GERMANY'S colonial aspirations are confined largely to Africa: that is the classic field for colonial exploitation and there lie the most important of the former German colonies. The problems created by those aspirations are of special interest to the Union of South Africa, the only place on the African continent where European civilization is firmly established on a relatively large scale. What happens in the former German colonies -- South West Africa, Tanganyika, the Cameroons and Togoland -- is therefore a matter of concern to South Africans.

I

Of particular interest to the Union is the Territory of South West Africa, which borders it on the northwest and for which it holds a Class C Mandate. This area is generally regarded as a desolate region devoid of economic value. Its seaboard is almost harborless, its coast lands are a sandy waste, while the border zone between it and the Union for the most part is barren and unattractive. Yet the territory has considerable mineral resources, its grassland interior is suitable for stock-raising, and its climatic conditions are such as to permit Europeans to rear healthy families. The German protectorate was proclaimed in 1884; by 1914 the German population had grown to 15,000. During the World War and the years which immediately followed it, the German population was reduced by more than 40 percent. But this loss to the white element was more than made good by immigration from the Union. Today the European population of the Territory is around 31,000, of which about thirty percent is German. The non-European population -- Bantu, Hottentot and Bastard -- numbers over 330,000.

During the early postwar years both the German Government at Berlin and the German colonists in South West Africa seemed to have accepted their new status under South Africa's Mandate and to have reconciled themselves to eventual incorporation into the Union. In 1923 the South African Government made an agreement with Germany (usually referred to as the London Agreement) under the terms of which German nationals in South West Africa were automatically to become Union subjects unless they contracted out before a fixed date. The German Government even undertook to urge them to accept this new status, and 90 percent of them did so. For its part the Union Government pledged itself to make several concessions in the administration of the Territory: it promised, among other things, to permit the use of the German language for certain specified official purposes and as a medium of instruction in government schools. In the preamble of this agreement the German Government specifically recognized that "the future of South West Africa is now bound up with the Union of South Africa."

The negotiation of this accord seemed to foreshadow the peaceful development of the Territory, and it was in this spirit that in 1925 the Union Parliament passed the South West Africa Constitution Act, creating a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Committee and an Advisory Council. This meant in effect that the Union took the citizens of the Territory into partnership with itself in respect to a considerable portion of its legislative and administrative functions under the Mandate. But unhappily, the actual working of this Constitution led to friction between the Germans on the one hand and what had come to be called the Union section of the population on the other; and grievances began to arise which were to serve as the starting point for subsequent Nazi agitation. One such grievance was that German had not been made an official language along with English and Afrikaans, even though its use was recognized for most purposes. Another was that the administration's land settlement policy, which primarily benefited settlers from the Union, was calculated to swamp the German element. A third complaint was that the Union's Nationality Law, passed in 1926 and increasing the period required for naturalization from two years to five (a provision aimed at bringing the law into line with the legislation on British nationality in the rest of the Empire), weakened the relative position of the German element in the electorate. The settler from the Union, since he was already a British subject, qualified for the franchise without any delay, whereas the newcomer from Germany had to wait for five years.

The Germans have made much of this particular grievance. They have, for instance, demanded the institution of a Mandate citizenship, for which settlers both from the Union and from Germany would have to qualify in the same way. This proposal has been resisted on the ground that the Union, as the Mandatory Power, can share its responsibilities with citizens of the Territory only if the latter are under the same obligations of allegiance and possess the same responsibilities as its own citizens in the Union itself. Another by-product of this grievance has been a demand that Germans automatically naturalized under the London Agreement shall be recognized as having dual nationality -- that in other words they shall remain German nationals, with all the privileges and obligations which that implies, in addition to possessing Union nationality. Among Germans in the Territory this claim has had a large part in creating the attitude that they are still members of the greater German nation.

