The 20th century
Namibian war of resistance 1904–07
As land was progressively bought up, or sometimes simply taken from the local inhabitants by colonists, various skirmishes and small uprisings developed. The largest started in October 1903 with the Blondelswarts near Warmbad, which distracted most of the German Schutztruppe in the south.
The Herero nation had become increasingly unhappy about its loss of land, and in January 1904 Samuel Maherero ordered a Herero uprising against the German colonial forces. Initially he was clear to exclude as targets Boer and English settlers and German women and children. Simultaneously he appealed to Hendrik Witbooi, and other Nama leaders, to join battle – they, however, stayed out of the fight.
Initially the Hereros had success in taking many German farms and smaller outposts, and in severing the railway line between Swakopmund and Windhoek. However, later in 1904, the German General Leutwein was replaced by von Trotha – who had a reputation for brutal oppression after his time in East Africa. Backed by domestic German opinion demanding a swift resolution, von Trotha led a large German force including heavy artillery against the Hereros. By August 1904 the Hereros were pushed back to their stronghold of Waterberg, with its permanent waterholes. On August 11, the Germans attacked, and the battle raged all day. Though not decisive, the Hereros' spirit was beaten by the superior firepower and they fled east, into the Kalahari. Many perished. Sources conflict about exactly how many Hereros lost their lives, but the battle at Waterberg certainly broke their resistance to the Germans.
Thereafter, somewhat late to be effective, Hendrik Witbooi's people also revolted against the Germans, and wrote encouraging the other Nama groups to do the same. The Red Nation, Topnaar, Swartbooi and Blondelswarts joined in attacking the Germans, though the latter were largely incapacitated after their battles the previous year. The Basters stayed out of the fight.
For several years these Nama groups waged an effective guerrilla campaign against the colonial forces, using the waterless sands of the Kalahari as a haven in which the German troops were ineffective. However, in 1905 Hendrik Witbooi was killed, and January 1907 saw the last fighters sue for peace.
With South West Africa under stable German control, there was an influx of German settler families and the colony began to develop rapidly. The settlers were given large plots of the country's most productive lands, the railway network was expanded, and many of the towns began to grow. The non-European Namibians were increasingly marginalised, and simply used as a source of labour.
The building of the railway to Lüderitz led to the discovery of diamonds around there in 1908, and the resulting boom encouraged an influx of prospectors and German opportunists. By that time the mine at Tsumeb was already thriving, and moving its copper produce south on the newly built railway.
The German settlers thrived until the declaration of World War I, and between 1907 and 1914 the colonists were granted self-rule from Germany, a number of the main towns were declared as municipalities, and many of Namibia's existing civic buildings were constructed.
World War I
At the onset of World War I, Britain encouraged South Africa to push north and wrest German South West Africa from the Germans. In July 1915, the German Colonial troops surrendered to South African forces at Khorab – a memorial now marks the spot. At the end of the war, Namibia became a League of Nations 'trust territory', assigned to the Union of South Africa as 'a sacred trust in the name of civilisation' to 'promote to the utmost the material and moral well-being of its inhabitants'. The Caprivi Strip was incorporated back into Bechuanaland (though it was returned 20 years later).