‘I ought not be married as a coloured person’: Rassenmischehen and Categories of Difference in 1920s Southwest Africa

Lisa M. Todd is Associate Professor of History at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada. She holds a PhD from the University of Toronto, an MA from Royal Holloway College, University of London, and a BA from the University of New Brunswick.  Todd’s first monograph, Sexual Treason in Germany during the First World War, appeared in 2017 with Palgrave-Macmillan. Her current project, “Racial Citizenship: Miscegenation, Scientific Authority, and the Creation of Intimate ‘Others’ in Modern Germany, 1880-1950,” examines the anthropological interest in “mixed race” sexual relationships, from the German colonial period, to the end of the Third Reich. 

Background: Post-Genocidal Mixed Marriage Regulations

In 1905, amidst the genocidal violence that accompanied the German-Herero and German-Nama Wars, colonial administrators in German Southwest Africa (SWA, present-day Namibia) introduced a ban on ‘civil marriages between whites and ‘natives.’ Two years later they nullified all so-called mixed marriages that had taken place before 1905. In 1908, a German Imperial Ordinance was published conferring on governors the power to make laws concerning the marriage of Indigenous peoples in Protectorates. In May 1912 the German Reichstag passed a controversial resolution ‘to ensure the validity of marriages between whites and natives in all German colonies’ and to determine the rights of illegitimate children, and in April 1914, the Governor of German Southwest Africa issued a decree allowing for the registration of marriages between Europeans and ‘natives’. The inconsistency of these legal decisions, over the course of only nine years, resulted in trauma to the families involved, but also an uneven implementation of the processes of sexual and racial segregation that accompanied the German occupation of Namibia.[1]

A lively historiography has developed around early twentieth century Rassenmischehen in the colonial sphere, as scholars seek to evaluate how the racialization of space compounded hierarchies of power in settler societies. Sexual ‘race-mixing,’ or miscegenation, presented obstacles to these power structures. White settlers increasingly saw biracial persons as cases in urgent need of categorization: would these people, with the ‘white blood in their veins’ be useful in future European domination, or did their ‘black blood’ mark them as future threats to white supremacy in occupied lands?  Uncertainty about the intersections of race, sexuality, and the law continued past German occupation, and were further complicated when South African authorities introduced their own anti-miscegenation legislation after 1919. The following example illustrates this point.

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