For some years these grievances -- and others also -- were put forward along the more or less orthodox lines of political controversy. Indeed, at one time a settlement of the outstanding issues in dispute was very nearly reached. Then in 1933, Nazism came to South West Africa, brought by new arrivals from Germany. A Nazi organization was established. The Hitler Jugend also soon made its appearance. Before long the agitation was being pressed so vigorously that a Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance was passed empowering the Administration to deal with persons or organizations whose activities were calculated to disturb the peace of the community. In pursuance of this Ordinance the offices of the Nazi organization and of the Hitler Jugend were raided, and some very important papers were seized. Shortly afterwards, the Union Government appointed a Judicial Commission to investigate the whole situation in South West Africa.

This Commission unanimously found that the existing form of government was a failure and should be abolished; it also found that there was no legal obstacle to governing the Territory as a fifth Province of the Union, subject to the Mandate, though it was in complete disagreement as to what form of government should be instituted. Public interest in the report was mainly concentrated on its disclosures -- based largely on the confiscated documents -- concerning the extent and the dangerous nature of Nazi activities in the Territory. The Commission found that a far-reaching system of Nazi control, directed from Germany, had been introduced and was being applied in such a manner that freedom of speech, of political association and even of personal conduct, had ceased to exist for a large number of naturalized Germans. To quote the Commission's own words: "Union subjects were 'verpflichtet' to the head of a foreign state. Union subjects who exercised the right to follow a line of conduct approved by Germany in the London Agreement were called traitors and treated as traitors. Union subjects were threatened with reprisals if they exerted their right of free speech in a way which was considered detrimental to the policy followed in the territory at the dictation of the Auslandsabteilung. The [German] Consul-General [in the Union] and a party leader from Germany who came in ostensibly to further German cultural objects, really welded the German population, naturalized as well as others, into a political machine to maintain a favorable position for the return of the Territory to Germany." To this may be added a statement from another section of the report: "It is clear from the correspondence placed before us that the Nazification of German-speaking school children of Union nationality in South West Africa was directed from Germany."

As a matter of fact, even before the Commission got around to issuing its report, the Nazi movement in South West Africa had been formally suppressed. However, no changes were made in the Territory's constitution or in its system of administration, and since the Nazi organization, though suppressed, had in reality merely been driven underground, the situation did not improve. The Nazi organization has in effect been reconstituted as the "Association of German Professional Groups," while the Hitler Jugend has to all intents and purposes become the "Pathfinders." The change has been little more than external. Consequently the great bulk of the Germans of the Territory, whether naturalized or not, are today closely banded together. The German Consul at Windhoek keeps in such close touch with them that it is safe to say that the private lives of the 10,000 Germans in South West Africa are largely subject to control from his office. One of the most effective among the methods he employs to "gleichschalten" these Germans is to inculcate the fear that the penalty for any recalcitrance on their part may fall on their relatives or their property in Germany. The atmosphere in South West Africa has become worse in proportion as Germany has grown more aggressive in Europe. After Munich nearly every German in the Territory went about proclaiming that: "South West will return to Germany," "The Fuehrer will see to it that we become part of the Greater Germany," "The future of South West will be settled not here, nor in the Union, but in Europe." Radio propaganda and newspaper comment from Germany have played their part in stimulating these sentiments, while every one of Hitler's successes has led to an access of German arrogance in the Territory. And all the time young Germans are coming back from the Fatherland, indoctrinated with Nazi ideas and methods, and trained in the arts of war.

Of course all this has meant political strain and tension; nor has it been without effect in the economic sphere. The majority of the settlers from the Union have a sense of insecurity, while the influx of Union capital has largely ceased. The figures for recent land transfers show that the German section has become disproportionately active in the acquisition of property. The establishment, a few months ago, of a "South West Africa League" to carry an educational and propaganda work represented an attempt to bolster the morale of the Union element.

