Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
ZAJAS, Pawel. German paths in the Hague. Johannes Visscher and the "südafrikanische Propaganda" during World War I. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.1, pp. 15-33. ISSN 2224-7912. http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2015/V55N1A2.
On August 3rd and 4th, when the German Empire declared the state of war with France and the UK, German diplomatic services expressed their concern for the fate of the white inhabitants of the colonies and suggested that its overseas dominions should remain neutral. Nevertheless, Germany was inconsistent in this respect, and hoped for extending its colonial possessions in the new political situation. Moreover, the colonial aspirations of Britain left no illusions as to the possibility of peace preservation in the colonies. The modest German military powers in the overseas dominions involved the Schutztruppe or police divisions which mostly comprised coloured soldiers and were not designed for warfare. German South-West Africa, which constitutes the central reference point for this paper, was equally poorly prepared for military defence. German authorities believed that the Boers, minding the consequences of the Second Boer War, would refuse to join the Entente. However, when on July 7th 1914, the British government requested general Louis Botha to take over the German radio transmitters in Lüderitz and Swakopmund, Botha concurred. The attack launched by the South African army inevitably led to the surrender of the Germans. Indeed, the German forces, unable to withhold the attack any longer, surrendered on July 9th 1915. The government in Berlin realised that winning South West Africa back, might prove impossible, regardless of the course of war in Europe. By the same token, the future of the German diamond companies, united in a consortium called Diamantenregie since 1909, depended on the developing political constellation in the Union of South Africa. Since 1915, German authorities have launched a subtle diplomatic game aimed at winning the support of the South African elites and the public opinion of the country. The neutral Netherlands were the main stage of this longterm post-war policy. Due to the historical connections to South Africa, the Netherlands played an important role as a cultural and political mediator. Some members of the Dutch elites - writers, journalists, politicians - still held the pro-Boer and anti-English position when WWI broke out. This position encouraged the involvement of the Dutch elites in the German incentives regarding cultural propaganda. Such actions were designed to foster a positive image of Germany as a natural ally of the Boers. This was achieved by supporting the Afrikaner circles which were negative about the policy of Botha and Smuts, underlining the independence of the Boer republics and emphasising the significant role of the Afrikaans language (as a counterbalance for English). Altogether, this was designed to serve as a fruitful basis for the post-war relations between Germany and South Africa. This paper offers insights into the so far unpublished correspondence of the main actors of the contemporaryfield of German cultural propaganda (Kultur- und Kunstpropaganda). The main person under investigation is Johannes Visscher, a Dutch journalist and expert on South Africa. As editor of the journal Hollandsch Zuid-Afrika, published by Nederlandsch Zuid-Afrikaansche Vereniging (NZAV), Visscher was employed by the German diplomatic services in the years 1915-1918. As part of the activities financed by Reichskolonialamt, Visscher shaped the image of Germany in the South African press and the pro-German image of South Africa in the Dutch press.
Keywords : WWI; cultural propaganda; South Africa; cultural transfer; Johannes Visscher; German South-West Africa; Hollandsch Zuid-Afrika; Nederlandsch Zuid-Afrikaansche Vereniging.