The ‘forgotten’ German graves in Nakonde

LLOYD Siame visits the tombstone of Major Heinrich Von Berg at Old Fife in Nakonde. PICTURE: BRIAN MALAMA

UNKNOWN to many people, Nakonde, in the north, which borders Tanzania, is home to the remains of five German soldiers who fought in the First World War.
The soldiers are buried in a protected national heritage site called Old Fife on the old Malawi road in Katozi ward, three kilometres from the BOMA and the Great North Road.
The more than 100 year old grave site now lies in ruins, though it is a national heritage.
Among those who were until recently unaware of this historical site is Nakonde District Commissioner Field Simwinga.
The only significant mark is a black marble tombstone covering Major Heinrich Von Berg’s grave, which appears to have been recently replaced by his family.
The rest of the tombstones were made of burnt bricks and are now in a state of disrepair, and are destined to disappear from significance.
Old Fife is a sorry site and does not represent the status of a national monument.
Lloyd Siame, a retired civil servant, recommends a complete take over by the National Heritage and Conservation Commission (NHCC).
The site can attain tourism significance because of its rich history, which is absent from our history text books at both college and primary school levels.
“We do get German nationals who come over to visit the graves of their forefathers. But Zambia can do better in preservation of history.” Mr Siame suggests.
James Sichinga, a cross border trader, observes that no-one has ever explained the significance of the burial site.
“The only thing I know about this place is its name Fife. I also know that 500 metres from here lies a big trench where soldiers used to hide. The other thing is this same place was a centre for shipment of slaves from Blanytre, Malawi, to Mpulungu.” Mr Sichinga recounted.
During the First World War, the British and the German troops waged fierce battles at the border town in defence of territorial boundaries between Zambia and Tanzania.
The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions, which started in German East Africa and spread to portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda and the Belgian Congo.
The campaign ended in November 1917 with the British triumphing and claiming Northern Rhodesia, now called Zambia.
German troops and Africans who fought in the war perished at the hands of the British soldiers. For most of them, their remains cannot be traced now.
Only the five German soldiers have had their burial site preserved for over a century on the Zambia soil.
History has it that the strategy of the German colonial forces, led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, was to divert forces from the Western Front to Africa.
His strategy achieved only mixed results after 1916, when he was driven out of German East Africa and Allied Forces took over Southern African, Indian and other colonies.
Teddy Chilambwe, a business man at Nakonde who offered himself as a tour guide, narrates how the British and the German soldiers battled for territory between Tunduma and Nakonde.
“The British forces set up a command post at Fife in Katozi while a spying tower was erected in Mwenzo at a mission operated by the United Church of Scotland by 1914,” Mr Chilambwe explained.
According to oral history, the British Empire under King George V and its Allied Forces, France and Russia possessed superior military might over other forces.
“We are told that the British regiment had constructed a tunnel between Nakonde and Mwenzo. In that tunnel was a long cable which was used to alert the military police at Fife when the Germans approached the border between Tanzania and Zambia,” Mr Chilambwe said.
Mr Chilambwe further explained that Tunduma came about following several blood baths which saw scores of German troops mercilessly decapitated.
“Tunduma in Namwanga means a chilling experience which came about as a result of the fierce wars that took place here in defence of Northern Rhodesia against the Germans or to stop them from crossing into what is now Zambia,” Mr Chilambwe narrated.
The war raged on until November 14, 1918, when word of the armistice came, making the Germans surrender the following day.
There is also a narrative which suggests that all British fortresses from Isoka through Chinsali, Serenje, to Mkushi were set up at a reasonable distance from the Great North Road to keep away Germany and its allied forces’ attacks.
NHCC regional director Billiard Lishiko states that the German war graves are a national monument.
Going by the state of disrepair and absence of a curator at the monument, there is need to do more to bring the site up to standard.

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