Carl Becker was a German farmer married to a Rehobother woman in the German settler colony of German Southwest Africa. The Rehobothers were historically descended from relationships between Afrikaners and Nama. Together the couple had five children. At the time of writing marriages between white settlers and indigenous population groups had been banned since 1905. Several dozen marriages carried out before this date, such as that of Becker and his partner, had been retrospectively annulled. This letter to the Governor of the colony, Bruno von Schuckmann, gives a glimpse into the social and legal effects that these measures had on those involved. In addition, as part of the Constitution of the Landesrat (the Territorial Council in GSWAf), introduced in 1909, Paragraph 17f took away the civil rights of all settlers who had an indigenous partner (as well as the rights of their children).
Jeff Bowersox and Robbie Aitken
Vaalgras, 1st September 1909
Permit me to renew my request for a restoration of my rights as a citizen. I am convinced that when Your Excellency reflects upon my statements in a benevolent and just way that he will not hesitate to hear my plea.
As a result of paragraph 17f2 of the communal ordinance I, as the husband of a Bastard woman, lose my right to vote. Paragraph 17f originates in the idea that Southwest Africa is a white man’s country: as a white man I won’t say anything against this since the white man has the power and the final source of law is force. […] My marriage originated through the moral and legal agencies of the state before paragraph 17f even appeared. It is my firm belief that I cannot be deprived of my rights through the appearance of retrospective legislation.
The consequences of paragraph 17f are shattering for me.
For my five children, two of whom are in Germany, I pay annually 5,000 marks to educate them. A man with the same number of children, but with a white wife receives an annual contribution from the administration of 1,500 marks in the form of pension supplements. I receive nothing.
If I want to have a farm, a building plot, or a license, these are denied me on the basis of 17f. If I build a dam, I do this with my own money, while others receive a subsidy. If I arrive with my wife, who is practically white (a picture of my family is included) and who may with confidence be compared against any totally white woman in the colony in terms of morality and intellect, then I have to be prepared for unpleasantness.
All this happens to me although I maintain 32,000 hectares of farmland in a model condition, although I carry the burdens associated with this, although I willingly shoulder the taxes and fees associated with a household of eight whites and forty natives. That’s the thanks that I receive for having been a former colonial soldier who helped Germany acquire and secure this country. And why does this happen to me? Because I did not do as many did (I can name names) who lived in this country with native women and who fathered children.
[…] Will my children, who are all being raised as Germans, be my heirs? Will my boys become soldiers and later exercise their right to vote? These are questions I must see answered positively, if my lust for life and work are not to disappear.
There is, nevertheless, no power in the world that will make me leave my wife, who has been a true companion for twelve years.
Source: The German Colonial Experience: Select Documents on German Rule in Africa, China, and the Pacific, 1884-1914, edited by Arthur J. Knoll and Hermann J. Hiery (UPA, March 2010).
Letter, Carl Becker to Governor Schuckmann (1909) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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