British Special Commissioner To Tribes North of the
Orange River W. Coates Palgrave was sent to Great Namaqualand
and Damaraland to make an
assessment of the Native problems. With regards to the mining of copper, he
submitted his opinion that, "metals and minerals
are not of any greater account to the future welfare of the country,
than the trade with the interior tribes, which must grow more and more
important as the 'Reserve' becomes occupied by a population in which the
European element is certain to predominate."
Wheeling and Dealing with the Ovambos:
In the early 1880s a group of Trek-Boers, from the
Transvaal, who became known as the Dorstland (thirst-land) Trekkers
trundled across the north of Namibia. Their leader Will Worthington Jordan
had promised them the founding of a new and free republic that they were
going to name Upingtonia. On 21 April 1885 Jordan concluded with the Ovambo
Chief Kambonde of Ondongua the purchase of a tract of land south of the
Etosha Pan that included the Grootfontein - Otavi - Tsumeb triangle, an
area of about 50,000 sq miles, for the sum of 300 British Pounds, 25
Rifles, an immunized horse and a barrel of brandy. Jordan distributed
the land amongst the Trek-Boers, but reserved for himself the mineral
rights and the area included the Tsumeb Mine deposits.
This Land Is My Land. The Re-Arrangement:
The deal that the Ovambo Chief Kambonde had made with
Jordan was the cause of
great concern to the Herero Paramount Chief Maharero for he considered
that the lands of the Grootfontein Otavi Tsumeb triangle might be his. He sought the help of an old friend and
confident who had been in the country since 1858, Robert Lewis,
adventurer, elephant hunter, trader and a man known for 'getting things
done'. Lewis travelled north where he exerted his influence on the Ovambo
Headmen to cancel the deal with Jordan. Returning payment to the
trek-boers was not an option for the Ovambos, and Chief Nehale Mpingana provided a quick and simple solution by
attacking, looting and killing many of the trek-boers along with Jordan.
Some of the survivors managed to escape to Angola, their dream - independent
Republic of Upingtonia, the victim of greed and political expediency.
For his services, Chief Maharero presented Robert
Lewis on 9 September 1885 a written grant ceding to him the prospecting
and mineral rights of the Otavi Block for a period of 20 years. The
Chief further granted a lease over the Otavi mining area
including the Tsumeb Mine deposits, or a period of
20 years on the proviso that ownership remained in British hands. The Hereros having grown a distrust of recent German expansionism. The
annual fee in respect of this grant was 10 British Pounds, plus 2
shillings and sixpence per ton of ore exported.
The German Protectorate:
By the middle of the nineteenth century several British adventurer
businessmen had established lucrative trading posts throughout the vast
area of land that lay north of the Orange River that was known
as Great Namaqualand and Damaraland. However, it was the Germans who
were first to raise their flag on the soil of the land on the 7th August 1884 on
another hill far to the south in Luderitz-bucht. By 1886 German influence had increased from
the Orange River to the Southern edges of the Etosha Pan. They called
their protectorate - German South West Africa.
Chief Maharero's agreement with Lewis had completely
ignored any rights that the Berg Damara or Bushmen may have had on the
said area, but whether this influenced the German decision not to ratify
the 'Lewis' agreement is unclear. Lewis eventually sold his rights to several South African syndicates and by March 1890 had sold his
remaining rights to the London based Damaraland Exploration Company.
The South West Africa Company is formed in London:
Meanwhile, in Germany a group of interested parties
along with government support sought a way in which to further explore
the far away ore deposit. On 3 August 1892 they entrusted the Damaraland
Concession to attorney Dr. J Scharlach and Hamburg businessman C. Wichman,
pending the formation of the proposed mining company. On 18 August the
South West Africa Company was incorporated in London and on 14 November
an amending protocol was added to the Damaraland Concession granting the
South West Africa Company the exclusive mineral rights over an area of
22,000 square miles that included the Otavi copper mines, plus absolute
ownership over ground chosen by the company and covering 13,000 square
kilometres, plus an area 10 kilometres wide on each side of the railway
that was to be built between the mines, and the exclusive rights to
build a harbour and railway line to serve the territory, on the proviso
that the company acted promptly and without delay. The initial capital
of 300,000 British Pounds was later increased to 2,000,000 Pounds. The company reacted
quickly and dispatched two exploration teams, one under Mathew Rogers to
investigate the ore body and another under D. Angus to survey a rail
route to the coast.
