oa Scientia Militaria : South African Journal of Military Studies - The suppression of internal unrest in South West Africa (Namibia) 1921-1933



In 1915, the Union of South Africa was requested to administrate South West Africa (SWA) (today Namibia) on behalf of the British Crown and approved the South West Africa Mandate. The policies of the Union strongly influenced the administration of SWA, and the administration met with indigenous opposition discontent with the maltreatment. An attitude of master and servant was prevalent in the mandated territory and the maltreatment of the indigenous people in the mandated territory, racial prejudice, double standards in executing branding laws, enforced indentured labour, dog and hut tax were some of the grievances that the Bondelswarts, the Rehoboth Basters and the Ukuambi had against the SWA Administration. The Administration perceived these actions as internal unrest and subdued it using police and military resources.

Suppressing unrest through force was part of the military policing tradition prevalent in Southern Africa and abroad during the colonial era. The tactical deployment of ground forces in conjunction with aircraft was an innovation that transformed future operations in SWA between the suppression of the Bondelswarts and the actions against Chief Ipumbu.
This article discusses the utilisation of the Union Defence Force (UDF) and South West Africa Forces against indigenous people of South West Africa between the two world wars focusing on three incidents over the period 1922 to 1932. Tactical deployments of ground forces and the application of air power in support of ground forces to suppress internal unrest are explained and discussed. These discussions provide the military historian with salient facts on physical conditions encountered, the tactics employed and the role of a new weapon system, aircraft, yet to be fully understood in its role as a force multiplier.


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