Jonker Afrikaner

From the early 20th century until the present time, the term ‘Afrikaner' has referred to the light-skinned inhabitants (‘whites') of Southern Africa who speak Afrikaans as their home language. They comprise the majority of the white population of South Africa and are formerly called ‘Boers', direct descendants from a mixture of early Dutch, French, and German settlers.

In mid-19th century Namibia, ‘Afrikaner' referred to an entirely different group of people. They were an extended family of diverse origins, probably including infusions of Khoi Khoi (the original inhabitants of the Cape), Dutch, Malays (originally slaves at the Cape) and other races. The Afrikaners were part of a larger group known as ‘Oorlam' - the origin of the word is unknown - and were more commonly known as bastards under European rule. These native groups had similar backgrounds and had thrown off the dominance of the encroaching Boers to form commando groups that survived by raiding cattle, which they then traded with the colonists.

The Oorlam spoke Dutch - or, rather, the type of Dutch that later became Afrikaans - as well as other languages such as Nama. They were adept horsemen who handled fire-arms confidently and were acquainted with European technology.

The first recorded Afrikaner name of note is that of Klaas Afrikaner, who launched raiding and hunting expeditions into southern Namibia in collaboration with a Boer farmer named Pieter Pienaar. After a quarrel, Klaas (or his son Jager) killed Pienaar and fearing victimization, fled the Cape Colony Police north of the Orange River on a permanent basis around 1800. This was a substantial trek and a few hundred disgruntled Oorlam farmworkers followed their leaders.

Klaas and Jager Afrikaner soon established successful periods of trading between the Oorlam and Nama, the earlier inhabitants of the land. Eventually Jager, inherited the mantle of leadership until his death in 1823, when he was succeeded by his son Jonker Afrikaner.

During the 1830's a sort of balance of power was reached by Jonker Afrikaner with the most powerful Nama chief, even though superior economic, social and military dominance enabled Jonker and his men to seize the superior water holes and pastures. He gradually succeeded in uniting the 2 nations and led this coalition into battle that defeated the Herero in 1835.

Jonker was now the supreme leader of a nation that extended to Windhoek, the border between traditional Nama and Herero territory. Oorlam and Namas utilised their superior grazing in the central areas of Namibia without being disrupted, and held off any raids by the impoverished Herero.

By the 1840s purchase patterns had centred around trade with Cape commodities. Differences between Oorlam and Namas were diminishing. Cattle, ivory and ostrich feathers were exchanged for clothing, alcohol, rifles and ammunition. The chiefs of Namaland recognised the right of Jonker and his Afrikaners to suzerainty over the Herero groups, who occupied a large swathe of territory from Windhoek to north of the Waterberg - a region that even today has some of the best grazing land in Namibia. Influential chiefs emerged and assembled large groups of followers in settled locations, complete with schools and mission churches.

When the missionaries Hahn and Kleinschmidt arrived in Windhoek in 1842, they found a large settlement of about 1,000 people. A further 1,000 were living close by. Jonker craved the attention of missionaries for supplies and information to expand his own empire. This desire was so great he built a solid church spacious enough to accommodate 600 people.

His energy extended to other projects. In a territory that the outside world thought of as wild, savage, and abandoned, he had constructed two roads. One to Walvis Bay, and one southward towards the Cape.

However, Jonker closely restricted the movements of Europeans and others into Hereroland to control all trade, hunting and raiding with the Herero. Cattle procuring expeditions were the greatest source of Jonker's wealth and European observers report that he captured 12,000 head of cattle in one sorti, and 18,000 in another. On a further raid on the Mbanderu, the eastern Herero, Jonker captured between 2,000 and 4,000 head of cattle. Hunting was also a lucrative source of income and elephants were killed to trade their ivory.

Strong warning signs of conflicts to come were imminent. European traders, mainly British with bases in Cape Town, resented the Afrikaners preventing them from trading directly with the Herero. German missionaries were not allowed to expand their work into Hereroland, because Jonker feared the Hereros would obtain resources that might weaken his dominant position. These forces, together with the natural desire of the Hereros to be free of domination, provided fuel for the hostilities that broke out only a few years later.

Jonker died of infection on the 18th August 1861 whilst trying to further his influence further north as a result of European and Herero collusion. This led to the Afrikaners losing their dominant position in central Namibia.

'The Grave of Jonker Afrikaner' is situated on the grounds of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Heroes Street, Okahandja. It was proclaimed a national monument on 16th January 1950, proudly the first in Namibia's short, but fascinating history.

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