The First Expedition:
The expedition force landed at
Walvis Bay on 20 October 1892 and
began to equip for the journey inland. While at the harbour town Rogers
met with 2 emissaries of Samuel Maharero who had come to collect the
semi-annual rent monies from the Damaraland Exploration Company for the
The wagon train left Walvis Bay on the long trek inland, where, at
Omaruru they were to encounter their first obstacle when the local
Herero Chief Manasse refused them passage until he had satisfied himself
as to the validity of the expedition. The natives expressed previous
disappointment that Palgrave and the English had left the country, for
they disliked the oppressive Germans, and their satisfaction that the
'English' were returning.
On 19 December Rogers camped at Otavi-fontein, where the following
day, with a local guide he rode to the mine workings at Gross Otavi and
Klein Otavi. Rogers wrote in his diary, "The
native workers have made a perfect network of holes in the limestone
rock wherever small veins of copper were seen intermixed. Made an
examination of these holes, one of which, said to be sunk by Englishmen,
is about 30 feet diagonally. There is either a large deposit of copper
underneath, or they have nearly reached the end of it, which will take
us from six to nine months to prove. Some very rich specimens of copper
glance and other copper ores found."
On 30 December Rogers wrote,
"I am informed
there are several places in these hills the Bushmen work for copper, but
on asking to be shown where am coolly told permission must first be
obtained from the Bushmen Chief and he lives some considerable distance
from this place."
On 12 January 1893 Rogers visited the Green Hill at Tsumeb and wrote"
"The outcrop of copper here is the finest
mineral outcrop I have ever seen. It is associated with quartz, the
first time I have seen this mineral with copper in this country. The
containing rock appears to be slate, but to definitely determine the
soil must be removed."
On 16 January Rogers met with a Johannes Kruger and local native who
is only known as 'Winn of Ghaub' who claimed to hold the controlling
rights over several of the areas copper deposits. Following extensive
negotiations they granted permission to Rogers to mine. Legend has it
that they received an ox-wagon and a pair of riding breeches from
On 19 January Rogers witnessed the arrival of 6 Damara at his Otavi
camp. The following day these were joined by a further group that
carried a letter from the Herero Chief Samual Maharero. It was written
in Hollands, and as nobody in the camp could read it, they sent for
Johannes Kruger to translate. He read the letter and informed them that
Samuel Maharero wished them to meet with him as he had only recently
received a payment of 100 British Pounds from Robert Lewis as rent for
the land as per his agreement, and he wanted to know if they were sent
by Lewis! Rogers road south to the Waterberg to meet with Samuel
Maharero, but on arrival found that Samuel had departed for Okahandja.
On 21 January Rogers wrote a letter to the Board of Directors in
London. It contained the first professional report of the Tsumeb Ore
Body that eventually proved to be one of the richest in the world.
"I have been holding places of trust for
the past 24 years; having visited various countries in the world,
inspecting mines, mineral outcrops, and prospecting for minerals; having
been associated with the minerals gold, silver, tin, copper and lead;
but in the whole of my
experience, I have never seen a sight as was presented before my view at Soomep, and I very much doubt that I shall ever see another in any other
locality... The outcrop is in a valley formed by gradually sloping
hills. As if the subterranean forces had made one sudden and special
effort to force an entrance through the crust of the earth, a large rent
is made. This rent has been filled in probably by aqueous solutions with
minerals, having as its chief matrix quartz. In this instance the
minerals, as far as can be seen, are different ores of copper and lead.
