The Identification Tags of German Southwest Africa (1884-1915)

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Already in 1900 the German South-West Africa seriously was thinking about how a reliable identification of the natives without much fuss could be made possible. The European system of passports or identity cards of different design was far too complicated to simply be copied. Nevertheless risked the colonial authorities issuing passports to a number of natives made of paper and cardboard in some districts. The experiment was doomed to fail because all documents “tattered” beyond recognition within a few months. In this predicament, the idea emerged, the identification of the relevant group of persons virtually indestructible, foolproof and secure metal-based punched identification tags with simple number and / or letter combinations. This code should be detailed with each residents directories of the districts are combined. The brass marks did not allow counterfeit or other changes.

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German South-West Africa was the only German colony where Germans settled in large numbers. German settlers were drawn to the colony by economic possibilities in diamond and copper mining, and especially farming. In 1902 the colony had 200,000 inhabitants, though only 2,595 were German, 1,354 were Afrikaner, and 452 were British. By 1914, 9,000 more German settlers had arrived. There were probably around 80,000 Herero, 60,000 Ovambo, and 10,000 Nama, who were disparagingly referred to as Hottentots.

After the WW I, the territory came under the control of Britain, and then was made a South African League of Nations mandate. In 1990, the former colony became independent as Namibia, governed by the former liberation movement SWAPO.

The full guideline can be downloaded HERE (in German only). Many thanks to http://www.golf-dornseif.de.

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