew, as no one else, where, how and to what degree self-government could be developed, gave this succinct account of his British methods: 'We built from the bottom, from the common people upwards on a purely democratic basis, in distinction from other countries, where the tendency has been to invert the pyramid and build from the top.' The spirit of the Mandates was most acceptable to his humane and understanding heart. Mr. Steer's words on this are so nobly eloquent that they will be quoted in full: 'The Mandate for Tanganyika, as for the Cameroons, destroyed the system of forced labour set up by Germany; it has assured the native primary rights in the land of his fathers, and a paramountcy of his interests where they conflict with those of European settlers -- where the German policy was diametrically opposite; it has constructed a peaceful native peasantry where none existed before; it has given peace for armed repression; impartial for rough justice.

'Above all it has established the natural foundations of native society where these had been hammered out of sight by the German machine. It found an oppressive and foreign rule in Tanganyika twenty years ago; in that brief time-period it has not only restored the native system, but given it responsibilities of which it never dreamed before. The native authorities, suitably democratized, spend their own money, hold their own courts, carry out their own measures of education, hygiene, and all other forms of local government.

'There is no need to compare Tanganyika with Kenya or Nyasaland on her northern and south-western frontiers. Through the breadth of Africa south of the Sahara you will not find a territory where the native African has such freedom of self-expression as in Tanganyika; or such grand responsibility; or responsibility so faithfully borne. When one lifts the veil of wishful thinking and asks, in a clearer atmosphere, what is the purpose of colonial government, clarity demands no stupid answer such as raw materials for the mother country (seeing that all the colonies of the world produce only 3 per cent of the world's raw materials), or pockets for European investment (seeing that the beneficiaries can only be the few), or strategic power (seeing that if war is permanent life is not worth living). No; the light shines too hard to-day to admit evasion. If we are to remain in tropical Africa we are there for the benefit of the people whom we rule; and their benefit is not only to learn and be healthy, have peace and produce; the greatest gift we can offer them is the opportunity to manage their affairs. That is why Cameron justly said, "We have given back their soul to the people".'

The Mandates in the three countries have been carried out in three varying ways by the Union of South Africa, the French and the British, but each method has been inspired by the new spirit. It is this that has led to their success and prosperity, for Tanganyika too is prosperous, 'the richest of the former German Colonies'. The, Mandates, indeed, have worked like a miracle of social benefit and civilization in these three countries, especially in Tanganyika. It is very impressive and will become yet more so to the reader of Chapters 21 and 22 in which similar miracles on a grander scale of civilization will be described.

Next chapter

Table of Contents
1. Introductory
2. Rome
3. The Roman Foods
4. The Roman Family
5. Roman Soil Erosion
6. Farmers and Nomads
I. The Land
II. The Nomads
III. The Farmers
IV. Nomadic Migrations and Farmers
7. Contrasting Pictures
8. Banks for the Soil
9. Economics of the Soil
10. The English Peasant and Agricultural Labourer
11. Primitive Farmers
12. Nyasa
13. Tanganyika
14. 'Earth Thou Art'
15. Sind and Egypt
16. Fragmentation
17. East and West Indies
18. German Colonies: The Mandates
19. Russia, South Africa, Australia
South Africa
20. The United States of America
21. A Kingdom of Agricultural Art in Europe
22. An Historical Reconstruction
The Initiation
The Institution
The Achievement
23. Recapitulation
24. Action

Back to the Small Farms Library Index

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations |