Evangelists of Namibia

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Hendrik Witbooi

Hendrik Witbooi Jnr

Hendrik Witbooi (1850-1933).

“Africa for the Africans”

From 1904 onwards, the war of the Nama against the colonial system was waged by the German colonial army with the same brutality and ended – as before with the Ovaherero – with the systematic annihilation of the Nama. Unlike the Ovaherero, however, the Nama avoided open battle against the German occupation forces and began a guerrilla war. With Hendrik Witbooi Snr, the Nama not only had a military commander, but also a charismatic religious leader. The tactics of guerrilla warfare also made it necessary for women and children to remain separate from the fighters in order not to be taken hostage or become involved in the fighting. These conditions meant that Evangelists of the Nama played a different role during this period than the RMS co-workers under the Ovaherero. Hendrik Witbooi was one of these Nama Evangelists who, as the son of the famous Nama leader Hendrik Witbooi, experienced the events of 1904 to 1907 at close range – and reported on them.
Three men had a decisive influence on the thinking and action of the young Hendrik Witbooi: his father, a missionary and a prophet. Significantly, all three were deeply religious personalities: his father, Hendrik Witbooi Snr, the missionary Johannes Olpp and the prophet Shepherd Stuurman (aka Hendrik Bekeer). Thus, also his thinking was determined by deep religiousness, which can be recognised in all his correspondence, for example from a letter he wrote from captivity and exile in 1912:
For those who do not want to suffer and fight will not win. And whoever does not win will not receive the crown of eternal life.
Early on, the father gave two of his eldest sons to the household of RMS missionary Johannes Olpp and thus consciously exposed them to the influences of a Christian house. There, the young Hendrik Witbooi and his brother Isaak Witbooi, together with Johannes Frederik, were trained as mission “helpers”. Here in the household of missionary Johannes Olpp he learned the basics of Christian thinking and terminology, which soon became part of his own reasoning and preaching. The Augustineum was only intended for Ovaherero students at that time, and Nama missionaries had to find other means to train their co-workers. At the 1874 conference in Berseba, Olpp’s “pupils” were examined before an examination committee and, having passed the test in a “very satisfactory examination”, were inducted as qualified local helpers for the Nama people in the Rietmond congregation. Like their Ovaherero counterparts, they also came from leading Nama/Oorlam families. Unlike the Ovaherero, however, they were already the second generation of Christians. Hendrik Witbooi was just 17 when he started work at his father’s congregation in Rietmond.
In Olpp’s household, he acquired the skills that not only qualified him as an Evangelist, but also made him his father’s right hand. Until his father’s death, he remained in the shadow of this important man. His father used Hendrik Witbooi as a letter writer and also when it came to conveying messages to the missionaries. During the military campaign of 1888, his father placed all the women and children into the care of Hendrik Witbooi and, in 1892, sent him to the negotiations for a peace agreement with the Ovaherero. Hendrik Witbooi believed in the omnipotence and the special mission of his father and he himself recounted similar dreams and visions as those of his father. Olpp did not just provide a basic education, but complemented the basics with “biblical-catechetical-homiletic and church history teaching”. Hendrik Witbooi was inducted as a catechist in Rietmond in 1877 and received an annual salary of £20.
On 16 July 1885, Hendrik Witbooi left Gibeon station together with his father and about 500 members of the Nama group of the /Khobesin. His father’s vision of finding new land on God’s command north of the settlement of the Ovaherero, drove them, and led to conflict with the RMS. According to the understanding of the /Khobesin, an ordained clergyman had to accompany them on their wandering. This is why, during their preparations, Chief Hendrik Witbooi had already asked missionary Heinrich Gottlieb Rust (successor of Olpp in Gibeon) in January 1885 to move with them, with the words: “The time has come, that we move from here to the north, with you”. Unable to have his way, he asked the RMS missionary to grant son Hendrik Witbooi and Samuel Isaak the right to baptise. Rust rejected the request, and instead, referred the /Khobesin to the missionaries on the mission stations which they would pass, for ministrations. For the ministerial registration, Rust handed them a “Church Register of the Itinerant Congregation of Gibeon” in which the missionaries could record the ministrations.
