Why a Councillor in Namibia is called ‘Adolf Hitler’: History of Nazism & Military Recruitment in Namibia
Adolf Hitler Uunona recently got elected as councillor in Namibia’s local elections. It seems rather surreal that a man called Adolf Hitler would win any democratic vote by an 85% margin in 2020. In this paper, I will question the history of Nazism and the military recruitment process in Namibia throughout the Second World War. This essay is influenced by Robert J. Gordon’s paper, The Impact of the Second World War on Namibia. It will be divided into three sections.
In the first section, I will consider the cultural dominance that Germany established in Namibia. In the second section, I will introduce Namibia’s efforts to counter this structure through the creation of the Union Defence Force (UDF). In the third section, I will question what the war revealed about Namibia. These three sections will provide a helpful demonstration of the Nazi influence in Namibia.
It is stated that the Second World War was influential to create African nationalism, and counter European ‘superiority’. Before the war began, Germany had a significant cultural and economic presence in Namibia:
‘‘German [population] was 9632 according the last official census before the war… the German sector was said to hold 65% of all the major trade and professional positions in the local economy, and there were three local German newspapers in Namibia.’’
It was widely believed that Namibia provided the most Nazi support outside of Europe. This cultural significance that Germany created was reflected politically. Namibia has a legislative assembly which comprises 12 seats. After the First World War, South Africa and Germany were competing for these legislative seats. Although Germany was a minority in comparison to the population of South Africa, they managed to capture 4 seats in the assembly. In 1933, the threat of the Nazis could not be dismissed, so a constitutional commission was created to address the threat of Germany. It was pointed out that Deutscher Bund,
‘served as an alien organisation enjoying political rights in Namibia while swearing unconditional obedience to Germany’.
The constitutional commission was the first step in addressing the Nazi threat in Namibia. When the Second World War began, the Germans in Namibia were sent to camps in South Africa. Contrary to expectations, they were acceptant of this process. The roots of their acceptance lie in the strong belief that Hitler would take over Namibia. This belief kept them calm. As the war began, the Nazi problem has begun. The Ovambo people are the single largest ethnic group in Namibia. In 1939, Ovambo workers used to sing ‘Hitler Ote Ya’, which translates to ‘Hitler is Coming’. It was feared among the constitutional commission that Germans managed to infiltrate indigenous organizations. The reason the Ovambo people demonstrated Nazism was not due to ideology, it was rather their fascination with militarism. As the war began, Nazis captured this interest.
The creation of the Union Defence Force (UDF):
To combat this, South Africa created the Union Defence Force (UDF), in hopes that they would recruit blacks to protect them from the Nazi movement. If they manage to capture the militarist interest of the Ovambo workers and recruit them, it could solve their problem. The condition was that they would sign for the ‘duration of the war’ and plead to serve ‘anywhere in Africa’. Recruiting began in 1941 and ended in 1943. By early 1942, UDF managed to recruit 2676 members from Ovambo. Being a part of the UDF was a rewarding post, as Ovambo workers gathered 42,000 English Pounds within a year. For some reason, people outside of Ovambo seems to be less militaristic and uninterested in this incentive. In all of Namibia and South Africa, the UDF only managed to recruit around 2000 members.
But why did the UDF came to an end in 1943? The war ended in 1945 after all. There are two factors. First, there was a meningitis outbreak in Ovamboland. This is very unfortunate, considering that Ovambo people are half of the UDF. The second factor was the violence of the new recruits. There was a gang-rape incident in Kavango, which deeply concerned the constitutional commission. The new recruits received many complaints of excessive drinking and fighting. They demonstrated a dangerous rhetoric:
‘‘we are soldiers. We can kill people if we wish to. There is no Law for us. We are not afraid of the husband of any woman whom we may wish to sleep with.’’
Due to the undisciplined and deeply troubling nature of the recruits, Eedes, the commissioner of the UDF, presented this issue to the South African PM to make a decision on the future of the UDF. It was decided that all recruiting in Namibia was to cease. Discharges began in 1943, and by January 1945, the Union Defence Force became fully dispatched.
What did the War reveal about Namibia?
Just like any other country, the war created some gains and some losses for Namibia. Unfortunately, the losses weighed much heavily. I will explain three positive developments after the War. First, Namibia had space to use force on their own initiatives. The creation of the constitutional commission, sending Germans to South Africa, and the creation of the UDF were decisions local to Namibia. The realization that they were capable of using force was a big step for Namibian nationalism. Second, the development of nationalism extended into churches: before the war, the church with most indigene members was the German-dominated Evangelical Lutheran Mission Church. After the war, indigenes chose either the African Methodist Episcopal Church or the Herero-based Oruano Church. Both are Namibian-based and independent churches. Third, Ovambo people managed to exercise protest as a means of increasing their authority within Namibia. After the gang rape incident, their protests against the UDF was considered in the decision-making of the constitutional commission.
Although these are fantastic developments, one negative outcome seems to outweigh them all. When the discharging process of the UDF began, there were 800 white members and 2100 black members. For reasons that are not explained in Gordon’s paper, the white ex-servicemen received farms while the black ex-servicemen received a few pounds. Since Namibia is a small economy, the addition of 800 farms created many job opportunities. 800 Germans and 2100 Afrikaners immigrated to Namibia in hopes of working on these farms. The creation of a new job market created an unplanned economic boom in Namibia. The winner of this boom proved to be the landowners which were white. Rather than establishing Namibian nationalism after the Second World War, racial inequality has been further entrenched in Namibia.
On a personal note, I find it shocking that Gordon’s paper had such little focus on the demobilisation process of the UDF. Who decided to give the farms to white people? Why would the constitutional commission allow such a decision? I do not understand why there is no concentration on the economic boom that occurred due to the introduction of farms. No argument has been developed in this case. Many things are yet to be explained, but one thing is certain: Adolf Hitler sustained influence in Namibia to a point that a man decided to name his son ‘Adolf Hitler Uunona’ in 1965. In 2020, this man grew up to be voted as a councillor in local Namibian elections.
Robert J. Gordon. “The Impact of the Second World War on Namibia.” Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Vol. 19, №1, no. Journal of Southern African Studies (March 1993). https://www.jstor.org/stable/2636962.