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Experts et expertise dans les mandats de la société des nations : figures, champs, outils

Philippe Bourmaud
Norig Neveu
Chantal Verdeil

Dialectique asymétrique de l'expertise et de la contre-expertise

Performing South‑west African Expertise in Geneva

Mettre en scène l’expertise sur le Sud‑Ouest Africain à Genève

Robert Gordon


Se poser en expert des « indigènes » est un statut clé qui permet de justifier moralement le colonialisme. Rien de tel qu’un scandale pour que les experts arrivent sous les feux de la rampe. L’affaire Bondelzwarts en est un exemple. Cet article explore comment, à la Commission permanente des mandats (CPM ), les experts Sud‑Africains mobilisaient leurs 250 années de « contact » avec les « indigènes » d’Afrique du Sud afin de justifier leurs déclarations. Certes, les pratiques coloniales impliquaient beaucoup d’exploitation et de brutalisation, mais elles étaient également manifestement ridicules autant sur place que dans les sacro‑saints couloirs de Genève. Les auditions des Rapports des mandats à la CPM, épisodes fortement scénarisés traitant de questions importantes, étaient aussi absurdes. Les Sud-Africains suivaient cyniquement les règles du jeu juridique ainsi formulées ce qui fait peser le soupçon : étaient‑ils si occupés à se mettre en scène qu’ils en arrivaient à y croire eux‑mêmes ?

Texte intégral

Setting the stage

  • 1 Rutherford, 2012.
  • 2 Steinmetz, 2008.

1Modern Colonialism has been justly analyzed as exploitative and brutal but never, as Rutherford1 points out, as ridiculous, yet this is what it undoubtedly was. In its version of “ethical imperialism” the Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC) strove to reconcile two essential features. The mandatory was administering a foreign land premised on what Chatterjee called the “rule of difference,” yet its policies strove to promote “progress:” that is, to make “them” like “us.” Native policy thus became the centerpiece of modern colonial rule and gave rise to the “native expert.” Steinmetz2 has explained variations in colonial policy by showing how different European social groups competed for a specific form of social or ethnographic capital, the rather vague claim of “knowing the natives.”

  • 3 Wilson, 1919, p. 73.

2With rapidly expanding globalization the necessity of legitimating colonialism to Europeans, locally and internationally, took on an added dimension, and this opens the space for considering the absurdity of the colonial project as performed in the sittings of the PMC and League of Nations where Woodrow Wilson proudly proclaimed that: “For the first time in history the counsels of mankind are to be drawn together for the purpose of improving the conditions of working people.”3 The League of Nations, in a sense, formally inaugurated the era of the international expert. What is striking, is how the practice of colonial policy, especially when marketed as “ethical” imperialism, was influenced by audiences, real and perceived, local and international. In the C class mandate of South‑West Africa (current Namibia) the South African mandatory managed to camouflage its brutal and exploitative policies towards indigenes through the skillful use of bluff disguised as “expertise.” The purpose of this article is to question through the prism of ridiculousness, the authority of colonial power and their representatives. Contemplating the mandatory’s policies as ridiculous and absurd provides a perspective to describe and analyze the mandate authority and power as a complex play with its legal and administrative rule.

  • 4 Cockram, 1976, p. 113.

3Members of the PMC, were mostly experienced colonial officials, supposedly independent, and elected on the basis of personal qualifications by the League Council. Their task was to examine Annual Reports submitted by the mandatories and make suggestions and recommendations to the League Council. They suffered under a variety of constraints, notably a lack of familiarity with the Territories and, given the time‑lag in the submission of Reports, tended to focus on judging past events rather than prescribing future actions. All in all, the situation encouraged legalistic, stereotypical discourses with a concern about the enforcement of particular articles of the mandate.4 While the hearings and discussions were private since their work was only advisory, the minutes of the proceedings were public and made good copy for the international press aided by the large and effective Press section of the League’s Secretariat.


  • 5 Goldblatt, 1971, p. 216.

4Barely eighteen months after being awarded the mandate, an event leading to considerable embarrassment to the mandatory. In May 1922 the Bondelzwarts (or !Gami‑nun), an impoverished group, who resided in the arid southern part of South‑West Africa and had suffered heavily under German colonial rule, rebelled. Two issues rankled deeply. First, they wanted Jacobus Christian who had, along with several other Bondel refugees, returned without permission from exile in South Africa, recognized as chief. Second, they objected vociferously to a dog tax which Gijsbert Hofmeyr, the first civilian Administrator appointed in October 1920, had imposed on the Territory in an effort to encourage indigenes to seek work with impoverished settler farmers. In itself this would not have been important except that an overzealous official started fining and imprisoning recalcitrant Bondelzwarts. In what became a tragic‑comedy, Hofmeyr, fearing a general uprising, overreacted by personally leading the troops including a South African machine gun contingent and two airplanes which bombed the Bondelzwarts leading to some 100 deaths of men, women and children out of a total population of between 500 to 600.5 Despite efforts at censorship the episode made international headlines and drew adverse criticism, not only abroad but also in South Africa where Hofmeyr was ridiculed in Parliament as a “prancing pro‑counsel.”

5At the League a motion concerning the Bondelzwarts affair was unanimously carried and the PMC excoriated South Africa. It unanimously regretted the absence of a mandatory representative, which was contrary to the PMC’s constitution and rules of procedure, and especially frustrating given the brevity of the replies to their questionnaire which specifically asked for information on

  • 6 PMC, 1922.

the effect produced on the general position of the natives by the colonization of white races. The Commission desires to be fully informed regarding the cause, extent and nature of the disorders and their repression which have recently occurred.6

  • 7 Loram, 1917.

6Given the international outcry, Smuts, the South African Prime Minister and a key figure in the founding of the League, appointed a Commission of Enquiry consisting of all three members of the recently created parliamentary Native Affairs Commission, selected for their expertise in “Native Affairs,” namely Senators Alexander Roberts (Chair) and C. T. Loram, along with a third member, (Boer War) General L. A. S. Lemmer. Roberts had long been involved in matters of African education, and served as Principal of the South African Native College, and Loram had a doctorate from Columbia, later published as an influential book, The Education of the South African Native and a leading figure in liberal circles.7

  • 8 South Africa, Government, 1923, p. 27.