On this wandering of the /Khobesin, the young Hendrik Witbooi took on the role of the clergyman and was no longer under the direct control of an RMS missionary. There were plenty of opportunities to act in this role: in teaching, during Sunday church services and on special occasions such as the induction of his father as “king” of the Nama in a solemn ceremony. A hint in one of the RMS reports suggests that Hendrik Witbooi took on this role as preacher and as a man for the ceremonial and liturgical accompaniment at the appearances of his important father, also at Hornkranz, the retreat of the /Khobesin from 1888 to 1895.
After the return of the /Khobesin to Gibeon, Hendrik Witbooi again entered the service of the RMS. In Gibeon he was appointed by Rust’s successor as a teacher, and the conflict of the past years between the missionary and the /Khobesin no longer seemed to play a role. A trusting work relationship again developed with the succeeding missionaries Schröder, Simon and Christian Spellmeyer. At the conference of the Nama missionaries held at Berseba in 1900, Hendrik Witbooi delivered the important paper “On the History of the /Khowesi”, which laid the basis for the historical research on the /Khobesin. On another occasion, he represented the station missionary as his deputy. For Hendrik Witbooi, the discrepancy between years of independent work and the return to the structures of the RMS seemed not to have caused any noticeable conflicts.
Hendrik Witbooi’s encounter with Shepherd Stuurman also occurred during this period. With his experience as an independent preacher of the /Khobesin, Hendrik Witbooi would certainly have been able to incorporate the religious forms and political contents of Prophet Shepherd Stuurman’s sermons into his own world view.
Even more than his father, Hendrik Witbooi [...] succumbed to the [...] speeches and prophecies of Stuurman Sheppard. It is conceivable that Hendrik Witbooi [...], in the turmoil of the uprising, was more to be found alongside Stuurmann Sheppard than at his father’s side. At the beginning of February 1905, so the story goes, when hope of a victory faded and disappointment over Stuurmann Sheppard spread, Witbooi jun. acted as a translator for Shepherd Stuurmann at a large gathering of Nama fighters in the Kalahari as Stuurman was not able to speak the Nama language.
With Stuurman, Hendrik Witbooi combined the desire for an independent territory, an aspiration that was expressed in the demand “Africa for the Africans”. For Hendrik Witbooi, therefore, there was no doubt that he would join the spiritual awakening under Stuurman in 1904 and take part in the fight against the colonial power. Nevertheless, he remained in missionary Spellmeyer’s house until the last possible moment, protecting him, thereby risking his own life in the decisive moment. Hendrik Witbooi, although he was not privy to the planned details of the uprising, warned Christian Spellmeyer about the attack on Gibeon the next day and thereby saved his life. Contrary to the first attacks of the Ovaherero on settler villages and farms a few months earlier, the Nama warriors had no specific order to save the lives of RMS missionaries.
Hendrik Witbooi joined the resistance movement and again went to war with his father. Once more, he had the task to accompany the women and children during the fighting and to ensure their safety. He never fought himself, he said after the war. Because Hendrik Witbooi was not one of the active fighters, he was not at his father’s side on 19 January 1905, when he was fatally wounded near Vaalgras. It was said that for a long time Hendrik Witbooi did not believe in the death of his father.
