The Herero and Nama genocide (1904-1908) was carried out by Germany in South West Africa, now called Namibia. It killed 60,000 Hereros and 10,000 Nama, 50% to 70% of them. It featured concentration camps, skin-and-bone people, mass graves, medical experiments and good German record-keeping – more than 30 years before the Jewish Holocaust.
People who blame the Jewish Holocaust on Hitler and the Nazis alone need to think again: Germany showed itself to be a genocidal nation when Hitler was just 15.
There is no guesswork about this being a genocide: we have the orders, the letters and the diaries that leave no doubt that the Germans meant to wipe out the Herero and Nama and take their land. It was not just a case of a general gone mad or a war gone wrong.
In the late 1800s there were 80,000 Herero and 20,000 Nama. Both had land and they herded cows. The Herero were Bantu and lived in the middle of Namibia, the Nama were Khoisan (Hottentots) and lived to the south. They were armed with rifles.
The Germans were badly outnumbered and outgunned. They were in constant fear of an uprising, which in turn put the Herero in constant fear that war was about to break out. And so it did in 1904.
At first the Herero were winning: the Germans were not just outgunned, but the governor was away in the south fighting the Nama.
Germany, afraid of losing face, sent General Lothar von Trotha with men, cannons and machine guns – weapons the Herero had no defence against.
The Herero were defeated and massacred at the Battle of Waterberg. Most Herero escaped and fled across the desert to British Bechuanaland (Botswana), men, women, children and cows. The German army pursued. Only 1,000 Herero made it across the border to British territory. The rest died of thirst or were gunned down by the Germans. It was senseless and gruesome but when questioned Von Trotha said he wanted their “total extermination”.
Von Trotha was a dark angel of Darwin:
Where the climate allows the white man to work, philanthropic views cannot banish Darwin’s law “Survival of the Fittest”.
The Nama were next. They fought a hit-and-run guerrilla war. The Germans fought back by burning down all their houses and granaries.
About 17,000 Herero and Nama, some half-white, were sent to concentration camps along the coast, like Shark Island. They were forced to build the Otavi railroad – men, women and children, underfed, some skin and bones, raped and whipped, worked till they dropped. Conditions were so terrible almost half never made it out of the camps alive.
Those who lived through the genocide were tattooed and forced to wear an identity badge around their necks. Their movements were controlled by the government. With land and livestock gone they had little choice but to work for Germans in the new racial hierarchy.
And yet still the Germans feared them.
A hundred years later Germany apologized but did not think they owed the Herero and Nama anything more than their fine words.
Source: “Forgotten Genocides” (2011), edited by Rene Lemarchand
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