7This Commission travelled to the Territory, conducting 124 interviews including some with indigenes, and visited Windhoek, the capital, and the battlefields. It found that many people were living on the “extreme edge of destitution,” that the labor situation could be alleviated by importing laborers from outside the Territory and improving conditions of employment. It was generally highly critical of the Administration. One of their chief concerns was that the native‑settler/official interface was characterized by gross mistrust. Many officials did not possess the qualities necessary for successful administration and thus suggested the necessity of developing a strong Native Affairs Department consisting of three of four men of “good type who would take up the work as a life profession, and remain in their posts long enough to allow the Natives to get to know them.”8

8In every phase of its inquiry and in its main conclusions the Commission split two to one: Lemmer disagreeing with Roberts and Loram’s conclusions, especially that:

  • 9 South Africa, Government, 1923, p. 33.

The resistance seems to the Commission to be the action of a people driven to extremity by poverty and by an acute sense of injury and injustice, real or imaginary. […] The whole native problem, not only as it affects the Bondelzwarts, but as it exists throughout the Territory, requires the most careful and exhaustive examination, in order to bring it into harmony with the idea that the native is a sacred trust to the Mandatory State.9

  • 10 Ibid., p. 30.

9Lemmer claimed that such a wide recommendation was not within the Commission’s reference and “resisted the inference which may perhaps be drawn that the natives are not being treated as they should in a mandated Territory:” the mistrust between Bondels and police was due not to the police but to the character of the Bondels. They were “temperamentally lazy and lacking the stimuli to improve their situation.”10 Overall he felt that Hofmeyr had acted correctly and with due diligence. Accompanying the Report was a memorandum by Hofmeyr defending his actions. He felt condemned without trial.

  • 11 Cited in Loram, 1917, p. 155.

But for the forbearance and tact of the authorities, who were well aware of the peculiar traits of the Hottentots—though the Commission did not think so—a clash of arms would long ago have resulted […].11

10The Bondelzwarts Report was presented to the South African Parliament in April 1923 and subjected to an extensive and acrimonious debate with the opposition Labor Party calling the Bondelzwarts Affair a “blot on the escutcheon of South Africa.” Smuts in turn denied that the Bondelzwarts had any “substantial grievances.” “(They) are a native people with simple minds—they misunderstand things and exaggerate others, and in one way or another a whole psychology grows up in their minds which in the end brings forth rebellion.” With a whiff of patriotism, he remarked that he was

  • 12 Cape Times, 23rd May 1923.

pained by the discussion which had put the facts out of focus. [It] […] would go to the outside world and would be read by people who did not know the circumstances and the local situation. The discussion […] and the charges raised would be used against them in other parts of the world by people who had not given one‑tenth of the time or consideration to native affairs that we had (Hear Hear). If those people seriously believed in South Africa, they would get an entirely erroneous conception of the situation […].12

11The Report along with Hofmeyr’s critical rejoinder would be sent to the League along with Major Herbst, “who knows all the facts” so that the PMC would have all the evidence and thus “full facts.” Herbst was clearly considered an expert on “Native Affairs” having served as Secretary for SWA doubling as Chief Native Commissioner from December 1916 until 1923, when as a reward, he was promoted to Secretary for Native Affairs in South Africa. He was singularly under‑prepared for his examination at the PMC, being forced to apologize for not bringing several relevant documents, including obvious material like the Report of the recently completed Native Reserve Commission and the evidence heard by the Bondelzwarts Commission.

  • 13 PMC, 1923, p. 62.

12The PMC carefully prepared for the precedent‑setting scandal. It was also concerned that the Bondelzwarts Report and the documents received did not answer any of the questions raised by the Council and Assembly. Four preparatory meetings were held to discuss how to audition Herbst and Walton, the South African representative. They developed a series of questions focusing on three particular concerns. First, they did not believe that this was an impartial investigation as promised, especially since the evidence gathered by the Bondelzwarts Commission was not available for perusal despite repeated requests. They reluctantly accepted the Bondelzwarts Report as authoritative on the grounds that the Commissioners had split on all major recommendations. A second concern was that Smuts had simply forwarded the Report without endorsing any of the recommendations, although he had vigorously defended Hofmeyr in the South African Parliament. If Smuts did not accept the Report as impartial, was he going to order another Commission of Enquiry? A third issue concerned who should be heard by the PMC. One of the most active parties in seeking a hearing was the Anti‑Slavery Society. It was eventually decided not to hear such groups since it was not the duty of the PMC to hold such an enquiry, moreover “it could not hear everybody. It could not appear to throw doubt in advance of the South African report.”13 Apart from the practical issue of bringing witnesses from Africa, the PMC doubted the impartiality of the Anti‑Slavery Society, simultaneously ignoring that South Africa was sending one of the executive officials engaged in suppressing the affair. Lord Lugard, one of the most influential PMC members, brokered a compromise by pointing out that the conclusions of the Report were so severe for the local administration that it was unnecessary to hear new witnesses, but agreed that the Anti‑Slavery Society could submit written information.

  • 14 Cape Times, 22nd May 1923.
  • 15 PMC, 1923a, p. 129.
  • 16 Ibid., p. 129.
  • 17 Ibid., p. 132.

