German South West Africa was acquired by Germany in the 1880s. It was governed by Germany as a colony and people migrated from Germany to work in its administration and farms.
In July 1915 it was invaded by troops of South Africa and then administered by a military government, as a protectorate of His Majesty the sovereign of South Africa.
Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany ceded all claims to the territory and Germans remaining resident could lose German citizenship on acquiring nationality of the occupying power, South Africa. Of the original German population of about 21700, only 6700 remained resident.
In December 1920 the League of Nations granted a mandate to the government of South Africa to administer the territory under the name of “South West Africa”. Under South African statutes of 1924 and 1928, the status of “Union National” and “British subject” was made available to German inhabitants who made a declaration – over 3000 Germans took advantage of this offer. In April 1942 they lost such nationalities unless in the military service of South Africa.
On 29 September 1949, almost all persons born in the territory became South African citizens, in contravention of the mandate. On 20 March 1990 the country became independent under the name “Namibia”, and most inhabitants acquired Namibian citizenship and lost South African citizenship.
Passportia’s view is that:
- birth in South West Africa never of itself conferred German citizenship, rather it was inherited as normal from migrants from Germany.
- German citizens resident in the territory were exempt from loss under the 10 year absence rule.
- German citizens who remained resident in the territory after it ceased being a German colony did not lose citizenship under the Treaty of Versailles.
- German citizens who acquired and later lost British nationality and Union citizenship under the 1924, 1928 and 1942 laws of South Africa probably retained German citizenship.
The question as to whether a person of German descent whose family lived in South West Africa is complicated and would need to be established on an individual basis.
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