I walked the halls of the Auschwitz museum where mountains of human hair and tiny children’s clothes and shoes make grown men cry. Nothing compares to this horror of the Holocaust of European Jewry. I visited the memorials of the genocide in Rwanda, where hundreds of human skulls line the pews in parishes where the bloody clothes of children still litter the ground of that genocide in 1994. My own great-grandfather was a prisoner of war in a Cape Point concentration camp in 1900, and his letters passed down to me from that desperate time still haunt me today.
But I have never seen anything that recognizes or commemorates the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples of Namibia who were subjected to the first genocide of the 20th century by German officials between 1904 and 1908.
I visited Namibia and tried to find out more about 18 years ago, but it was a topic that few people really wanted to touch on, except of course the descendants of the victims themselves. . I left the country with a wind-up Herero doll dressed in a beautiful red dress and royal scarf, determined to one day tell my children about this forgotten genocide.
The Germans still own large tracts of farmland in Namibia and have a major influence on the country’s economy, but their dark colonial heritage has never been fully considered. But maybe last week was a start, when on May 28, Germany officially acknowledged that the Herero and Nama murders were genocide, and agreed to apologize and pledge to provide $ 1.35 billion for reconstruction and development projects.
The German foreign minister plans to visit Namibia in the coming weeks to sign an agreement between the two governments, hoping to establish the language of a common narrative of what happened. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier intends to travel to Namibia later this year to make a formal apology to the country’s parliament.
The Namibian government hailed the deal, and some Namibians hailed it. But leaders Herero and Nama called the deal a “public relations coup” because it did not include funds considered “reparations.” It was also extremely disappointing for the Herero and Nama that the funds were distributed over the three decades.
Namibia had insisted that the money be called “reparations”, but Germany rejected the term because, she said, it would amount to admitting her guilt under the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. Germans argued that the convention cannot be applied retroactively to past genocides. Perhaps what annoys former colonists is that the term “reparations” could make Germany and other former European colonial powers susceptible to claims from other former colonies.
For those who may not know exactly what happened at the turn of the 20th century, this was the time when Germany was the colonial power controlling what is now called Namibia. There had been a rebellion of the Herero and Nama ethnic groups, who had courageously resisted the onslaught of thousands of German settlers who had taken over their land and livestock. Germany faced this resistance with ferocity, sending Lothar von Trotha, a German military commander who had gained a fierce reputation in Asia and East Africa, and led a protection force known as the “Schutztruppe”. “.
Trotha wasted no time in 1904 warning the Herero that every one of them would be shot, including women and children. In 1905, he issued a similar warning to the Nama, who were also targeted for extermination. What happened was something the Germans were keen to keep out of the history books, as they shot, hung or starved in concentration camps tens of thousands of people – au total 80% of the Herero ethnic group. Half of the Nama ethnic group was also killed in the most barbaric manner. The German colonials continued as if nothing major had happened, and they began to name the streets of Swakopmund after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the German Empire.
The intention to commit genocide was clear as German colonial officers serving in southwest Africa had studied eugenics and propagated ideas about racial purity and racial mixing. Hundreds of skulls of victims were sent to Germany for study, and there is no doubt that the Herero and Nama genocide foreshadowed Nazi ideology and the Holocaust.
After Germany’s defeat in World War I, it lost its colony in South West Africa, as well as its other colonies, and the region became a colony of South Africa ruled by white people, this which buried any reference to the German genocide at the turn of the century. But even after Namibia’s independence, the genocide of the Nama and Herero was not adequately addressed, and both ethnic groups suffered economic marginalization. It is a parody of history that monuments still remain in Namibia of German soldiers and genocidaires with insufficient recognition of the victims of the genocide. Now is the time to turn the tide on this issue once and for all.
* Shannon Ebrahim is the foreign editor of the Independent Media group.