13In a remarkable display Herbst dismissed the Bondelzwarts Report out of hand as being biased, inadequate and unreliable. “Nobody in the Union knew anything about the Administration in South West Africa. Anybody appointed on a Commission would have to go up and enquire locally for information.”14 Thus the recommendation concerning revamping the system of Native Administration with “three or four good men” was rejected since the Administration had not been consulted and moreover was not within the Commission’s terms of reference. Regarding the recommendation that the Bondelzwarts be given some form of autonomy Herbst asserted that this was impractical as the Germans had “broken up” the tribes in the South. “There had been no complaint” concerning the size of their reserve which he deemed sufficient as “they had the best land in that part of the country, but they certainly had asked for all the land recently occupied (indeed) the whole ambition of a native was to own stock. He wished for little more.”15 Even minor recommendations like that officials involved in the affair be transferred was dismissed since it was best to “let sleeping dogs lie.”16 Addressing one of the central concerns of the League of Nations Assembly motion about what was being done to restore the economic situation of the Bondelzwarts, Herbst blithely commented that humanitarian assistance was minimal and the Bondelzwarts men were encouraged to go out and seek work.17

  • 18 Ibid., pp. 135‑136.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 5.
  • 20 Walton, 1923, p. 2.
  • 21 Walton, 1923, p. 2.

14Nevertheless, the PMC found that the primary cause of the Affair was distrust between Black and White and that Hofmeyr had exaggerated the gravity of the situation. Timely intervention by the Administrator would have prevented the Rebellion, the repression of which had been carried out with “excessive severity.”18 It was harshly critical of the lack of information and a complete and authoritative enquiry. The Administrator was condemned for personally conducting military operations as a civil servant and representative of the mandatory power since it “excludes in the eyes of the natives the possibility of a supreme appeal to the highest authority, but also, as a consequence the Administrator is deprived of his capacity as an impartial critic and judge of the conduct of operations.”19 Edgar Walton, the South African Representative, roundly attacked the findings, using what were to become standard rhetorical devices in the South African armory: the PMC had “failed altogether to realize the situation in South‑West Africa.” Statements like, “[in] South West Africa even the educated classes regarded the natives as existing chiefly for the purpose of labor for whites”20 revealed the PMC’s prejudices and ignored “the obvious fact that in that development the native is being gradually civilized, and, indeed, that he can be civilized in no other way […] the maintenance of law and order is an essential preliminary to the inculcation of the principles of civilization.” The criticism in the PMC Report “emanating evidently from inexperienced persons is prejudicial to […] successful government […]. It will be resented by the whole of the white population of the territory, and its only effect on the native people will be to make them more difficult to manage and less amenable to civilizing forces.”21 He concluded with what was to become the standard expertise justification:

  • 22 Ibid.

For upwards of two centuries the South African people have been brought into close contact with the native races, and it is only just to claim that they have not shirked the white man’s burden. It has been said that the white man will never understand the black, but the white man in South Africa may at least claim to have studied the problem for many generations and may also claim a great measure of success…22

  • 23 PMC, 1924, p. 55.

15Expertise, as Hofmeyr was to argue the following year, was based on first‑hand experience: “And this view is confirmed by experienced officers—that the raw and semi‑civilised native in South‑West Africa is treated better than in any other part of South Africa, if not in the world.”23

16Clearly the opinion of the PMC stung. Two weeks after the League of Nations issued its rebuke, The Cape Argus criticized “another long‑winded vindication” of Hofmeyr, this time by his Attorney‑General, Lennox Ward, who had prosecuted the Bondelzwarts leaders. It concluded:

  • 24 Cape Argus, 4th October 1923.

These attacks on the competency of the Native Affairs Commission have laid the Union government open to the charge that it failed to carry out its promise to hold a proper, impartial inquiry into the late rebellion. […] [I]t is very remarkable that while official memoranda are showered upon the Press with the object of casting doubt upon the main conclusions of the report of the Native Affairs Commission, the evidence upon which that report was based is still withheld from the public.24

17But the lesson was learnt. The next year Hofmeyr personally appeared at the PMC, accompanied by his Native Commissioner, Major Manning, and South Africa was praised for being the first mandatory to send its Administrator to be examined. Hofmeyr, sought to “disabuse the PMC of hasty action” and charmed them with his exaggerated courtesy. When the PMC complained about the brevity of the Annual Report, he disarmingly replied that his Government had instructed him to keep them short so as not to waste the PMC’s time. He impressed by being well‑prepared, bringing several maps and a couple of photograph albums. A ritual reconciliation was effected and precedent was created. Every Administrator after Hofmeyr made at least one appearance before the PMC, usually accompanied by a senior official.

Idlers on the land

18Two themes are constantly reiterated in the Administration attempts to justify their policies in the face of criticism for exploiting African labor to benefit white settlers. First the belief that work was essential for “progress;” and the need to get the “natives” to respect the “law.”

  • 25 South Africa, Government, 1926, p. 98.

Civilization will never be developed on idleness and education of the native does not consist of teaching him the alphabet or the Bible only... Left to himself he will simply sit in the sun and dream about women and cattle. A good harvest results in liberal brewing of beer, heavy drinking and tribal disorders. Work brings him in contact with civilization and, therefore, necessarily assists the process of civilizing him.25

19Such discourses have to be contextualized. In particular, the notion that “idleness is sin” was well‑grounded of course in the dominant Christian and evolutionary notions of progress being achieved through “hard work.” The administration emphasized the importance of “work” as development strategy. Labor and poverty were held to be simple polar opposites, and increasing the one would reduce the other.

20Administration rhetoric constantly used the phrase “idle and disorderly.” Work and order, in short, were cognitively connected. Indeed, one could make a reasonable case that the rhetoric of “idleness and the nobility of work” was shaped for the international audience, who might have looked askance at any rhetoric featuring “insecurity” or settler fears. Instead, the rhetoric of civilization and its inherent need for controlling labor enabled the colonials to control the situation, not in the name of fear or even exploitation, but in the name of the desire to civilize.

Performing colonial expertise

21The South African claim to expertise was based almost exclusively on its claims to “long‑term experience” and this accumulated experience had shown that making indigenes work was the surest way to civilize them. But how did this work out at the grass‑roots?

  • 26 PMC, 1923, p. 48.
  • 27 Cockram, 1976, p. 127.
  • 28 PMC, 1938, p. 77.