Not all the Germans in the Territory are happy at the trend of events. There exists an anti-Nazi organization, though it has perforce to conduct its activities in secret. It is understood to be organized in cells and to have a Fuehrer of its own. However, it is not, and of course cannot be expected to become, a powerful body.

The non-European peoples of the Territory, who constitute the vast majority of its inhabitants, are likewise apprehensive. Their recollections of German rule are not pleasant. During the German régime before the World War several native rebellions took place, and in some cases they were ruthlessly suppressed. Many millions of marks were spent on tribal "pacification" -- and pacification, especially in the case of the Hereros, often meant the merciless killing of defenseless natives and the confiscation of their lands and cattle. Under the Mandate, the Union Government has had special obligations towards the native peoples of the Territory. It has substantially increased the amount of land set aside for them; it has done a good deal for their economic development; it has largely changed the spirit of the administration -- so much so that alleged pampering of the natives is now one of the grievances of the Germans. There is some evidence that Nazi agents have sought to stimulate native unrest in the Territory. If so, they have had little success, for the leaders of all the chief native communities have informed the Union Government that they do not want to be handed back to Germany.

Of what economic value would the restoration of South West Africa be to Germany? The facts can be stated very briefly. The total of the Territory's import and export trade in 1937 was £6,000,000. Of this about £2,000,000 represents trade with Germany. The Germans therefore stand to gain only £4,000,000. Even if they succeeded in doubling this, as they claim they could within ten years (though this would presumably necessitate the seizure of native lands and the institution of a system of native forced labor), it would still mean an increase of only one percent in the present volume of Germany's foreign trade. The benefit would, moreover, be almost entirely confined to diamonds and karakul pelts (for astrakhan coats). South West Africa contains no economic resources of special value to Germany -- indeed, she desires its return for motives, not of economics, but of prestige and of strategy.

II

What about Nazi activities in the rest of Germany's former colonies? In general the same can be said about them as about South West Africa, with local variations. Let us first take Tanganyika Territory, once known as German East Africa and now under British Mandate. As regards its suitability for European settlement, Tanganyika occupies an intermediate position between South West Africa on the one hand and the Cameroons and Togoland on the other. Parts of Tanganyika are fit for European settlement, but most of the Territory is regarded as native country. It has, in fact, a European population of only 9,000, against a total of 5,000,000 native inhabitants and an Indian community numbering 30,000.

To a large extent the course of events in Tanganyika has paralleled that in South West Africa. After the World War only a few Germans remained there. When the Ordinance discriminating against them was repealed in 1925, they began gradually to return and to recover some of their old plantations and to acquire new ones. In 1929 Germans owned only 44 square miles of land in the Territory. But today, out of about 3,200 square miles that have been alienated from the natives, 700 are in German hands while no more than 1,300 are under British ownership. Moreover, the German population, which numbered 3,132 in August 1938, represents the largest European group in the Territory, if no account is taken of the British officials temporarily stationed there. The Germans have been active chiefly in the northern part of the Territory, where Nazi party-cells have been established and the Fuehrerprinzip effectively applied. Busts of Hitler, swastikas and maps of "Deutsch Ost-Afrika" have been displayed in the German schools. The Nazi propaganda which is being disseminated among natives on the German-owned estates assumes that Tanganyika will become German again. All these activities are clearly directed from Germany. On the whole, the Nazi campaign has been much less intensive in Tanganyika than in South West Africa, though there has been a marked increase in its aggressiveness since Munich.

The possibility that Tanganyika will be given back to Germany has always seemed more likely than the return of South West Africa. British statements of policy have lent color to this belief. The formation of the "Tanganyika League" to combat such a possibility preceded that of the "South West Africa League," and it has been much the more active body of the two. It is interesting to note that the local Indian community is cooperating heartily with this League.

