Maritz Rebellion

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Maritz Rebellion
Part of the South-West Africa Campaign
Date 15 September 1914 – 4 February 1915
Location South Africa
Result Rebellion suppressed
Rebel leaders imprisoned
South Africa occupies German South West Africa
 United Kingdom South African Republic South African Republic
Commanders and leaders
Union of South Africa Jan Smuts
Union of South Africa Louis Botha
South African Republic Manie Maritz
South African Republic Christiaan de Wet
South African Republic Christian Frederick Beyers
South African Republic Jan Kemp
32,000 12,000

The Maritz Rebellion or the 1914 Boer Revolt or the Five Shilling Rebellion,[a] was an organised rebellion against the British ruled Union of South Africa.[1] In 1914 at the start of World War I, men who supported independence from Britain took up arms against the government of the Union. Lieutenant Colonel of the Active Citizen Force Manie Maritz signed a treaty with the Imperial German Government.[2][3] The signatories were the German South-West African Governor Theodor Seitz for the German Empire and S. G. Maritz for himself and on behalf of "officers and men" of the Union army. The main leaders of the rebellion were Maritz, Christiaan de Wet and Bezuidenhout. General Beyers was the supreme leader.[4] Maritz proclaimed that General Hertzog was the only true leader of all the boer people.[5] and that the boers will only be free once the Vierkleur [the former flag of the South African Republic] is planted atop Table Mountain in a new independent South Africa. Hertzog had a large following in Free State and in Transvaal and seeked to introduce education policies in the Free State which were widely seen as anti-British.[6] Beyers emerged as the arch-traitor in the Transvaal and as designated President of a new Independent Union of South Africa,[3] De-Wet in the Orange Free State and Maritz in the German South West frontier. Maritz imagined he could garner the support of the boers in the north-western Cape Colony and was promoted by the German government, from a Colonel in the Union of South Africa army (Appointed by Commandant-General Beyers) to a General in the German army[7] dressed in the full German battle uniform, with German General insignia and rank.[8] The German General Maritz was also provided with weapons, ammunition, officers and non commissioned soldiers by the German government.[9] The flag of the former Orange Free State, was frequently used by General De Wet and others, to garner support for independence of the Union. Similarly, the flag and name of the former South African Republic was also used by Maritz and others. Generally, freedom during this rebellion always meant free from Britain and all British influence.

Treaty with German Government[edit]

S. G. Maritz signed an agreement with Germany[3] under the heading: "Agreement between his Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Germany and General S. G. Maritz,[2] who acting on behalf of a number of officers and men who are prepared to declare the independence of South Africa and commenced war against England. The Governor of German South-West Africa acknowledges all African forces which operates against England as belligerent forces, and they will, after further discussion, support the war against England" With further clauses that issued undertakings to recognize independence, move borders of the Cape Colony to the Orange River and Walfisch Bay. The rebels were also issued the undertaking that should the rebellion fail, they would be regarded as German subjects and be treated as such.[10]


At the end of the Boer War twelve years earlier, all Boer soldiers had been asked to sign a pledge that they would abide by the peace terms. Some, like Deneys Reitz, refused and were exiled from South Africa. Over the following decade many returned home, and not all of them signed the pledge upon returning. At the end of the second Boer War, those Boers who had fought to the end were known as "bittereinders" ("bitter enders"); by the time of the rebellion, those who had not taken the pledge and wanted to start a new war had also become known as the "bitter-enders." The bitter-enders would never accept British rule and in 1914 would rise again, this time to free the Union of South Africa from British rule.

The First World War starts[edit]

The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in August 1914 had long been anticipated, and the government of the Union of South Africa was well aware of the significance of the common border the Union shared with the German colony of South-West Africa. Prime Minister Louis Botha informed London that the Union could defend itself and that the imperial garrison could depart for France; when the British government asked Botha whether his forces would invade German South-West Africa, the reply was that they could and would.