With the death of his father, Hendrik Witbooi lost his most important confidential counsellor and the /Khobesin lost their irreplaceable leader. Samuel Isaak, the military commander of the /Khobesin, surrendered on the 20 November 1905 in Berseba. An RMS source claimed that Hendrik Witbooi (as the oldest son of his father) waivered his right as successor of the chief in favour of his position as an Evangelist. Although Hendrik Witbooi was not willing or intended to succeed his father, Chief Hendrik Witbooi, he still bore the responsibility handed over to him by his father for about 350 women and children. They managed to escape across the border to South Africa into the Kalahari near Rietfontein and Haruchas. In the Kalahari they collected tsamas to prevent them from dying of thirst, but the bitter wild melon was hardly enough to survive on. From their hiding place they attended the church services of missionary Heinrich Pabst in Rietfontein. When tsamas could no longer be found at the end of the dry season, Hendrik Witbooi moved to Rietfontein in September 1906 with twenty people, including his paralysed mother and his two sons.
In the meantime, he was completely impoverished and started working for the RMS school in Rietfontein in November 1906 for £4 a month. In order to survive, he and his sons tended to a small garden. Because they were on South African soil, the German colonial army was reluctant to capture them. During this time, the RMS missionary from Rietfontein reported to Barmen on Hendrik Witbooi: “He was invited by a letter from the government to freely return [to German South West Africa]. He too, like the whole tribe of the Witbooi, would be given clemency if he obeys the government from now on; they would receive a certain number of milk goats for their livelihood.” But Hendrik Witbooi did not trust the assurances and remained in Rietfontein.
After the colonial military command lifted the state of war on 31 March 1907, Hendrik Witbooi crossed the border into German South West Africa in May 1907 and reported to the Hasuur military station. He was accompanied by nine women and five children, but his mother and sons remained in Rietfontein. In Hasuur, he was initially treated with courtesy. He was not constrained and supplied with food. Immediately after his arrival, Hendrik Witbooi began giving lessons and Sunday church services. His request to be allowed to move back to Gibeon was rejected. The motives behind this lenient approach by the colonial authorities became clear, when a meeting was set up with Governor von Lindequist in Keetmanshoop. Hendrik Witbooi was sent back to Rietfontein to renegotiate with the remaining /Khobesin – and especially the /Khobesin under Simon Cooper – and to persuade them to surrender in Hasuur. Probably this task was related to the military action planned a little later at Hasuur. After months of preparation, an attack was launched from there in 1907/1908 on Simon Cooper’s camps in the Kalahari. Was Hendrik Witbooi used to reconnoiter the exact position of Simon Cooper’s camps?
What can be certainly said, is that Hendrik Witbooi went back over the border into the Kalahari, but that his traces were lost for the year 1908. It is, however unknown whether he was captured and held by Simon Cooper or fought with him in the battle at Seatsub, during which the camp of Simon Cooper was attacked and ultimately destroyed by the colonial German army under Captain von Erckert on the 16 March 1908. Both references are so inaccurate that they do not give a clear picture of Hendrik Witbooi’s encounter and abidance with Simon Cooper. After the battle of Seatsub, Simon Cooper and his people reported to the English authorities and applied for asylum, which was granted. He signed a contract that he would cease all hostilities with the Germans and he remained in this part of South Africa until his death.
At the beginning of 1909, Hendrik Witbooi again entered the German colonial territory from South Africa – this time with his two sons. He rode on an ox wagon, which is said to have been provided by the colonial authority. This time, for unknown reasons, he trusted Lindequist’s promise of providing him with freedom and temporary residency in Keetmanshoop – a trust in which he was soon bitterly disappointed.
It seemed to belong to Hendrik Witbooi’s self-image to immediately start teaching, giving baptism lessons and holding church services as soon as they had settled down at the first place of residence: this time at Spitzkoppe west of Keetmanshoop. Other than the /Khobesin group who accompanied him, his congregation consisted of //Ogain (Groot Doden), who, coming from Warmbad, were to be driven to the northern part of the country as part of the abduction and forced displacement of the German military. During this period, an application by the RMS was submitted to the military command to release Hendrik Witbooi as a teacher for Karibib, according to the agreement of 8 March 1905 between Praeses Eich and General Lothar von Trotha. Now the colonial administration no longer felt bound by its promises: Hendrik Witbooi and his group of women and children were declared “particularly dangerous enemies” and were “concentrated and closely guarded in a camp in Grootfontein [Grootfontein South]”. The application of the RMS remained unanswered.
