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Deneys Reitz in WWI/ The Maritz Rebellion. February 14, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, World War One.
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Jan Kemp, unknown rebel, Manie Maritz at Keetmanshoop in "German West"

This is the third part of a series that starts here and alternates with other posts.

Men on horseback, rifles ready, seen against the skyline.  Vast slants of veld, faint tracks that cross the pass and angle down to ford the river.  Railroad lines torn up by saboteurs.

We could easily be talking about the Boer War, but it is 1914, and this is the Maritz Rebellion.  Twelve years have passed since the Treaty of Vereeniging—a strange and vicious war is raging, far away in Europe—old Boer stalwarts sniff an opportunity.  Any setback for “the English” just had to be good news, especially if it came at the hands of Germany, who’d supplied arms and volunteers to help them in the 1899-1902 war.

Soon after declaring war on Germany, the British government asked Prime Minister Louis Botha if the Union of South Africa would be willing to invade its German neighbor, South West Africa (now Namibia)—sometimes called “German West” to distinguish it from “German East” (now Tanzania).  Botha said yes.  But the opposition party protested.  They feared this might be unwise: if Germany won the war in Europe, things could go hard for South Africa.  That was the argument, anyway.  The real objection was that fighting on behalf of England seemed an utter travesty.  Nevertheless, Botha had enough support among citizens of English descent and mainly Transvaalers (not Free Staters) that the plan was voted through in parliament.

General Christiaan Beyers, commander-in-chief of South African forces, promptly resigned.  But Jan Smuts, who held the post of defense minister at the time, ordered troops to the border.  As it happened, the man in charge of forces closest to “German West” was Manie Maritz.

Maritz was notorious.  Reitz had known him since the days both had fought under Smuts in the western Cape.  His extreme physical strength, his sentimentality, and his short temper made the subject of many anecdotes.  In March 1902, at the mission station of Leliefontein in the Namaqualand desert, Reitz and other members of Smuts’ staff had encountered the grisly remains of a massacre—20 or 30 dead Namaqualanders, killed (they soon learned) by Maritz and a few of his men.  The “natives” had dared to side with the British, and Maritz had done his best to wipe them out.

Namaqualand---arid with a brief season of spectacular bloom

Oddly enough, Reitz had run into Maritz again in Madagascar.  Several months after he settled there, Maritz arrived in a blare of publicity.  A millionaire madman named Lebaudy had hired him to acquire land in Madagascar that was to become part of a new pan-African empire with Lebaudy on the throne.  Maritz lost no time in spending Lebaudy’s money, throwing lavish parties for the white community, buying gramophones and motorcycles (both novelties on the island).

Contemporary cartoon of Jacques Lebaudy

Maritz left Madagascar at nearly the same time Reitz did—Lebaudy had inconveniently stopped wiring funds—and put in some time adding to his hyper-racist resume by helping the Germans in “German West” in their campaign to eradicate the Hereros.  It was an especially brutal program even by the standards of colonial African history.

So now Maritz had a commando of 1000 men at a place called Van Rooyensvlei, little more than a well on the bank of a dry riverbed, 24 miles west of Upington in what is now the northern Cape.  On October 9, with armed German troops arranged carefully in the background, he gathered his men and told them to choose between allying with the Germans or going into a German prison camp.  The Germans had promised to aid them in realizing “the long-cherished ideal of a Free and Independent South Africa,” Maritz assured the gathering.  Reitz’s brother Joubert was among those who opted for prison.

Other Boer leaders were riding hither and thither across the country, busily gathering rebel forces.  They were going to fight their own government!  A government that had, in their view, sadly lost sight of all the old ideals.  On October 14, Botha declared martial law.  Support for the rebellion was especially strong in the Free State, where the population remained fiercely loyal to the war hero Christiaan De Wet.  The main rebel leaders were De Wet, Maritz, Beyers, and Kemp—all famous from the war against England.

Reitz was practicing law in Heilbron in the Free State, where nearly every citizen other than himself supported the rebellion.

(To be continued)

Forest of quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) near Keetmanshoop



1. Jack van Biljon - September 2, 2010

I need a family tree of Gen.Maritz. His son was embraced by Hitler and was also a Gen in the AWB, and a great wrestler

Jenny - September 2, 2010

Hi Jack, I don’t have a lot of info about Manie Maritz’s family. What I know about him really just has to do with the times he encountered Deneys Reitz, and I don’t have much beyond that. You can probably find out about his family on the internet.

Anlie Maritz - November 2, 2010

Hi Jack, my name is Anlie Maritz. My husband is the grandson of Manie Maritz, son of Gen Maritz. His email is mmaritz@mmaccountants.co.za. I hope it will help you. Kind regards. Anlie.

Jenny - November 2, 2010

Thank you for the information.

2. Jack - September 10, 2012

Thank you most kindly, Jenny and Anlie. My grand mother was the sister of Manie Maritz (sen) My grand father van Biljon, my father Carl van Biljon fley against the Germans WW2, groot famielie skande, trou hy ook met ‘n Engelse vrou, nog erger!!

Jenny - September 10, 2012

I’m glad you visited my website.

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