Union of South Africa troops were mobilised along the border between the two countries under the command of General Henry Lukin and Lieutenant Colonel Manie Maritz early in September 1914. On 19 September 1914 another force occupied the German port of Lüderitz.[11]

The rebellion[edit]

General Beyers[edit]

The Commandant-General of the Union Defence Force, Brigadier-General Christiaan Frederick Beyers was opposed to the Union government's decision to undertake offensive operations. He resigned his commission on 15 September 1914,[12] writing "It is sad that the war is being waged against the 'barbarism' of the Germans. We have forgiven but not forgotten all the barbarities committed in our own country during the South African War," referring to the atrocities committed during the second Boer War. A nominated senator, General Koos de la Rey, who had refused to support the government in parliament over this issue, and agreed with what Beyers had said, however, he did not share any anti-British views. General De La Rey is on the record, a few days before his untimely death, as replying: "no"[13] to a direct question from Senator Munnik on whether he sympathised with the Hertzogites. On 15 September they set off together to visit Major JCG (Jan) Kemp in Potchefstroom, who had a large armoury and a force of 2,000 men who had just finished training, many of whom were thought to be sympathetic to the rebels' ideas.

On Saturday the 15th of August, General De La Rey addressed a meeting of about 800 burghers called up to commandos by Commandant Wolmarans at Treurfontein.[14] General De La Rey informed the meeting of the war in Europe and declared his full support to the Union. The meeting then held a vote and an unanimous resolution was passed expressing complete confidence in the Union Government. The Lion of the West Transvaal had roared.[15] The Union government knew that General De La Rey was not involved in the treasonous plot[16] as they had intercepted the wires between the various actors. The Union government believed that General Beyers was going to try, one last time, to convince General De La Rey to join the plot. On the way to the meeting De la Rey's car was fired upon by a policeman, Police Constable Drury,[17] at a road block set up to look for the Foster gang. A subsequent Judicial Inquiry, headed by the well respected Judge Gregorowski found that forensically, General De la Rey was accidentally killed by a stray bullet that ricochetted of the ground and into the motor vehicle.[18] General Beyers spoke at the funeral of General Koos De La Rey. He denied, in the strongest possible terms that he, or General De La Rey, were on their way to preach rebellion. He said that the purpose of their travel to De Wet was to discuss the possibility of simultaneous resignation of leading army officers as protest against the government's actions and it was slander to claim that they wanted to instigate a rebellion.[19] On the 19th of October, General Beyers was active in the field and fighting on the Rebel German side of the war[20] His empty and meaningless words spoken at the funeral of General Koos De La Rey, completely forgotten.

Commandant Wolmarans[edit]

On the 3rd of August, in district of Lichtenburg, Commandant Wolmarans announced that the flag of the ZAR was going to be raised again and that they would be marching to the German border to get ammunition. He said that the visions of world war by Siener van Rensburg is currently happening and will lead to the establishment of the single unified Boer country as stated by Siener van Rensburg. Seer van Rensburg was a very well respected prophet of the people and a friend to General Koos De La Rey[21] who also predicted that there would be a world war and that the Grey Bull, Germany, would be the victor.

General De Wet[edit]

De Wet was meanwhile agitating Potchefstroom by holding a public meeting and speaking against the present government, saying that they should be replaced and independence from Britain be proclaimed. The meeting ended in disorder and violence as citizen fought against citizen with both fists and sjambok. [22]

The Lydenburg commando under General De Wet took possession of the town of Heilbron, held up a train and captured government stores and ammunition. Some of the prominent citizens of the area joined him, and by the end of the week he had a force of 3,000 men.

General C Muller[edit]

On 26 October, General C Muller addressed a group of rebels at kleinfontein regarding the goals of the rebellion, he said: "Now is the time for us Afrikanders to get our freedom back. All the boers must rise simultaneously. They need not be afraid, there will be no bloodshed. Our independence is guaranteed by the German Kaiser. Commandant-General Beyers has the treaty in his pocket. What more do you want?"[23]

The deliberate campaign of misinformation and rumours, together with key rebel commandants issuing commandeering notices, as if they were doing so on behalf of the Union government, caused great confusion among the general populace as to what the true events were.[24]

Manie Maritz (Salmon Gerhardus Maritz)[edit]

Manie Maritz fought bravely in the second boer war and was later a policeman (ZARP) in Johannesburg. There he gained a reputation as one of the cruelest in the police force.[25] After Maritz had left the ZARP, Commandant-General Beyers offered Maritz a commission in the army. S. G. Maritz accepted the offered commission and was sworn in as officer with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, loyal to the Union and the British King.