The first time that the RMS support groups in Germany heard about the deportation of the Nama prisoners around Hendrik Witbooi was in the RMS newsletter of December 1910. Without further inquiry they echoed the official version of the event: “We were informed, that the deportation was made necessary because of the desire for another uprising. Each one of the banished has been convicted by a court”. The official transport list of the group, however, revealed that only three of the 93 listed prisoners were sentenced, either to three months’ imprisonment (because of “disobedience and to lie to the master”) or ten years’ imprisonment (because of “cattle stealing”). It took some time before the RMS missionaries realised how they had been deceived by the misinformation of the colonial administration. This resulted in a very cautious change in the tone of their correspondence with the colonial representatives. However, the reports on the deportation in the monthly newsletters kept downplaying the whole issue, in spite of the fact that some of the RMS missionaries in Namibia witnessed the heartrending injustices mentioned in it. In the meantime, the colonial authorities spread the rumour in Namibia that Hendrik Witbooi had chosen to voluntarily go to Cameroon, since he himself “was completely harmless”.
From there they were transported by train to Swakopmund, some in chains. It was 25 April 1910, when the gates closed behind the 97 prisoners in the Swakopmund prison. The colonial authority knew how to hide the cloak-and-dagger operation from the eyes of the RMS and thus especially from critical public opinion in Germany. When Eich and Vedder, the two RMS missionaries in Swakopmund, heard about the prisoners from their congregation, the authorities refused them access to the prisoners.
Only a journalist from the ranks of the settlers received permission to attend the loading of the prisoners on a ship to Cameroon on 6 June 1910. A few days later, his cynical eyewitness account appeared in the “Windhoeker Nachrichten” under the headline “An Exodus”. There are no other documents on this stage of Hendrik Witbooi’s deportation. Apparently, the report was written to convince the settlers of the energy and resolve of the Reich Colonial Office to “get rid of a constant danger to peace in the colony”. However, given the already pitiful state of health of the prisoners, the readers of the newspaper could have had no doubt about the dubious nature of the action. Whether the reporter from Windhoek actually recognised Hendrik Witbooi among the 93 prisoners remains an open question, however he does mention him:
Then the train stopped at the loading cranes. While the shackled captives had their chains removed for the duration of the embarkation in order not to hinder them from the free use of the limbs, the homeless looked onto the wide water that they did not yet know. Where would the journey with the big grey steamer go out there? To Lüderitz to the diamond fields, or where else? No one had yet given them the destination of the trip; it was still soon enough if they found out about it on the steamer.
Calmly we once more overlooked this Areopagus of ugliness. What a totality of dirty shagginess, yellow stupor and ape-like facial features. Only the black Mongolian eyes which sometimes flashed, reminded of the restless spirit of the former steppe riders.
A little way off is an elderly Hottentot with greying hair. Under the torn hat, he looks back at the land which gave birth to him and which he shall leave; he, the only one, looks back. It is Hendrik Witboi [sic], son of the old Captain Hendrik Witboi [sic]. What does he think of in this moment of parting, of saying goodbye forever to the land of former freedom, which also saw the shame of his people? Now he is their captain, the adviser, but no longer the leader of the last lamentable remnants of his tribe. His brother, Klein-Witboi, is also among the waiting flock, which he now sees, in groups of four to six, when children are present, also several more, being raised in large coal baskets by the crane and then sliding down into the wide belly of a coal bunker, dancing up and down on the rolling sea.
The children laugh as they see in the process only an unprecedented change in their monotonous existence. The “ladies”, especially the older ones, are anxious not to reveal too much of their skinny gracelessness when climbing over the high basket walls. The men approach the inevitable with stoic calm; some young boy shows his white teeth, grinning, as he glides through the air. And then it is Hendrik Witbooi’s turn. The tail-enders are three old ladies, two of them with crutches, like black-brown morels. They have been left with their own, according to their wishes, even though they are an inconvenient burden during transport.