22The administrative world the Germans imposed was considerably downsized with the establishment of the mandate from approximately 1 200 civil servants to 311 in 1923 of whom 212 were hired on a temporary basis with large anomalies in pay, allowances, and local privileges that eventually led to problems of demoralization.26 Native Administration in Southwest‑Africa was always a shoestring operation. In 1939 it consisted of one part‑time (ex officio) chief native commissioner (the Secretary for South West Africa, who until 1928 was also Police Commissioner) supported by two native commissioners, twelve clerks and ten reserve superintendents. In addition, each of the eighteen magisterial districts was in charge of a magistrate who doubled as native commissioners. From the beginning quality of personnel was problematic. Gorges, the first Administrator, complained “staff matters have been a terrible worry and I have been saddled with a lot of misfits […] the tendency on the part of some Departments has been to try to pass off their bad bargains to me […] of the 18 magistrates only 3 were full magistrates in the Union the rest were nearly all clerks.”27 In 1937 South Africa again conceded that most of the magistrates were of the “weakest type,” pointing out that it was difficult to attract “good people” to the Territory. Efforts to professionalize “Native Administration” with one or two‑year University Diplomas despite offering a small bonus, were singularly unsuccessful and the Diploma was eventually discarded. Professionalism was deemed irrelevant since “some knowledge of native affairs, languages and customs was common among South Africans, and this would perhaps explain why the Government had not considered it necessary to make such studies compulsory.”28

  • 29 Sunday Times, 21st May 1922.

23Given the low organizational density in which these officials operated, it was obviously difficult to audit their performances. This meant that they had considerable informal power or, to be fashionable, devolved sovereignty. A visiting South African journalist compared officials with feudal lords in Plantagenet England—“they were little kings without any check whatsoever on their actions, and they impose their will, right or wrong, on native and white alike.”29

  • 30 Cited in Cockram, 1967, p. 141.

24Feudal lords require ceremonialism and exaggerated etiquette to display their status and the Bondelzwarts scandal strikingly demonstrated this. This was why Hofmeyr proclaimed himself Colonel despite having no military experience and only commenced hostilities against the Bondelzwarts after his tailor‑made uniform arrived and used President Paul Kruger’s railcar as Headquarters. When Lugard asked if Hofmeyr might have “sunk a little dignity and gone to see (Christian).” Herbst replied: “It meant more than sinking a little dignity […] it would have been an intolerable position […] the Administrator did not think it was dangerous. He did think, however, that it would have been undignified and that his position with the Europeans would have been absolutely intolerable […] He could not have gone back to the Windhoek if that had taken place.”30

  • 31 PMC, 1923, p. 127.

25The Bondelzwarts Commission despite visiting the terrain of conflict took evidence of Europeans in Windhoek “as it was feared that their presence with the commission would give a wrong impression to the natives.”31 Maintaining settler prestige was cardinal. Christian was not recognized as chief because the Administration felt that it would reduce the prestige of the Administration (at least among the settlers) Herbst declared that

  • 32 Ibid., pp. 186‑187.

if the European population now hear that the Administrator has to go to the natives whenever they oppose the law, or the police in carrying out the law, I do not know what is going to be the result. In South Africa one of the first rudiments of policy is to secure respect for the law from the native population.32

26Ceremonialism and everyday rituals of degradation permeated the Territory. The two most famous native commissioners of the interwar years were sticklers for etiquette. Reverend Tobias reported:

  • 33 Mallory, 1971, pp. 29‑30. Indeed, the nature of expertise lay imbricated in everyday ceremonialism (...)

Hahn and Eades are very much on a pedestal and keep aloof and speak through an interpreter—they are very anxious for me to speak just as they do […] The Bishop came to me before he left and said that Hahn wanted to speak to me (about) my attitude to the natives. “Speak to them” he said, “like a Sergeant Major, give orders and never hold a conversation and do not be friendly.” Hahn also said “Always speak with authority as to a child who is rather in disgrace.” Hahn is on excellent footing with the people […] but his attitude is “I have spoken—there the matter ends.”33

With an expert curtsy to anthropology

27The South African Government confidently believed that its own experience in dealing with the “native problem” was the ultimate guarantee of its bona fides and with ceremonial regularity stressed this but occasional doubt was present. Clearly the Administration had begun to realize that its claims to expertise based on two hundred years and on‑the‑spot assessments was not going to convince the PMC and a more sophisticated gesture was called for by focusing on Lugard’s active promotion of anthropology. In 1928 Administrator Werth began by describing the ethnic diversity in the Territory and their inherent tribal antagonism to each other and “frankly admitted” that ethnological knowledge was in its “infancy.” He then introduced Dr. Fourie, the Chief Medical Officer who was:

  • 34 PMC, 1928, p. 58.

Probably one of the greatest living authorities on the Bushmen. To indicate the spirit of service which animates the officials of the Administration, I would say that he spends his holidays in the deserts of South‑West Africa studying the family and social life of the Bushmen, you will realize what sacrifice that means; and even Dr Fourie will admit to you today that he knows very little about the soul of the Bushmen people. The same applies to probably the largest native race we have in South‑West Africa, namely the Ovambo […].34

  • 35 Ibid., p. 90.
  • 36 Hahn, Vedder & Fourie, 1928. Notice how their credibility is enhanced by including their awards.

28Werth then proceeded to present a book, The Native Tribes of South West Africa, which had been specially prepared for the League of Nations as well as a collection of photographs showing the “natives in their primitive state” and the conditions they worked under on the mines.35 The Native Tribes of South West Africa was undoubtedly the major, if only, ethnographic achievement of the Administration. Its purpose, as stated in the Foreword, was “to lay before the League of Nations a short sketch of each of the principal tribes, in order that without a great amount of study it can be seen by members of that body the state of development of the natives, their mode of living and the ways in which they resemble or differ from one another.” The book consisted of five chapters. The first chapter was on “The Ovambo” by C. H. L. Hahn, MBE, Officer in Charge of Native Affairs, Ovamboland. Dr. Louis Fourie, MBE, MB., FZS, Medical Officer to the Administration provided a chapter on “The Bushmen” and the Präses of the Rhenish Mission in Damaraland, Dr (h.c). Heinrich Vedder, contributed three chapters on “The Berg Damara,” “The Nama” and “The Herero.”36 In retrospect, it is clear that this ethnographic volume was used more to bolster South Africa’s credentials for administering the Territory than in the actual practice thereof.

