News and Information

Second treason trial provides a lesson on border history
November 21, 2006


A RECOUNTING of the history of the borders of Namibia on Friday took the second Caprivi high treason trial as far as 122 years back to the era of the colonial scramble for Africa.

The Caprivi Region is a creation of colonialism, its peculiar shape the result of deals and treaties that colonial powers - Germany, Portugal, Great Britain and later also South Africa - concluded with each other, according to testimony that Acting Judge John Manyarara heard on Friday from the 52nd prosecution witness in the trial.

Entirely absent from the cast of characters that 122 years ago started to take decisions that still influence the lives of people of Namibia until today, are the people who lived in the territory that would become the Republic of Namibia in 1990.

The witness who sketched the historical roots of Namibia's borders to Acting Judge Manyarara was Dr Sackey Akweenda, currently NamPower's legal advisor.

Akweenda, a lawyer, was awarded a doctorate degree in law by the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1989 on the basis of a thesis that he completed on Namibia's territorial boundaries.

GERMANY'S SCRAMBLE With the trial before Acting Judge Manyarara dealing with an alleged attempt to use armed means to secede the Caprivi Region, the 12 accused in the trial have taken a stance that they do not accept a Namibian court's jurisdiction over them, since they do not acknowledge that the Caprivi Region is legally a part of Namibia.

The 12 high treason suspects were not present in court to hear Akweenda's testimony on just this point, though.

They remain absent from their own trial, having been removed from the courtroom after they disrupted proceedings in the trial through repeated bouts of singing Caprivian nationalist anthems in the dock.

Akweenda told the court that Germany had been a laggard in the race between European colonial powers to acquire territory in Africa.

However, in 1884, the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, sent a German delegate to south-western Africa to issue a proclamation through which territory that the trader Adolf Luederitz had purchased on the coast was placed under German protection.

That proclamation of August 16 1884 was the beginning of what would become German South West Africa, Akweenda told the court.

In a treaty concluded between Germany and Portugal at Lisbon on December 30 1886, the northern border between the German territory and the Portuguese colony of Angola was agreed, Akweenda further related.

Part of this boundary that was fixed was to follow the Okavango River up to Andara, from where it would then run in a straight line as far as "the rapids of Catima, on the Zambezi", the treaty stated.

With that, the first, northwestern part of the border of what would become the Caprivi Region was set.

CAPRIVI'S TREATY In a treaty signed by Germany and Great Britain in Berlin on July 1 1890, most of the remainder of the Caprivi Region's borders were set.

One of the signatories of the treaty was Count Georg Leo von Caprivi, then the German Chancellor, and the man whose name would later be used for the territory protruding from the north-eastern corner of the bulk of the territory of Namibia.

With that treaty, the borders between German and British colonies in Africa were agreed.

This agreement became known as the Zanzibar-Heligoland treaty because it included provisions through which Germany undertook to recognise a British Protectorate over Zanzibar off the east African coast, while Britain in turn ceded the North Sea island of Heligoland to Germany.

The treaty did not however directly link these issues to the fixing of the borders of the area that Germany wanted in order to give it access to the Zambezi River, so it could not actually be said that the Caprivi Region was created as a result of the Zanzibar-Heligoland trade-off, Akweenda told the court.

Having been based in part on an incorrect British War Office map, however, that treaty stated that the eastern border between German South West Africa and Bechuanaland would run in a northern direction until it met the 18th degree southern latitude, along which the border would then run to the Chobe River.

The border would then follow the middle of the main channel of the Chobe River up to the point where it meets the Zambezi River, it was agreed.

WRONG MAP The problem, though, was that the 18th degree latitude lay in Angola just to the north of Andara, and not well south of it as shown on the map that was used.

Still, in terms of this treaty Germany was to have access from its protectorate in south-western Africa to the Zambezi by a strip of territory that at no point could be less than twenty English miles - about 32 km - in width, Akweenda said.

This provision gave birth to the about 100-km-long parallel strip that links the current Kavango Region to the Caprivi Region - but this final boundary was only settled in 1931, when a beacon was placed 20 south of Andara, and the border was demarcated to run from there to the east.

It was demarcated to run along a straight line, parallel to the border that had been agreed with Portugal in 1886, until the 18th degree southern latitude was met, from where the border continued in a straight line further to the east, up to the Chobe River.

That however still left the north-eastern section of the Caprivi Region's border not dealt with in any treaties.

So in July 1933, in an agreement between the Union of South Africa, which by then held the mandate to administer the former German colony, and Northern Rhodesia, it was agreed that the middle of the main channel of the Zambezi River would form the boundary between the Caprivi Region and Northern Rhodesia, completing the entire geographical outline of Namibia as it looks today, Akweenda said.

In terms of the mandate that was granted to South Africa, any changes to the boundaries of the territory that South Africa had to administer had to be approved by the League of Nations, Akweenda told the court.

The Namibian Constitution in turn states that the national territory of Namibia "shall consist of the whole of the territory recognised by the international community through the organs of the United Nations as Namibia".

This would include the Caprivi Strip, Akweenda testified.


    Support Caprivi Freedom
Fill out the form below to become a member of this site and receive our regular newsletter.

First Name
Last Name