Now the tugboat lies in front of the bunker with the mottled load which it is rarely called to lead, and soon the flock of exiles is far out on the road, safe on the big grey steamer, which abducts them from the old homeland forever.
And the wind, which seeks its old friends between the thorn bushes and stones of the south-west African high steppes, can only find them under the palms and cocoa trees of distant Cameroon.
Hendrik Witbooi was almost 60 years old when he arrived in Duala (Cameroon) in July 1910. But it was not his age that made him the leader of the group of 97 /Khobesin; it was the history that connected him with the people. He was accompanied by his wife, Elisabeth Witbooi, as well as six of his own children. After his aged mother, “the old Els”, had died in the Grootfontein South Prison Camp in 1909, his 20-year-old daughter Bettina and his three-year-old son died in Duala in quick succession. In Duala, two newborns also died immediately after birth.
Immediately after arriving in Duala, the deadly impact of the prison camps, the transport by sea with accommodation on deck and the unhealthy climate in Cameroon had on the disengaged prisoners, was already apparent. The transfer of the prisoners to Dschang in the interior did not change much. Thus the message of the Imperial Colonial Office of February 1911 to the Governorate sounded like sheer mockery.
According to a recent report by the Imperial Governorate of Cameroon, the success of transferring the Hottentots to Dschang could be described as quite favourable. After they had recovered from the exertion of the trip, they soon got used to the Cameroonian way of life. They are now well-nourished and physically in good condition, with the exception of some sick persons, so there is no concern about keeping them in Dschang permanently. Von Lindequist.
Upon Hendrik Witbooi’s initiative, the group of prisoners already got in touch with a missionary of the Basel Mission Society (BMS) in Duala via the Cameroon Governorate. Being part of the mission structure himself, the Evangelist knew exactly how to use the worldwide connections of the Protestant mission societies to draw attention to their plight. Due to the inter-connectedness of the mission societies, Hendrik Witbooi and his group were again taken note of by the RMS.
After moving inland from Duala to Dschang, Hendrik Witbooi had kept contact with the Basel Mission Society (BMS) missionary Adolf Vielhauer, who visited them from his mission station, which was several days’ travel away. Hendrik Witbooi was concerned about two aspects: on the one hand, as an Evangelist, he wanted the Protestant missionary to baptise the “baptism candidates” which he had instructed regularly since their incarceration in the Grootfontein-South Prison Camp. On the other hand, he would have calculated that, as prisoners in a completely isolated situation, through this connection with an international mission society, they would have had a chance that their plight might be noticed by the outside world. His letter, dated 22 December 1912, expressed a spirit that contained both: a realistic surrender to a painful situation that they themselves could not change, and the inner resistance against and unwillingness to accept the pain created by others:
On Sunday mornings and afternoons, I hold church services, and in the evening by [candle] light singing lessons, on weekdays every evening, lessons and narrating Bible stories. So far, my teachers! Be of good cheer about the news that I am still alive. I will say with Joshua: as for me and my house, we want to serve the Lord, for the service of the Lord is for me the most glorious service, however important money and honour may be. We don’t know how long we still have to stay here in this foreign place.
Through his contacts with the BMS, Hendrik Witbooi requested the RMS to send him New Testaments in Nama, Nama hymn books and a violin for his work among his fellow prisoners. He prepared “baptism candidates” for baptism, and others, like his two sons Petrus and Hendrik, for confirmation. Like all prisoners, he was obliged to do forced labour, such as “leather work”, a description for manufacturing and repairing army boots. Although he was forbidden to have written outside contact, letters, which he himself had dictated, reached the outside world with the help of BMS missionaries.