  • 37 PMC, 1931, p. 54.

29The book, incidently still in print, also served to smokescreen answers to nagging questions. Sometimes though this strategy did not work as when the indomitable Norwegian, the sole female member of the PMC, Valentine Dannevig asked a question concerning the situation of native women, and the Representative, Eric Louw, referred her to The Native Tribes. If after reading it, she “wished for further information in the next report, perhaps she could request it from the permanent SA representative.” Dannevig replied that she had read the book but it said nothing about the status of native women.37

30So how must the book be contextualized, and what does it not say? Even a cursory reading reveals that is written in the “Antiquarian Tradition” and that its chief purpose was to justify Administration policy. Clearly these were the ethnic groups local Europeans thought significant: Ovambo because they were the most numerous and an important source of labor, Herero and Nama because of their reputation for confronting the German colonial regime and the few thousand Bushmen who were believed to be on the verge of extinction and defined by science as valuable. The book ignores a number of people who would later be accorded distinct ethnic group labels like those living on the Kavango River and in the Kaokoveld as well as sizeable minorities such as the Tswana and the Colored and Rehoboth Basters (“troublesome” petitioners to the League). Consider Hahn’s conclusion regarding the Ovambo:

  • 38 Hahn, 1928, p. 36.

Most of the customs […] in this brief report are no longer observed to their full extent among any of the tribes. The more revolting among them, such as those which led to an unnecessary and cruel sacrifice of human life […], have fortunately disappeared entirely owing to the gradual enlightenment of the native mind under European influence […]. Contentment and happiness are steadily taking the place of the constant fear for life and property under which the people lived until recently under tribal regime.38

31Regarding the Berg Damara, Vedder concluded:

  • 39 Vedder Heinrich, 1928a, p. 77.

Being used to subservience the Berg Damara is happiest when under a firm hand, which rules his daily conduct and nips sudden desires for insubordination and impertinence in the bud.39

  • 40 Vedder Heinrich, 1928b, p. 148.

32The Hottentots (Nama or Khoikhoi) were “children of the moment” who had been corrupted by the alcohol trade. While they now had many opportunities to work they were unwilling since they were averse and unaccustomed to “continual exertion.” Rhenish missionaries were trying to remedy the situation: “Only we must not expect too much. A nomadic tribe cannot be changed to a civilized nation within the short period of one century futile!” is his concluding paragraph.40 The Catholic missionaries are written out despite the fact that they had played an important, if failed role, as mediators in the Bondelzwarts affair and that most Nama were an impoverished rural proletariat. Also ignored were analyses by scholars like A. Winifred Hoernlé soon to become a major figure in Southern African anthropology. Indeed, one must ask why Hoernlé was not invited to do that particular chapter as her research had been sponsored by the Administration.

33Vedder’s conclusion in his chapter on the Herero is again a striking apology for Administration policy:

  • 41 Vedder Heinrich, 1928c, p. 208.

If the proud Hereros can be successfully brought so far as to become reconciled to the course of historical events […] they will certainly be called to take one of the foremost positions among the nations of South West. But if they haughtily decline the opportunities offered them for developing and working themselves up and persist in wishing to live an isolated life, […] (and) will end in their digging their own national grave.41

  • 42 Gordon, 2009, pp. 29‑58.

34Fourie’s Bushmen, on the other hand, lived in an ahistoric never‑never land of splendid isolation. They do not even have neighbors to interact with. That they had been victims of genocide barely ten years earlier is not even mentioned.42 Similarly, the photographs included are telling. There are some anthropometric portraits to signal the scientific credence of the project, while Hahn’s photographs seem to deliberately ignore evidence of Western commodification. Examining what was left unsaid in this Handbook enables one to develop insights into the construction of “local expert knowledge.”

35Aware of Smuts’ interest and sponsorship in matters anthropological, it is not surprising that scholarly entrepreneurs saw an opportunity. First into the starting gates was Dr Louis Peringuey of the South African Museum who managed to extract the then princely sum of 1000 pounds from the Administration in 1920 to make models of Bushmen and have Dorothea Bleek undertake a simultaneous study of the Bushmen in the Gobabis District all justified in the belief that they were scientifically valuable and sliding into extinction. In making this grant, Herbst also insisted, that:

  • 43 NAN, A198/3, Museums and Scientific Research, 15th September 1920.

Up to the present few of the officials have shown any special interest in anthropological questions and those who have done so have not had the necessary guidance. Research would receive a great impetus if during your intended visit some organization or society for the study of native races and allied subjects could be inaugurated at Windhuk.43

36The key local contact was Dr Louis Fourie, an ardent Anglophile physician who had come into the Territory in 1916 as part of the military forces and had stayed on as Medical Officer for the Territory. As a senior Administration official his network and close friends tended to be of a similar background and included the trio of Native Affairs officials, Manning, Hahn and Eedes. They were all English‑speaking and tended towards being relatively liberal (at least in the South African context). Fourie was an active proponent of developing local expert knowledge and was instrumental in founding the South West Africa Scientific Society and being elected its first President in 1926. A keen amateur ethnologist, Fourie was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and encouraged his friend, Cocky Hahn, to join as well.

  • 44 Carstens, Klinghardt & West, 1987, p. 109.