In the process of time... by erosion and denudation, the surrounding
strata composing the containing rock have been removed, leaving the
fissure vein standing in an inclined position...in some places being 40
feet in height - with the green and blue colours of chrysocolla,
conspicuously covering it. By various causes the hard quartz matrix has
been shattered and rent, and the smaller fissures again refilled with
the same minerals. The following sketches will, I trust, give some idea
of the appearance. As nothing has been done to this outcrop, and as the
soil and detritus cover the southern side, it is difficult to determine
its real width...I will only say that on first seeing such a grand and
prominent outcrop I could scarcely conceal my astonishment and
delight...were this scheme only one of ordinary speculation I should
have no hesitancy in recommending this field for immediate work, but
being nearly 400 miles form the coast. that the facilities for working
are far from the best, and that various essentials are lacking for cheap
and effective mining, I am compelled to ask permission, when we have
finished at Otavi
to transfer the camp to this place, and to do some work below the
surface before I say whether even this grand outcrop warrants the
necessary outlay for mining on a large scale. I will, however add that few mineral
outcrops present such exceptional indications as this one."
Every Man and His Dog:
On 5 March a group of Damara arrived at Roger's camp. One claimed to
be the Chief of the Hereros who had ceded his position to Samuel
Maharero. Rogers entertained the party and gave the man a ration of
tobacco for which he was then given written permission by the native to
commence with his investigation of the nearby mines.
On 16 March Rogers wrote of the dissatisfaction between the various
native groups who all wanted 'a piece of the action'.
"The Damaras that arrived here yesterday say,
internal dissensions are existing in the country because of our being
here. Each chief claims the place and consequently disagrees with his
On 8 April Rogers reported of further hostility from the natives, "Some Hottentot chiefs with a large following
arrived at 7pm and peremptorily ordered me to desist working along the
valley and demanded the stones I had brought from the shaft, or they
would take them by force. This party have been the most hostile we have
as yet seen."
On 16 June Rogers spent the night at
Ghaub where he met with a
council of natives and wrote: "Very cold night, a
piece of ice seen on top of one of our barrels. After breakfast a raad
(council) held with the Damaras and Hottentots. They first ask
questions. where we come from, etc. They neither acknowledge Samuel or
Manasse as bearing any special right over this district: they have their
own part where they rule, but Kambazembi was the first to settle here,
then the Bushmen and Berg-Damaras, and ultimately the Red-Men or
Hottentots. They accuse us at Otavi with not being sufficiently
hospitable in giving them food, etc. when they visit us."
On 26 June Johann Kruger arrived with letters from Samuel and
Kambazembi that gave permission for Rogers to work the Gross-Otavi Mine,
but prohibiting the investigation of any other sites.
On 17 July Rogers received a further letter from Samuel Maharero
instructing that work at the Gross-Otavi mine should not stop without
the authorization of himself and 'Kamabathenbie'.
On 19 July Chief Kambazembi arrived at Gross-Otavi and ordered Rogers
to cease all work, but on his departure recommenced work.
On 25 September Kambazembi again visited Rogers and ordered that all
operations cease immediately, and made demands that he should be paid 3
British Pounds per month for his rights. He later apologized for his
interference and from then on received the usual gratuities.
On 26 September Rogers obtained permission from Samuel Maharero to
move camp from Otavi-fontein to Guchab. By October Rogers decided to
suspend work at the Otavi mines, prospect the area around Guchab, and
move part of the exploration team to Tsumeb.
Rogers patience and diplomacy were once again put to the test when a
series of labour unrest amongst the native workers hampered progress,
however, by 1894 two prospecting shafts had been sunk to a depth of 20
metres and several cross cuts had been made into the Tsumeb ore body. It
was now established that the ore was exceptionally rich with copper and
lead, but whether it was economically viable owing to the distance from
the coast was still in question. The problem of establishing as to who
held what rights and where still required clarification and settlement
by the authority of the day.