At the beginning of 1912, another reference to the “exiles” appeared in the mission sources. Again, it was primarily the human misery that alarmed a visitor – this time a Miss Anna Wuhrmann from Basel – and about which she wrote following her return to Basel. But it was also the strength of Hendrik Witbooi who, in the eyes of Wuhrmann, did not allow hopelessness to have inner power over the prisoners. She wrote:
In a secluded courtyard between high walls, we found a group of terminally ill men, women and children. A year ago there were 68, now there are 43, and many of them are already in the valley of the shadow of death. The climate and the way of life are so bad for them that they all suffer from consumption; they look like wandering corpses, hollow-cheeked, pale and with matt-looking eyes. A constant hoarse cough sounds through the yard and from the small huts that close off the farmstead on one side. These Hottenot are Christians, and their teacher, who is exiled with them, a dear old man, is a son of the rebellious Witbooi. He understands German very well and was able to translate the comforting words Mr. B. had for the poor exiles into the Hottentot language. After the short address, the entire small dying Christian community sang the hymn: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.” It was moving to hear this song from the mouths of these poor people. We went from them knowing that they were not hopeless. The commander told us that the officers themselves had sent a petition to Germany for permission that this dying little nation may return home. These people are loved very much in Dschang, and just think of it that a black soldier has been won over to Christianity by their quiet ways.
Despite these isolated reports, the contact between Hendrik Witbooi and the BM missionaries remained sporadic. They therefore proposed to the Council of Delegates of the RMS that Hendrik Witbooi be ordained so that he himself could carry out the ministrations among the prisoners. Inspector Johannes Spiecker forwarded the proposal to Namibia, but the praeses in Karibib opposed it. The RMS thus once again let the opportunity pass to award the ecclesiastical duties of a missionary to one of its most distinguished co-workers. Hendrik Witbooi would not have heard of this, nor of the subsequent correspondence between the RMS and the Imperial Colonial Office. When in 1913 only 38 of the original 97 prisoners were still alive, public pressure on the colonial authority seemed to have improved the supply situation of the Nama prisoners. Despite the RMS’s critical attitude towards the authorities which becomes obvious from the letters they wrote to them, the RMS tried to convey a positive assessment in its public reports in “Berichte der Rheinischen Missionsgesellschaft” in which it published an extract from a letter written by a BMS missionary:
Hendrik Witbooi [...] is always cheerful despite his white hair, and he keeps his small flock in loving discipline. He still has two adults taking baptism lessons, the others are all baptised. He often complains that his eyesight is so weak, mainly because of the smoke. He would like glasses, but since these can only be prescribed by a doctor, I had to comfort him with waiting.
A short time later, at the end of 1913, the small group was transported back from Cameroon to Namibia. Descendants of these prisoners would later find their own words to describe the power for survival of Hendrik Witbooi. In fact, it remains extraordinary that he is one of the survivors who was returned to Namibia at the end of 1913. However, on arrival in Namibia they were still not allowed to go back to their home in Gibeon, but were taken to the next prison camp, in Okanjanda. Hundreds of kilometres from Gibeon, they were held at this military post, which had been established in 1909. Okanjanda had been expropriated as a “settlement of Christian Herero” like all Ovaherero territory and, upon the arrival of the /Khobesin prisoners, still had the old settlement structure. In forced labour, prisoners had to manufacture and repair army boots.
Again Hendrik Witbooi contacted the RMS, this time he wrote to Kuhlmann who was at the nearest mission station in Omaruru. Again, his concern was a seemingly superficial one: the baptisms in Dschang.
Okanjanda 14 December 1913
Dear Mr. and Missionary Kuhlmann!
I ask you cordially. Be so good, and send this letter for me to Germany, to a missionary, his name is Adolf Vielhauer. He baptised the people I had been teaching in Dschang in Cameroon, and went to Germany. He did not have time to give the baptism letter to the people, and to be certain, all whom he baptised must have this baptism letter, so that the missionaries, with whom I am now, also see by which missionary the people are baptised.
With a warm greeting. Hendrik Witbooi. Schoolmaster.