37Undoubtedly the research visit by Winifred Hoernlé had much to do with this waning. Hoernlé had done some pioneering research among the Nama before the Great War and had then spent five years in the United States before returning to Johannesburg in 1920 where she had rapidly established her scholarly and liberal credentials. Invited by the Administration, who provided transport and supplies, to do a restudy of the Nama, (of whom the troublesome Bondelzwarts were members) she arrived in Windhoek just before Christmas and was met at the station by a delegation of note‑worthies: Waters, Crown Prosecutor and Acting Secretary for the Territory, Dr. Fourie, who was in charge of her expedition and probably the instigator of her invitation, as well as Cope, the District Native Affairs Officer, and Bowker, the Windhoek Location Superintendent. She spent three weeks in Windhoek and judging from her Field Diaries was given an earful by these officials. The chief difficulty lay with the Land Board, which was tasked with allocating land (to White settlers). Board members were political appointments and engaged in land‑grabbing for friends. While land had been set aside for reserves, a good deal of it was “absolutely unsuitable.” The Land Board and the new Afrikaner settlers were at the root of the problem as they baulked at all attempts by the Native Affairs Department to do anything for Natives. Indeed Cope had gone up country when the Bondelzwarts Commission had visited Windhoek because his evidence would have been critical of the Administration and would thus have placed him in an intolerable position.44

  • 45 NAN, A198/3/4, Museums and Scientific Research ‘Anthropological Research: Mrs Hoernlé’, 23rd May 1 (...)
  • 46 NAN, A198/3/4, Museums and Scientific Research ‘Anthropological Research: Mrs Hoernlé’, 30 June 19 (...)

38In a carefully prepared preliminary fieldwork report to the Secretary for South West Africa, Hoernlé drew attention to the pitiful conditions Nama found themselves in. The situation in Windhoek was “entirely artificial,” a “tragedy” with “tribal structure breaking down.” She thanked the Administration profusely for their assistance and hoped that they would fund a follow‑up expedition so that she could complete a monograph on the Nama. After reading it, Hofmeyr noted in the margins to Herbst: “I find little results in this report from the point of view of anthropological research. Much useful time seems to have been spent in listening to […] misgivings with administration defects which is the function of our NA Dept. At the same time we should thank Mrs Hoernlé.” She was thus duly thanked for “drawing attention to the complaints which were advanced by the Hottentots against the Administration, but it is assumed, of course, that your report for publication will confine itself strictly to the results of your research work.”45 To which she replied that her “preliminary report was private and gave the state of mind of the various tribes, as I thought it might be of interest, but I have no intention of going into this detail in the Monograph.”46

  • 47 PMC, 1928, p. 59.
  • 48 PMC, 1935, p. 162.

39Clearly the politics of embarrassment were a significant factor especially when coupled to the changing political climate. In June 1924 the Smuts government in South Africa fell, to be replaced by a Nationalist/Labor Party coalition. The Nationalists who had been distinctly silent during the Labor Party evisceration of Hofmeyr kept him on as Administrator for another two years because he made an ideal servant of power and oversaw the barrage of legislation that framed segregation in the Territory. They then appointed their own man, A. J. Werth, a journalist, who prioritized Afrikaner interests, spoke only Afrikaans, and insisted that official correspondence be written in that language. When in 1928 Werth emphasized the “great harm…done to the native in the past through misguided efforts at kindness,”47 he was not only trying to negate liberal arguments internationally but also put down the “liberals” in his Administration. Werth’s successor as Administrator, another Nationalist hack, D. G. Conradie, echoed his predecessor by claiming that policy was “based on an unbroken experience, amplified by daily contact and intimate personal study, over a period of 250 years in South Africa.”48

  • 49 South Africa, Government, 1936, p. 75.
  • 50 NAN, SWAA 3151 A427/ visits to SWA, Courtney‑Clarke Memorandum, 12th August 1936.
  • 51 Ibid.
  • 52 NAN, SWAA 3151 A427/ visits to SWA, Courtney‑Clarke Memorandum, 12th August 1936. Surprisingly the (...)

40In what was regarded as a South African coup, the Marquis Theodoli a prominent conservative member of the PMC, was feted by the Administration onan all‑expenses paid “private” reconnaissance and hunting trip. At the same time, the van Zyl Commission on the Territory’s constitution was visiting the Territory and while its brief was largely concerned with the European segment it felt obliged to note that the Administration was “always disinclined to be too liberal with appropriations for services peculiarly in the interests of the natives” and lacked the requisite expertise in Native Affairs and thus that the South African Department of Native Affairs take over this function.49 In short, it was echoing arguments made at the PMC and produced a strong denial from the Secretary for South West Africa, F. P. Courtney‑Clarke. “It is well known that natives seldom make verbal protestations of gratitude and such feeling when it is present is shown them in their actions. As remarked by one Native Affairs officer [...] When a native expressed gratitude to him for anything he immediately awaited a request from him for something to which he was not entitled.”50 Successful native administration, Courtney‑Clarke continued, depended on the “personal touch” and it was obvious that the local Administrator would be better qualified than distant officials in Pretoria. Current officers were better acquainted with local problems through long residence in the Territory and thus better able to gauge and meet the needs of Natives. While it was “a cardinal point of wise administration to pay due regard wherever possible to the beliefs, prejudice and established customs of the governed,”51 the mandate did not require a full‑time ethnologist because there were few distinct tribes and considerable “overlapping.” The Commission’s suggestions that more funding should be made available for education would be disastrous because it should follow economic rehabilitation of the Native. The reserve policy was itself educational as they were being taught that they had to build their own economic life in the reserves and that “service with Europeans and on the mines was itself a form of education,” indeed Courtney‑Clarke averred the mines were a more important educational factor than missionaries. More expenditure for Native administration and development was undesirable since Indigenes had to be taught to realize they must pay for their own development and that progress depended on their own efforts. He proudly claimed that revenue collection from natives more than covered the overhead cost of native administration. In short, the colonized paid the costs of their own colonization.52


  • 53 Cited in Peberdy, 2011, p. 6.