In August of 1914 he was in the field close to the Union's border with German South-West Africa. The government had provided him with money to equip his men, in the shortest amount of time and ordered him to delay the German army until the main Union army could arrive.[26] Col. Maritz held treasonous speeches to gauge support among his men. In one speech at Bokzijn-puts, he would proclaim the independence of the South African Republic and in another at Brandvlei, to remind the commando of the deeds of the British military during the second boer war.[27]

In the area where Maritz was located a call to arms was circulated, for all boers to rise against the British and to proclaim (the Union of) South Africa as independent from Britain. The proclamation said that it has been negotiated with the German government to support the independence from Britain.[28] The publication was signed by two boers whom had taken up residence in the German South West, Andries and Pieter de Wet.

General Smuts wired Maritz to hand over his command to Major Enslin and to proceed to Pretoria. Maritz ignored the order, did not tell Major Enslin about it and instead told Major Enslin and his men that Smuts and Botha were traitors and that General Hertzog was the only true leader of the boer people.[5] Major Enslin immediately wired General Smuts informing him of the statement of Maritz, exposing him as a traitor to the Union government.[28]

Maritz resigned his commission on 25 September 1914 per telegram.[9] On 30 September General Smuts sent an answering telegram accepting the resignation and ordering Maritz's return to Pretoria. In the meantime Col. Brits was proceeding to Upington with instructions to escort Maritz to Pretoria or to arrest him.

Boer Traitor[edit]

It is commonly accepted that Maritz committed many acts of treason[29][30][31] and high treason.[32] Most regrettably he led the boers under his command, who trusted him as their commanding officer to certain death. Some of these boers had fought in the second boer war and they were fiercely loyal[33] to General Koos De La Rey. Of the more than 50 men and officers who refused to cooperate with Germany and were transported to Windhuk, fewer than 10 made it back to South Africa alive.

On 2 October 1914, Maritz, as a Colonel in the Union army, ordered the men under his command to pack up camp, telling them that he had received "orders". He then proceeded to van Rooisvlei and ordered the remainder of his forces from Kakamas to also join him at Van Rooisvlei.[34] Captain Joubert and Colonel Maritz left in a car in the direction of German territory. When they returned two days later,[35] Maritz, still as a Union Colonel, ordered his men to a parade and, with machine guns aimed at the parade, Maritz addressed the parade saying that they will not be governed by Englishmen, Niggers and Jews and that they had to take control of the Union and that the old ZAR flag would be planted on Table Mountain. He proclaimed that they were in touch with Germany in Europe via radio and that they are now part of the German army. They would be fighting the British and the Union army. Lt. Rossouw, other officers and over fifty men refused to join him and they were held as prisoners of war and sent to Windhuk where most of them died. Maritz was now a German General, with German Officers in command of his former boer commando. He had had pompoms, howitzers and other weapons and ammunition supplied by the Germans. Maritz was also in possession of a treaty, signed with the Germans which stated the German recognition of the Union of South Africa as an independent Republic.[36] which he later handed over to General Beyers to show to General Muller and other rebel commanders. Some of the German officers under General Maritz were later captured by Colonel Joubert, together with their boer and German men.

Maritz issued a proclamation on behalf of a new provisional central South African government, which would replace the Union of South Africa. It stated that "the former South African Republic and Orange Free State as well as the Cape Province and Natal are proclaimed free from British control and independent, and every White inhabitant of the mentioned areas, of whatever nationality, are hereby called upon to take their weapons in their hands and realize the long-cherished ideal of a Free and Independent South Africa." [37] It was announced that Generals Beyers, De Wet, Maritz, Kemp and Bezuidenhout were to be the first leaders of this provisional government. Maritz's forces occupied Keimoes in the Upington area.


