Herero and Namaqua genocide
The Herero were originally a group of cattle herders living in the central-eastern region of South West Africa, presently modern Namibia. The area occupied by the Herero was known as Damaraland. The Nama were pastorals and traders living to the South of the Herero.
The Herero and Nama genocide was actually the first genocide of the 20th century, waged by the German Empire against the Ovaherero, the Nama, and the San in German South-West Africa which is now called Namibia. It occurred between 1904 and 1908.
The invasion and mass murder of the people of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Togo, Cameroun, and Namibia, was signed off by Prince Otto von Bismarck, who was the founder of modern Germany.
In January 1904, the Herero people who were led by Samuel Maharero and Nama who were led by Captain Hendrik Witbooi rebelled against German colonial rule. On January 12, they massacred more than 100 German men in the area of Okahandja, though sparing women and children. In August, German General Lothar von Trotha defeated the Ovaherero in the Battle of Waterberg and drove them into the desert of Omaheke, where most of them died of dehydration. In October, the Nama people also rebelled against the Germans, only to suffer a similar fate.
An explorer named Karl Peters started the killing and mass murder of the indigenous people by Germany. He would inspire others such as Jesco von Puttkamer, who was Bismarck’s nephew by marriage. Puttkamer was appointed the German Governor of the Cameroons, and as Governor, he rained hell on the people of the various places the German raised their flag.
His atrocities were brought to light in a book by a British historian named Thomas Packenham. The book’s title is “The Scramble for Africa, White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912.”
In a detailed account of an example of the horror perpetrated by Puttkamer through his official, Thomas Packenham wrote: “…a Lieutenant Dominik was sent on an expedition to negotiate a treaty with the Bahoro. Instead, he shot down all the men and women in the village, and the fifty-four children that survived were put in baskets and drowned like kittens” (Packenham, “The Scramble for Africa”, page 623)
The German officials were illegally encroaching on the lands of the Herero, who were cattle herders, and who wanted to be left alone. In retaliation to the oppression by the Germans, the Herero people mounted a rebellion against the occupying Germans in 1904.
The rebellion was an attempt to defend themselves, and drive the Germans out, but the Herero did not have sophisticated guns and weapons like the Germans. The uprising started in January of 1904, with Samuel Maharero leading the Herero people while Hendrik Witbooi led the Nama people.
The German General Lothar von Trotha and his soldiers viscously attacked the rebels, and after defeated them, went ahead to attack the entire population, in an attempt to exterminate them.
Lothar Von Trotha gave the following order: ‘within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot.’
The German soldiers mowed down men, women, and children, and then went ahead to drive thousands of them into the Kalahari Desert, where about 90% of them died of thirst and starvation, under the intense desert heat. The war between the Herero/Nama and the Germans was known as the “Battle of Waterberg.”
The same attack and decimation of the Herero people were visited on the Nama people in present-day Southern Namibia. After over four years of aggressive murdering and Genocide, the Germans had killed three quarters of the Herero people, and half of the Nama people.
Other accounts of the Genocide said that the Germans hanged many of the Herero and Nama people from trees. They sealed off the watering holes and forcefully prevented those who survived the desert heat from returning to their land. Many other survivors were imprisoned in concentration camped, and this led to them dying either by disease or exhaustion.
These atrocities, for many decades, have been denied by the German government, even though they accepted their Genocide of the Jews and paid reparations. The Germans refused to accept the incidents of 1904-1908 as a genocide because it would then implicate them and other European powers who have denied their genocidal acts in other parts of Africa.
But in a recent UN Whitaker Report, the United Nations has stated that the atrocities by the Germans in Namibia, was a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama people.
The report also went ahead to name the Genocide of the Herero and Nama people as one of the biggest and bloodiest genocides in the 20th century.
It was only in 2004 that the German government formally accepted that their colonial adventure and atrocities in South West Africa were an act of Genocide. That led to a weak apology to the Namibian government, but the German government ruled out any option of reparations for the Hehero and Nama people.
From 2001 up till 2017, representatives of the Hehero and Nama people have been filing lawsuits in the United States, against the German government and the Deutsche Bank, which financed their atrocities in Africa. The lawsuit was mostly unsuccessful.
Recently there have been negotiations between the Namibian government and the German government about reparations for the Herero and Nama people, but unfortunately, the reparations, if it will be given, will not get to the families of the 100,000 people killed. Read this article for the full details of the lawsuits and negotiations.
The Genocide of the Herero and Nama people is only but the tip of the iceberg. The European colonizers committed far worse atrocities all over Africa.
For far too long, these atrocities have been kept under the rug, but its time they are brought out and discussed. More so, by African governments who are still living and breathing under the Yoke of their colonial masters.
African scholars, historians, writers, and people must learn to discuss these genocides of our people, because the conditions which led to them, are still much alive in the world today. Addressing it will educate our people and keep them on the alert in their dealings with Europeans.