Soon the prison camp would be looked after by the RMS missionary Vedder, who was stationed in nearby Gaub. The prisoners were only allowed back to Gibeon after the unconditional surrender of the German colonial army due to World War I in distant Europe. On 29 August 1915, coming from the north, they finally reached Gibeon. The /Khobesin men confidently wore their national emblem, the white tie around the hat, demonstrating their claim to the freedom of the past years before the war. Eleven years had passed since the day Hendrik Witbooi had left Gibeon. How little the perception of the settlers had changed was shown by the fact that on the return of the /Khobesin, a rumour spread amongst the settlers that they were planning a new uprising. The “Remains of the Witbooi” under the leadership of Hendrik Witbooi were also perceived by the missionaries as being “quite confident”. After so many years of humiliation, there was no visible sign of brokenness or subservience as the missionaries might have expected. On the contrary, the self-esteem of Hendrik Witbooi and the returnees prompted the missionaries to remark in their reports: “Our sincere joy that they were now allowed to return to their homeland after years of exile is somewhat clouded by this.”
For the leaders of the /Khobesin, the return to Gibeon and the meeting of the scattered groups was accompanied with much hope. “The coming of the South African army was construed as the advent of ‘English’ rule, which was styled as being tantamount to liberation from the co­lo­nial yoke and the con­summation of a long-term policy”, as Kössler once put it. Hendrik Witbooi’s brother Kaptein Isaak Witbooi, who had been incarcerated in the Okawajo prison camp near Karibib until 1915, was appointed “headman of the natives on the Gideon Native Reserve” by the South Africans. After long disputes with the new colonial authorities, the /Khobesin saw an important step in regaining control of Gibeon with the establishment of the Krantzplatz Reserve in 1924.
Even for the praeses of the RMS, in retrospect, the different fates of the Hendrik Witbooi and Samule Isaak seemed extremely ironic. Samuel Isaak, the former military commander of the /Khobesin forces, was, in the eyes of the colonial army, directly involved in the shooting of the Head of the District Office Captain Henning von Burgsdorff, with which the /Khobesin had started the war. After his surrender he was not immediately hanged, as happened to other leaders, but spent most of the time in the Okawajo prison camp until 1915 “almost without supervision”. In Okawajo he was employed by the RMS as an Evangelist, conducted devotions and services and became the contact person between missionary August Elger and the 166 Christians among the 300 Nama prisoners. Hendrik Witbooi, however, was apparently to be sentenced to death by exile. The missionaries did not seem to understand their observation: the disarmed military leader Samuel Isaac was an insignificant threat to the colonial rulers compared to the intellectual/spiritual leader Hendrik Witbooi.
Immediately after their return to Gibeon, the importance of Hendrik Witbooi again became evident. The district secretary observed that the self-confidence and feeling of unity of the Nama had improved through the presence of the three Witbooi brothers. Like Kaptein Isaak Witbooi, Hendrik Witbooi received a financial contribution of 10/- (ten shillings) per month from the South African administration. With this payment, the South African military administration tried to distance itself from the oppressive practices of the German colonial power. The stature and authority of Kaptein Isaak Witbooi grew with the traditional role as Kaptein amongst the /Khobesin, even if his attempt to create new communal institutions, as his father had done in accordance with old community structures, did not succeed.
Although Hendrik Witbooi received the recognition of the administration through the financial contribution and although he was part of the traditional court which his brother chaired, he nevertheless stepped into the background again. As at the time of his father, Hendrik Witbooi now operated in the shadow of his important brother. As an Evangelist, he again committed himself fully to the work in the RMS mission congregation, which now saw itself as an integral part of the /Khobesin community. As late as 1928, Hendrik Witbooi, then 78, was mentioned as an active Evangelist at the Rietmond branch station.
Hendrik Witbooi passed away on 7 January 1933 and was buried in Gibeon in the old cemetery of the /Khobesin. The overturned and smashed tombstone on his grave, not far from the monumental marble tombs of his son and his grandson, shows that even 80 years after his death, he has not yet been given the recognition he deserves.