The Union government declared martial law on 12 October 1914,[38] and forces loyal to the Union government under the command of Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts proceeded to suppress the rebellion. General Maritz was defeated on 24 October and took refuge with the Germans. The Beyers commando was attacked and dispersed at Commissioners Drift on 28 October, after which Beyers joined forces with Kemp, but drowned in the Vaal River on 8 December. General De Wet was captured in Bechuanaland, and General Kemp, having taken his commando across the Kalahari desert, losing 300 out of 800 men and most of their horses on the 1,100 kilometre month-long trek, joined Maritz in German South-West Africa, but returned after about a week and surrendered on 4 February 1915.

The Union army continued their operations into German South West Africa and conquered it by July 1915.

Maritz, fled to Europe and returned to the Union of South Africa only in 1923 as an agent of Adolf Hitler, distributing his own pamphlet, titled My Lewe en Strewe (My Life and Ambitions) for which he was convicted and fined 75 pounds, as it contained libel and was anti-Semitic.[39]

The leading Boer rebels got off relatively lightly with terms of imprisonment of six and seven years and heavy fines. Two years later they were released from prison, as Louis Botha wanted reconciliation.

The grandson of Andries Pretorius, the first president of the ZAR, faced Jopie Fourie at Nooitgedacht. Twelve of Colonel Pretorius men were killed by the traitors, before Jopie Fourie was captured and after a court martial, sentenced to death.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ General De Wet publicly unfurled the rebel banner in October, when he entered the town of Reitz at the head of an armed commando. He summoned all the town and demanded that the court shorthand writer take down every word he said, among which he complained: I was charged before [the Magistrate of Reitz] for beating a native boy. I only did it with a small shepherd's whip, and for that I was fined 5/–. On hearing the contents of the speech, General Smuts christened the rising the Five Shilling Rebellion. (Plaatje 1916). Other sources place this incident in the town of Vrede on 28 October 1914 – see, for example, Sampson 1915, pp. 145–146.
  1. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 4.
  2. ^ a b Sampson 1915, p. 88.
  3. ^ a b c Blue Book 1915, p. 27.
  4. ^ His Majesty the King (1922). History of the Great War. London: His Majesty the King. p. 17. 
  5. ^ a b Sampson 1915, p. 78.
  6. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 2.
  7. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 26.
  8. ^ Kraus 1944, p. 230.
  9. ^ a b Blue Book 1915, p. 24.
  10. ^ Sampson 1915, pp. 88–89.
  11. ^ Luderitz Municipal Cemetery.
  12. ^ The Register (Adelaide) (Thursday, 17 September 1914), p. 7.
  13. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 49.
  14. ^ Blue Book 1915, pp. 6–7.
  15. ^ Blue Book 1915, p. 7.
  16. ^ Blue Book 1915, pp. 14–15.
  17. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 59.
  18. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 68.
  19. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 61.
  20. ^ Blue Book 1915, pp. 29.
  21. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 12-14.
  22. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 80.
  23. ^ Blue Book 1915, p. 32.
  24. ^ Blue Book 1915, p. 33.
  25. ^ Kraus 1944, p. 138.
  26. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 46-47.
  27. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 86.
  28. ^ a b Sampson 1915, p. 79.
  29. ^ Kraus 1944, p. 217.
  30. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 255.
  31. ^ Blue Book 1915, p. 62.
  32. ^ Blue Book 1915, p. 63-67.
  33. ^ Kraus 1944, p. 219.
  34. ^ Blue Book 1915, p. 25.
  35. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 87.
  36. ^ Sampson 1915, p. 87-88.
  37. ^ "My Lewe en Strewe" by Manie Maritz, 1939.
  38. ^ On This Day – 12 October 1914.
  39. ^ Kraus 1944, p. 338.


Further reading[edit]

  • P. J. Sampson, The Capture of De Wet: the South African Rebellion, 1914 (1915), pp. 145–146.
  • Rene Kraus, Old Master (1944), pp. 230–231.
  • T. R. H. Davenport, The South African Rebellion, 1914, The English Historical Review 78 (306) (1963), pp. 73–94.