In 1904, the Herero and Nama people of Namibia began a rebellion against German colonial rule, the Herero led by Samuel Maharero and the Nama by Captain Hendrik Witbooi. As a retaliation for their revolt, the Germans began a 4-year campaign to exterminate all Herero and Nama people – about 80,000 Hereros and 10,000 Namas were killed during this period. Originally herdsmen, the Herero’s first interaction with the Germans was during the Scramble for Africa, when the Germans fraudulently established a protectorate in what is now the coast of Namibia. Under German colonial rule, the Herero and other neighbouring tribes were used as slave labourers and their lands, essential to their herder lifestyle, were confiscated.
And so began the revolt. The Herero and Nama became increasingly frustrated with the abuse of land rights and became aware of plans by the Germans to divide their territory with the Otavi railway line, and to set up reservations camps for the natives. The revolt cumulated in the Battle of Waterberg in 1904, where the Herero and Nama were defeated. The Germans however continued to pursue these two groups to annihilate them — by pushing them further into the desert, poisoning desert wells, issuing a ‘shoot to kill’ order, as well as raping and killing women and children.
Subsequently, any surviving Herero were given German names or numbers, their land seized, and their traditional authority structure banned. Survivors of the massacre, the majority of whom were women and children, were put in concentration camps, such as Shark Island, where they were made slaves of the German military and settlers. Additionally, the Germans would conduct medical experiments on live prisoners and an estimated 300 skulls of camp prisoners were sent to Germany for experimentation. Around 70% of prisoners died of diseases, abuse, and exhaustion. This is now known as the first genocide of the 20th century. In 2014/2015, the German government admitted to its crimes as part of a “race war” and “genocide” and repatriated the Herero and Nama skulls to Namibia for a proper burial.
By Edel Were
(Image: SA History)