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Curt von Francois – Time to Go

Namibians are calling for the removal of the Curt von François statue in Independence Avenue. See the petition on the issue here –

Von François is most notoriously known for carrying out the 1893 Hoornkrans Massacre in which mainly women and children were killed.

In 2015 Swanu President Usutuaije Maamberua called for the statue of Curt von François to be removed. He said in the National Assembly that the statue was an “an abomination” that should be removed because it celebrated colonial atrocities against Namibians.

Curt Von François Street in Windhoek was renamed Sam Nujoma Avenue in 1993. However, the Von François statue has remained standing in Independence Avenue.

Curt von François was born in Luxembourg in 1852. From 1891 to 1894 he acted as Landeshauptmann (head of government of a province) in the German colony of South West Africa.

Von François was a soldier by trade. He first served in the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, for which he was awarded the Iron Cross. After the war, he studied geography and cartography. In 1883, he worked as a geographer during an expedition to the Congo led by Hermann Wissman. Wissman was known for atrocities committed against the local population. Historians have concluded that von François was a mercenary hired by Leopold II, King of Belgium in the Congo.

In 1888, Von François was sent by the German authorities to the Upper Volta region of West Africa. He later wrote a book about his experiences, ironically denouncing the use of force in the establishment of German colonies.

German South West Africa

Von François arrived in Namibia in 1889 — a time when German power was largely illusory. The Herero were discontented with the protection treaties they had signed with the Germans, and in southern Namibia Hendrik Witbooi was consolidating his power. Von François was accompanied by a force of 21 men whose instructions were to remove Robert Lewis — a British trader believed to be conspiring with the Herero against the Germans —from South West Africa. They were instructed not to come into conflict with the Herero or other Africans.

Von François, however, antagonised the Herero at Otjimbingwe by establishing a base (and a fort, the Wilhelmsfeste) at Tsaobis without their permission, from which he tried to control trade from Walvis Bay. From this position, Von François did impound wagons belonging to Robert Lewis in accordance with his instructions from Germany. He also, however, prevented arms being imported into the territory and sold to the Herero. He thus put himself in a precarious situation between the Herero and the Nama, which led Germany to send reinforcements in 1889.

In response to the embargo on arms and ammunition, the Herero instituted a blockade around Tsaobis. The threat posed by Hendrik Witbooi, however, led to the withdrawal of Herero troops. In 1890, the Herero signed a new protection treaty with the Germans. Von François consequently wrote to Witbooi to demand peace on behalf of the Herero, but Witbooi’s forces were at that point vastly superior and continued to raid cattle stations.

In 1890, Curt von François undertook several trips to survey and map the territory of German South West Africa. In mid-October of that year, Von François moved the German Schutztruppe (German colonial forces) headquarters from Tsaobis to Windhoek, where he built the fort now known as the Alte Feste.

Von Francois did not found Windhoek as is often claimed as Jonker Afrikaner and his people had first settled in the Klein Windhoek valley in around 1840.

In 1891, Von François replaced Heinrich Goering as imperial commissioner of German South West Africa. In 1892, he established Swakopmund as the main harbour for German South West Africa. Von François was also responsible for the first attempts to prevent racial mixing. He threatened to withhold the right to free land in the colony from soldiers who co-habited with African women.

Von François was also involved in the ascendancy of Samuel Maharero, the Herero Paramount Chief who later led the Herero anti-colonial wars. Upon the death of his father, Samuel Maharero wrote to Von François to ask for his assistance. Eventually, in August 1891 Von François sent his brother Hugo to Okahandja to inform Maharero that the German Imperial government recognised him as the paramount chief of the Herero.

In 1893, Von François was promoted to major and given the title of Landeshauptmann.

Hoornkrans Massacre

The German colonial authorities worried about the independence of the Witboois and their rejection of German ‘protection.’ They were further concerned by Hendrik Witbooi and Samuel Maharero entering into negotiations for peace in 1892, which posed a threat to Germany’s control of the territory.

Under the leadership of Von François, 200 German soldiers attacked Witbooi’s headquarters at Hoornkrans on 12 April 1893. Some 80 people were killed, mostly women and children. This prompted Witbooi’s guerrilla campaign against the Germans, which held Von François’s forces at bay for seven months. Witbooi particularly focused his efforts on von François’s garrison. After several unsuccessful offensives against Witbooi, the Reichstag in Germany began to demand the removal of Von François.

In 1894, he was dismissed for his inability to deal with Witbooi and replaced by Theodor Leutwein. Von François left German South West Africa in 1895. He died near Berlin in 1931 at the age of 79.

The bronze statue depicting Von Francois was unveiled in the then Kaiserstrasse (now renamed Independence Avenue) in the centre of Windhoek in 1965 to mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of colonial Windhoek.

Further reading

History of Namibia: From the Beginning to 1990 by Marion Wallace (Hurst, 2011)

The Kaiser’s Holocaust by David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen (Faber, 2010)

S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science –

16 June 2020