The hidden history of genocide in Namibia

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RECENTLY, a colleague who has been living in a remote part of Namibia working as an engineer for a South African company decided that he was leaving his job because he had suffered enough racism in one year.
He said racism is historically entrenched in Namibian society since the days of colonialism.
To understand racism in Namibia, we must go back to the African experience from slavery through to colonialism to the genocide to apartheid and finally to the present.
The ‘Scramble for Africa’ was the invasion and annexation of African territory by Europeans during 1881 to 1914.
On the invitation of the Kaiser and his Chancellor Bismarck in Berlin, Africa was distributed among European countries in 1884–85.
Germany then got its share of the African continent.
In Part Two of this column, we look at the tragic impact of German settler colonisation on Africans in Namibia.
In the late 19th century, German physicians and scientists adopted Social Darwinism that placed blacks at the bottom of the racial ladder.
The Africans were regarded as inferior and racism was institutionalised in countries occupied by Germany.
According to François Haas in his book titled German Science and Black racism — roots of the Nazi Holocaust, the Nazi believed in a strange concept of racial hygiene.
By 1895 the Khowesin or the Khoikhoi or Nama, were subject to a very harsh treatment under Leutwein who pursued this by a policy of divide and rule and almost constant warfare, pitting different African groups against each other. Leutwein established treaties with the African chiefs and persuaded them to give him auxiliaries to quell uprisings against the Germany colonial power.
The Herero were already in crisis when the Germans came.
In 1904 they suffered huge losses of their herds through the rinderpest diseases, a locust invasion, and a malaria epidemic.
Between 1904 and 1908, imperial Germany waged an atrocious and inhumane war of extermination against the Herero, Nama, and Damara and San peoples.
The murders began during the administration of Namibia’s first governor, Heinrich Ernst Goering, who was the father of Hitler’s deputy Herman Goering.
There were more than 80 000 Hereros at that time.
These Herero men and women fought back bravely against the German overlords in 1904.
Then the Germans sent an army under Lothar von Trotha to fight what he called a ‘race war’.
In the German press he declared that the Hereros were not German subjects.
He said, “All Hereros must leave the country or die.
“All Hereros found within the German borders with or without weapons, with or without animals will be killed.
“I will not accept a woman or any child.
“There will be no male prisoners.
“All will be shot.”
In January 1904 the prominent Herero Chief Samuel Maharero fought hard against the Germans killing men and sparing European women, children and missionaries.
Initially, through the chief’s efforts, the Herero succeeded in resisting the onslaught until reinforcement came along under commander-in-chief, General Lothar von Trotha who had earned his credentials as a member of the international expeditionary force that had been fighting in North China in retaliation for the Ihetuan uprising in 1901.
Before coming to Namibia, the same commander had made his name destroying African resistance among the Wahehe in Tanzania.
Lothar von Trotha stated that the fight with the Herero was a ‘war of races’.
He argued that, “African tribes will only succumb to violent force.
“It has been and remains my policy to exercise this violence with gross terrorism and even with cruelty.
“I annihilate the African tribes by floods of money and floods of blood.
“It is only by such sowings that something new will arise which will be there to stay.”
For von Trotha there was to be no other nation ruling in Namibia than the Germans.
On August 11 1904, at Ohamakari or Waterberg, the Herero men, women and children, with their herds of cattle were assembled in one place by von Trotha’s murderous soldiers.
Some of them managed to escape from the assembly and travelled towards the desert and the waterless Omaheke, an area with no water bordering on Bechuanaland, now Botswana.
Then on October 2, von Trotha claimed that all Herero ‘every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot’.
He also stressed that women and children will be killed as well.
German soldiers followed the fleeing Herero, cutting off access to waterholes and poisoning other sources so the Herero would die of thirst.
Many thousands died.
According to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, today we would look at what von Trotha did as genocide.
It was a murderous way to colonise a people and take the territory for European occupation.
Historian, Kurt von Damme says that, “the numbers of those who died a horrible death as a consequence of that order may never be fully ascertained.
“It is generally accepted that the various Herero groups might have numbered up to 100 000, of whom, according to some estimates, as few as 20 000 survived the ordeal.”
After the Herero resistance, the Nama people in southern Namibia also fought back against the German troops as well.
The Germans used a brutal method of extermination to kill the Nama.
Many of the Nama died under the leadership on Hendrik Witbooi, an octogenarian driven by cruelty and desire to conquer more territories for Germany.
The captured Nama were made prisoners and placed in concentration camps in harsh and cold port towns of Swakopmund and Lüderitz.
Many Nama people died of hunger and starvation.
Other groups of Nama were subjected to forced migration and settled in the German colonies of present day Togo and Cameroon.
In comparison to the British and the French, Germany colonised a few countries in Africa.
However, their method of rule in Africa represents one of the worst tragic events in history.

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