Of the Cameroons and Togoland little need be said. They are both black men's countries in which whites can live for only short periods -- as administrators, missionaries, commercial men or plantation managers. Each of these two colonies is divided into British and French Mandates, the larger share in both cases going to France. The British and French have followed different policies vis-à-vis the Germans in their mandated areas. The French have squeezed practically all the Germans out; whereas the British have allowed most of the great plantations to remain in German hands and under German management. Even so, the number of Germans in these territories does not exceed a few hundred and the opportunities for such Nazi activities as have been taking place in Tanganyika and South West Africa are therefore very limited. In her campaign for the restoration of the Cameroons and Togoland Germany can, therefore, look for little aid from within those territories.

III

There seems to be a widespread impression in Europe and America that South Africa is not unsympathetic towards Germany's colonial aspirations. Is this impression well-founded? First of all, we must distinguish between South West Africa and the other former German colonies. South Africa is the mandatory for South West Africa: it therefore has a very direct interest in its future and a right to be heard in any matter concerning its disposal. Now the Union has asserted in unequivocal terms that it will resist with all its power the return of South West Africa to Germany. South Africa is not, however, the mandatory for the other territories; there it is Britain, France and Belgium that must speak.

The average South African has only recently commenced to take an interest in the former German colonies other than South West Africa. Among these he has become most concerned over Tanganyika. He remembers that it was South African troops under General Smuts who played the leading rôle in the conquest of that colony during the World War; and he knows that a considerable proportion of the white settlers there came from the Union. He is also quite aware that, if Tanganyika were again to become German East Africa, Britain's imperial air communications along the Cape-to-Cairo route would be cut. But most of all he has been aroused by the realization that, thanks to the annihilation of distance by the modern conquest of the air, Tanganyika is for him just around the corner. The southern border of Tanganyika is only a thousand air-miles from the Transvaal, where lies the golden Witwatersrand. The heart of South Africa would thus be within bombing distance of German air bases.

There can be little doubt that the Government of the Union and most of its citizens are very anxious that Tanganyika should not be returned to Germany. There are some South Africans, however, who think that Germany cannot be kept out of Africa indefinitely and who therefore go only so far as to say that Tanganyika should not be retroceded to her as long as she is possessed of the spirit and aspirations which at present characterize her. But there is also the Nationalist Opposition which has not expressed itself against such a retrocession even under present circumstances. This party is composed almost exclusively of those Afrikaans-speaking people who have been unable to accept General Hertzog's policy of coöperation with the English-speaking section.

In the fate of the Cameroons and Togoland, South Africa has so far almost completely disinterested itself. These mandated areas are remote from the Union and their return to Germany would seem to represent no serious strategic danger. Indeed, some South Africans, including the Minister of Defense, Mr. O. Pirow, support the suggestion that Germany's colonial aspirations in Africa might be satisfied not merely by granting her the Cameroons and Togoland but by carving an extensive German colonial empire out of the present possessions of Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal in West Africa. In support of this project it has been argued that a settlement along these lines would secure the position of the Union in South West Africa and of Great Britain in Tanganyika.

Yet despite this speciously attractive argument, the proposal is by no means free from danger for South Africa. Certain questions at once suggest themselves. Would even such a large-scale empire satisfy Germany in her present mood for more than a short time? There is the question of prestige, which makes her desire the return of all her old colonies. There is also the question of economics, which would arise when Germany discovered that this West African colony was not adequate to realize all the aspirations of the Nazi colonial theorists. South Africans could well ask themselves whether the Germans might not use their new possession as a base for expansion southward to South West Africa and eastward to Tanganyika? And what of the threat to the sea route between South Africa and Great Britain? The spectre raised by these possibilities will explain why a substantial majority of the people in the Union would probably oppose any such proposal.

IV

In regard to the Union's specific attitude towards South West Africa, two of its Ministers, General Smuts and Mr. Pirow, have declared emphatically that South Africa will fight rather than surrender its Mandated Territory. The Prime Minister, General Hertzog, has asserted that the Union is as little likely to run away from South West Africa as it is to surrender any part of South Africa itself. And his party, which includes many who, like General Hertzog himself, opposed the invasion of South West Africa by Union troops in 1914, has enthusiastically acclaimed this declaration. What are the factors that have led to the adoption of this firm line?