41To be sure as a newly independent entity South Africa sought credibility in the international arena. Not only had Smuts played a key role in founding the League of Nations but even his successor as Prime Minister, the avowedly nationalistic General Hertzog, kept the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. One of the most important theatres where South Africa sought to maintain/retain credibility was in the protocol bound and highly scripted formal hearings of the PMC. This was a stage on which petty politicians and officials could grandstand to impress not only the immediate audience but also those back at home. In this focused interactional setting, the Accredited Representatives and their advisors “would come to the table” to have their Annual Reports examined by the PMC. It was not a situation without its challenges. Eric Louw, accredited Representative to the League of Nations and later long‑time Minister for Foreign Affairs, summed up his personal philosophy of diplomacy: “1. ‘There are more ways of killing a cat than by drowning it;’ 2. ‘The end justifies the means;’ 3. ‘An ambassador is sent abroad to lie for the good of his country.’”53 The tightly scripted ceremonial interaction in the daily life of the Territory between indigene and settler promoted the social production of ignorance. Fear of appearing to be ignorant or ridiculous led to the extended use of experts to lend credibility to claims in these hearings. Experts were an intrinsic part of the policy of display, trying to create the impression that they knew what they were doing and were not ridiculous. Yet the harder they tried, the more ridiculous they became.

  • 54 Coetzee, 1988.
  • 55 Coetzee, 1988, p. 25.

42The Administration’s claims to expertise and their demonstration of it, was monotonously repetitive, and had deep roots historically. Its pre‑terrain has been well‑documented in South Africa where the ethnographic discourse of the lazy or idle Native was the dominant trope among travelers and visiting scientists.54 These early accounts situated “natives” within the extant discourses of wicked, lazy vs. diligent and civilized and framed state policy. As Steinmetz55 argues, the expertise on which “native affairs” blueprints were based, were to be found not so much in official ministries as in, pre‑colonial ethnographic discourses emanating from the scholar’s study and the tales of adventurers. Intra‑elite competition undergirded by larger political considerations largely ensured that accented variations on this discourse (as per Hoernlé and the other liberals) was largely rendered tone‑deaf facilitated by the ease in which it was possible to revert to this discourse rather than to try to develop a novel one, especially since effective sovereignty lay not with the League of Nations or even South Africa but with the proverbial “man on the spot,” for no matter how one might characterize colonialism, ultimately it amounted to decentralized despotism.

  • 56 Edelman, 1988.

43At the same time while the South Africans were putting up smokescreens to avoid the system of surveillance, they were amenable, to paraphrase Alexander Leighton, to using expertise like a drunk uses a lamp‑post, for support rather than illumination. The emphasis on the instrumentality of expertise diverted attention from the contradictions inherent in it. In particular the cultural and attendant moral meanings of this expertise have been ignored. “Native” expertise was more important on a symbolic level for the settlers than a crass instrumentalist interpretation would allow. There were important contradictions between agency and structures in this process of internal pacification, not only of the colonized but equally important, of the colonizers as well. The rhetoric inherent in expertise not only regulates socio‑cultural life, it represents it as well. As an ideology, “Native Affairs” expertise contributed to the social construction of the social world by creating images of social relationships as natural and fair to the settlers. The actions of Experts can be treated as political constructions in two senses. First, their language and actions created their sense of who they were. Second, as Edelman56 points out, they are symbols to other observers, emblemizing values, moral stances and ideologies. What makes their performances blatantly ridiculous was that no one in the Imperial Old Boys Club—the PMC—seriously challenged their accounts. But in performing this Expertise, could the Experts also have been deluding themselves?

44As Goffman noted many years ago:

  • 57 Goffman, 1959, pp. 80‑81.

A performer may be taken in by his own act, convinced at the moment that the impression of reality which he fosters is the one and only reality. In such cases the performer comes to be his own audience; he comes to be performer and observer of the same show. Presumably he intracepts or incorporates the standards he attempts to maintain in the presence of others so that his conscience requires him to act in a socially proper way. It will have been necessary for the individual in his performing capacity to conceal from himself in his audience capacity the discreditable facts he has had to learn about the performance; in everyday terms, there will be things he knows, or has known, that he will not be able to tell himself.57

  • 58 Hailey, 1946.

45In 1946 Lord Hailey, erstwhile member of the PMC and author of the famed and influential Africa Survey, visited the Territory. While his public talks were sympathetic to the South African administration and used to buttress its claims to incorporate the Territory into South Africa, his 140‑page plus report58 was never published and is indeed hard to locate but it is clear that, even written in the careful diplomatic language of the era, was condemnatory, of the Administration’s attempts at native administration. It is not hard to speculate why this Report was never published by South Africa. Reality had finally punctured the delusions of the local Native experts.



Fourie Louis, 1928, “The Bushmen” in Hahn Carl H.L., Vedder Heinrich & Fourie Louis, The Native Tribes of South West Africa, Cape Times, Cape Town, pp. 79‑105.

Hahn Carl H.L., 1928, “The Ovambo” in Hahn Carl H.L., Vedder Heinrich & Fourie Louis, The Native Tribes of South West Africa, Cape Times, Cape Town, pp. 1‑36.

Hailey Lord Malcolm, 1946, A Survey of Native Affairs in South West Africa, Unpublished manuscript available at National Archives of Namibia.

Loram Charles T., 1917, The Education of the South African Native, Longmans, London, 376 p.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1922, Minutes of the Second Session, League of Nations.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1923, Minutes of the Third Session, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1923a, Report of the Bondelszwarts Rebellion, A.47.1923 VI, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1924, Minutes of the Fourth Session, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1925, Minutes of the Sixth Session, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1926, Minutes of the Ninth Session, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1927, Minutes of 11th Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1928, Minutes of the 14th Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1929, Minutes of the 15th Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1931, Minutes of the 20th Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1933, Minutes of the 23rd Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1935, Minutes of the 27th Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

PMC, Permanent Mandates Commission, 1938, Minutes of the 34th Meeting, League of Nations, Geneva.

South Africa, Government, 1923 Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the Rebellion of the Bondelzwarts, (U.G. 16—’23), Government Printer, Pretoria.

South Africa, Government, 1926, Report of the Government of the Union of South Africa to the League of Nations Council concerning the Administration of South‑west Africa, Government Printer, Pretoria.

