Our own Lord(s) Haw-Haw

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German propaganda broadcaster William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, was hanged after World War II for treason. But did you know that South Africa had their own versions of Lord Haw-Haw?

Last month I did an article titled “Germany Calling...” Part of the article took a look at William Joyce, who was also known as Lord Haw-Haw.

I received an e-mail from Dr Brian Austin with regard to the above article.

It’s interesting to note that South Africa had its own Lord Haw Haws (or should that be Lords Haw Haw?) during the war.  

As you will know, the Ossewabrandwag (OB) was very active in opposing South Africa’s involvement in the war and particularly on the same side as Britain, their sworn enemy.  

At the outbreak of war there were a number of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans in Germany, for one reason or another.

They were soon recruited as broadcasters on Radio Zeesen, a very powerful shortwave transmitter outside Berlin, which had regular Afrikaans-language transmissions to South Africa.

They were listened to by many of the OB’s supporters all across South Africa, often having set up loudspeakers in the trees so that the local people could bring their chairs and sit under the night sky while listening to ‘Neef Holm’ (Erik Holm), ‘Neef Buurman’ (Jan Strauss), ‘Neef Hermanus’ (Michael Pienaar) and ‘Neef Sagie’ (Johannes Snoek).

They broadcast Nazi propaganda and extracts from the speeches of the OB leader, Dr Hans van Rensburg, as well as other ‘kampvuur en ketel’ stories to their South African audience which thought that both the SABC and the BBC were biased against their cause.

After the war they were all arrested and brought back to South Africa to face charges of high treason. Holm, who was the most prominent among them, was sentenced to ten years in jail with the others receiving slightly lesser sentences.

However, in 1948, after the Nationalist government of Dr D F Malan came to power one of their first acts was to release all OB prisoners, including Holm and his co-announcers.

It’s also interesting to note that a particular piece of music called ‘Opsaal Boere’ played an important part during Zeesen’s broadcasts.

It was composed by another OB sympathiser, by the name of Olaf Andresen who had been interned along with many other Germans living in the country, plus numerous Nazi-supporting members of the OB.

The OB adopted ‘Opsaal Boere’ as their anthem and when the Abwehr agent code-named Felix (Lothar Sittig, by name) was transmitting messages by radio, from either Pretoria or Vryburg, to the German consulate in Lourenco Marques - and later direct to Berlin - Zeesen would acknowledge receipt of these messages by playing Opsaal Boere during their Afrikaans transmissions.


Ossewabrandwag

The Ossewabrandwag (OB) (Ox-wagon Sentinel) was an anti-British and pro-German organisation in South Africa during World War II, which opposed South African participation in the war. It was formed in Bloemfontein on 4 February 1939 by pro-German Afrikaners.

During the 19th century, most of the Boers of the northeastern Cape frontier migrated to the interior, and established the Orange Free State and South African Republic, which were independent of Britain. In the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Britain conquered the Boer Republics. The Netherlands (and Germany) supported the Boer cause.

After the war, there was a general reconciliation between Afrikaners and Britain, culminating in the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, under the leadership of former Boer fighters such as Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. South African troops, including thousands of Afrikaners, served in the British forces during World War I.

Nonetheless, many Boers remembered the tactics used by Britain in the Boer War and remained resentful of British rule, even loose association with Britain as a Dominion.

The chief vehicle of Afrikaner nationalism at this time was the “Purified National Party” of D. F. Malan, which broke away from the National Party when the latter merged with Smuts’ South African Party in 1934.

Another important element was the Afrikaner Broederbond, a quasi-secret society founded in 1918, and dedicated to the proposition that “the Afrikaner volk has been planted in this country by the Hand of God...”

1938 was the centennial anniversary of the Great Trek (the migration of Boers to the interior). The Ossewabrandwag was established in commemoration of the Trek. Most of the migrants travelled in ox-drawn wagons, hence the group’s name. The group’s leader was Johannes Van Rensburg, a lawyer who had served as Secretary of Justice under Smuts (as Minister), and was an admirer of Nazi Germany.

The Boer militants of the Ossebrandwag (OB) were hostile to Britain and sympathetic to Germany. Thus the OB opposed South African participation in the war, even after the Union declared war in support of Britain in September 1939. While there were parallels, neither Van Rensburg nor the OB were genuine fascists, according to van den Berghe.

Alexandre Kum’a Ndumbe III, however shows, that OB was “based on the Führer-principle, fighting against the Empire, the capitalists, the communists, the Jews, the party and the system of parliamentarism... on the base of national-socialism” according to a German secret source dated 18 January 1944.

Members of the OB refused to enlist in the South African forces and sometimes harassed servicemen in uniform. That erupted into open rioting in Johannesburg on 1 February 1941; 140 soldiers were seriously hurt.

More dangerous was the formation of the Stormjaers (Assault troops), a paramilitary wing of the OB. The nature of the Stormjaers was evidenced by the oath sworn by new recruits: “If I retreat, shoot me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me” (Afrikaans: As ek omdraai, skiet my. As ek val, wreek my. As ek storm, volg my).

The Stormjaers engaged in sabotage against the Union government. They dynamited electrical power lines and railroads and cut telegraph and telephone lines. These types of acts were going too far for most Afrikaners, and Malan ordered the National Party to break with the OB in 1942.

The Union government cracked down on the OB and the Stormjaers, placing thousands of them in internment camps for the duration of the war. Among the internees was future prime minister B. J. Vorster.

At the end of the war, the OB was absorbed into the National Party and ceased to exist as a separate body.

Two books on the subject of the Ossewabrandwag that are well worth reading are:

Wit Terroriste: Afrikaner-Saboteurs in die Ossewabrandwag’ by Albert Blake, (Tafelberg,2018), and

OB Traitors or Patriots?’ by George Cloete Visser, (Macmillan,1976).


About Dr Brian Austin

Dr Brian Austin is a retired engineering academic from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Electronics.

Before that he spent some years on the academic staff of his alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He also had a spell, a decade in fact, in industry where he led the team that developed an underground radio system for use in South Africa’s very deep gold mines.

He also has a great interest in the history of his subject and especially the military applications of radio and electronics. This has seen him publish a number of articles on topics from the first use of wireless in warfare during the Boer War (1899 – 1902) and South Africa’s wartime radar in WW2, to others dealing with the communications problems during the Battle of Arnhem and, most recently, on wireless in the trenches in WW1.

He is also the author of the biography of Sir Basil Schonland, the South African pioneer in the study of lightning, scientific adviser to Field Marshall Mongomery’s 21 Army Group and director of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell.”

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