Let us not forget that South West Africa was conquered solely by Union troops during the World War, and that its frontiers march with those of the Union. As has been stated above, from its ports the sea route between Britain and the Cape could be dominated both by aircraft and by submarines. The urban centers of the Union, including the Witwatersrand, are within easy flying range from South West Africa. If the Union had an aggressive Germany as a neighbor, then, as long as there was a chance that the British might be defeated in a war with the Germans, it would have to spend so much on defense that the country's financial resources would be strained to the utmost. But apart from this, a German South West Africa would be a base, even in peace, for the dissemination of doctrines which the Union regards as subversive. Nazi propaganda has, in fact, already invaded the Union. South Africa is by no means an unfruitful field for the preaching of anti-Semitism since the Jewish proportion in the total white population is one of the largest in the world. Moreover, it is not forgotten that when war broke out in 1914, rebellious elements in the Union received aid from the Germans in South West Africa. Many fear that history may repeat itself. And finally, would it not be an act of treachery to hand the 20,000 South Africans in the Territory over to the mercies of their present German opponents?

These reasons are in themselves sufficient to account for the strength of the Union's determination to resist the retrocession of South West Africa. By way of confirming that attitude, the Government recently decided to make a special defense appropriation of £6,000,000 over and above the normal annual expenditure of about £2,000,000. This has had the effect of strengthening the bonds between Pretoria and London, for South Africa knows that it cannot retain South West Africa without British support.

Much light was thrown on the Government's position by the action it recently took to prevent a possible putsch in South West Africa. The authorities had received information indicating that such a move was being planned for Hitler's birthday, or thereabouts. There seems to have been a genuine fear that the Nazis would use this putsch, and its presumable suppression, in the same way that they had used a similar uprising in Austria -- to assert that law and order were no longer being maintained and that strong action by Germany was therefore justified. The Government acted promptly. It dispatched a strong reinforcement of police to Windhoek, though under the Police Act it had no power to send men outside the borders of the Union, and it came to Parliament for an indemnity. The great bulk of the Union's population and of its parliamentary representatives rallied to the Government at once. The leaders of the Dominion Party and of the Labor Party opposition groups pledged their full support. Only the main Opposition, consisting of the Nationalist Party, headed by Dr. Malan and constituting less than one-fifth of the House, criticized the Government's action.

The line of criticism taken by the Opposition in this instance was not without significance. Officially the Nationalist Party has always been against the retrocession of South West Africa. Yet it has also enthusiastically advocated a policy of neutrality, and in so doing has undoubtedly stimulated the feeling, which is widespread among the older section of the population, against Union participation in war alongside Britain. In this instance, therefore, the party was pulled two ways. But in the end its desire for South African neutrality prevailed. The available evidence concerning the dispatch of the police justified the inference that the information on which the Government had acted came from London. It was easy to represent this as an instruction from Downing Street, and to argue that South Africa was simply being used as a pawn in the British imperialist game. This was done with fervor, but not, it would seem, without heart searchings in the case of some members of the party.

No less significant, however, was the reaction of the Prime Minister, General Hertzog. He has, of course, always maintained the constitutional doctrine that South Africa is not necessarily at war if Great Britain or any other part of the British Commonwealth is at war. Moreover, apart from emphasizing that Great Britain is the Union's best friend, he has made no statement committing South Africa in advance to participate in such a war. But in this present instance he made it absolutely clear that if the question of South West Africa's future were in any way involved, there would be no delay whatever about South Africa's entry into the struggle. If the Germans in South West Africa had counted on any sort of sympathy from former leaders of the old Boer Republics like Generals Hertzog and Smuts, they must by now have been completely disillusioned.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now