Vedder Heinrich, 1928a, “The Berg Damara” in Hahn Carl H.L., Vedder Heinrich & Fourie Louis, The Native Tribes of South West Africa, Cape Times, Cape Town, pp. 39‑78.

Vedder Heinrich, 1928b, “The Nama” in Hahn Carl H.L., Vedder Heinrich & Fourie Louis, The Native Tribes of South West Africa, Cape Times, Cape Town, pp. 109‑152.

Vedder Heinrich, 1928c, “The Herero” in Hahn Carl H.L., Vedder Heinrich & Fourie Louis, The Native Tribes of South West Africa, Cape Times, Cape Town, pp. 153‑211.

Walton Edgar, 1923, Comments of the Accredited Representative of the Union of South Africa on the Commission’s Report on the Bondelzwarts Rebellion, A.48. 1923 VI, League of Nations, Geneva.

Wilson Woodrow, 1919, Addresses Of President Wilson, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.


NAN, National Archives of Namibia, A198/3, Museums and Scientific Research 15th September 1920

NAN, National Archives of Namibia, A198/3/1, Museums and Scientific Res. Report on Anthropological Research by D.F. Bleek, 27th December 1922

NAN, National Archives of Namibia, A198/3/4, Museums and Scientific Research Anthropological Research: Mrs Hoernle, 23rd May 1923 30th June 1923

NAN, National Archives of Namibia, A198/3/5 Museums and Scientific Research Anthropological Research. Wits University. 6th June 1923


Cape Argus, 4th October 1923.

Cape Times, 22nd & 23rd May 1923

Sunday Times, 21st May 1922

Windhoek Advertiser, 3rd January 1925


Carstens Peter, Klinghardt Geoffrey & West Martin, 1987, Trails in the Thirstland: The Anthropological Diaries of Winifred Hoernlé, Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 198 p.

Cockram Gayle‑Maryse, 1976, South West African Mandate, Juta, Cape Town, 531 p.

Coetzee John M., 1988, “Idleness in South Africa” in White Writing: On the Culture of letters in South Africa, Yale University Press, New Haven, 193 p.

Edelman Murray, 1988, Creating the Political Spectacle, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 142 p.

Goffman Erving, 1959, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Anchor, New York, 255 p.

Goldblatt Israel, 1971, History of South West Africa, Juta, Cape Town, 273 p.

Gordon Robert J., 2009, “’Hiding in Full view’: The Forgotten Bushman Genocides in Namibia” in Genocide Studies & Prevention, vol. 4, pp. 29‑58.

Mallory Charles S., 1971, Some Aspects of the Mission Policy and Practice of the Church of the Province of South Africa in Ovamboland, MA thesis, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 301 p.

Peberdy Sally, 2011, Selecting Immigrants: National Identity and South Africa’s Immigration Policies 1910‑2005, Wits University Press, Johannesburg, 240 p.

Rutherford Danilyn, 2012, Laughing at Leviathan, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 301 p.

Steinmetz George, 2008, The Devil’s Handwriting, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 608 p.


1 Rutherford, 2012.

2 Steinmetz, 2008.

3 Wilson, 1919, p. 73.

4 Cockram, 1976, p. 113.

5 Goldblatt, 1971, p. 216.

6 PMC, 1922.

7 Loram, 1917.

8 South Africa, Government, 1923, p. 27.

9 South Africa, Government, 1923, p. 33.

10 Ibid., p. 30.

11 Cited in Loram, 1917, p. 155.

12 Cape Times, 23rd May 1923.

13 PMC, 1923, p. 62.

14 Cape Times, 22nd May 1923.

15 PMC, 1923a, p. 129.

16 Ibid., p. 129.

17 Ibid., p. 132.

18 Ibid., pp. 135‑136.

19 Ibid., p. 5.

20 Walton, 1923, p. 2.

21 Walton, 1923, p. 2.

22 Ibid.

23 PMC, 1924, p. 55.

24 Cape Argus, 4th October 1923.

25 South Africa, Government, 1926, p. 98.

26 PMC, 1923, p. 48.

27 Cockram, 1976, p. 127.

28 PMC, 1938, p. 77.

29 Sunday Times, 21st May 1922.

30 Cited in Cockram, 1967, p. 141.

31 PMC, 1923, p. 127.

32 Ibid., pp. 186‑187.

33 Mallory, 1971, pp. 29‑30. Indeed, the nature of expertise lay imbricated in everyday ceremonialism. The colonial situation calls forth exaggerated etiquette by both colonizer and colonized.

34 PMC, 1928, p. 58.

35 Ibid., p. 90.

36 Hahn, Vedder & Fourie, 1928. Notice how their credibility is enhanced by including their awards.

37 PMC, 1931, p. 54.

38 Hahn, 1928, p. 36.

39 Vedder Heinrich, 1928a, p. 77.

40 Vedder Heinrich, 1928b, p. 148.

41 Vedder Heinrich, 1928c, p. 208.

42 Gordon, 2009, pp. 29‑58.

43 NAN, A198/3, Museums and Scientific Research, 15th September 1920.

44 Carstens, Klinghardt & West, 1987, p. 109.

45 NAN, A198/3/4, Museums and Scientific Research ‘Anthropological Research: Mrs Hoernlé’, 23rd May 1923.

46 NAN, A198/3/4, Museums and Scientific Research ‘Anthropological Research: Mrs Hoernlé’, 30 June 1923.

47 PMC, 1928, p. 59.

48 PMC, 1935, p. 162.

49 South Africa, Government, 1936, p. 75.

50 NAN, SWAA 3151 A427/ visits to SWA, Courtney‑Clarke Memorandum, 12th August 1936.

51 Ibid.

52 NAN, SWAA 3151 A427/ visits to SWA, Courtney‑Clarke Memorandum, 12th August 1936. Surprisingly the PMC did not pick up on this significant difference of opinion.

53 Cited in Peberdy, 2011, p. 6.

54 Coetzee, 1988.

55 Coetzee, 1988, p. 25.

56 Edelman, 1988.

57 Goffman, 1959, pp. 80‑81.

58 Hailey, 1946.

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