Genocide: Namibia

Namibia is not the first country that comes to mind when people think of genocide, but between 1904 and 1907 the first genocide of the twentieth century took place here. The area was in the hands of the Germans at that time and was called German South West Africa. German colonists destroyed most of the Herero and Nama tribes without the rest of the world noticing or doing anything about it. One hundred years after the genocide, a German minister officially apologized on behalf of the German people.

How it started

Map Namibia / Source: CIA World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

In the 1880s, South West Africa, Deutsch-Südwestafrika, became a German colony. German settlers slowly moved into the area. Major Theodor Leutwein became the area’s first military governor, someone with little knowledge of colonies and even less knowledge of Africa. With the increasing number of settlers, an increasing number of African tribes were expelled from their territories, sometimes under false pretenses. Namibia is a largely desert country and the tribes present were largely nomads, pastoralists and hunter & gatherers. Problems were compounded in the 1990s when a disease wiped out large portions of pastoralists’ herds. This combination of causes led to a rebellion among the Herero. Under the leadership of their leader Samuel Maherero, they attacked several German posts in January 1904, always sparing women, children, missionaries and non-Germans.

The Tribes

The Herero, nomadic herders when the Germans moved into the area, lived at that time in what is now Namibia and Botswana. They consist of various subgroups such as the Himba, Ovatjimba, Mbanderu and the Kwandu and other groups in neighboring Angola. In addition, there were the Nama, known at the time as Hottentots or Khoi Khoi. These Nama had been in contact with Boers and British settlers for a long time and there were many mutual relationships from which children were born. Many Nama also had Dutch or English names. Through their relationships with Westerners, the Nama also had access to Western weapons, with which they regularly fought their Herero neighbors. While the Herero rebelled against their fate in 1904, a Nama chief, Hendrik Witbooi, wrote a letter to Governor Leutwein in the hope that he would do something about the injustice that prevailed.


Lothar von Throtha / Source: Publiek domain , Wikimedia Commons (PD)

However, the Germans replaced Leutwein with Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, someone already known for his brutality. Von Trotha came to the area with 10,000 heavily armed men and a plan to exterminate the indigenous population. The German forces drove the Herero warriors into a trap, closing them in from three sides, leaving them only the Kalahari Desert as a place to flee. The German troops also poisoned the few water sources in the desert. On October 2, 1904, Von Trotha announced that he wanted to drive the Herero out of the area, he would take no prisoners, any Herero found would be killed. Most men were murdered, many women and children died of hunger and thirst in the desert. The survivors were then imprisoned in concentration camps in Luderitz, Okahandja, Swakopmund and Windhoek, to work as slaves for the white settlers. In 1907, Von Trotha was recalled, but it was too late for the Herero. Of the 80,000 people, 15,000 were left. About 2,000 Herero had managed to flee to the neighboring country Bechuanaland (Botswana), then a British protectorate, among them Samuel Maherero.


The Nama also rebelled against the German colonists, but here too Von Trotha was clear: The same fate would await them as the Herero if they did not know their place. Of the 19,000 Nama, about 9,000 survived and ended up in camps. In 1906, 1,795 Nama were sent to Shark Island, where by 1908 80% had died from malnutrition and abuse. Shark Island became a blueprint for later Nazi death camps.

Racial Purity

Many Herero women who survived the genocide and ended up in the labor camps were used as sex slaves by whites and had children from them. A ‘scientist’ Eugen Fischer researched the children of these women and found that they were ‘mentally and physically inferior to their German fathers’. He recommended banning interracial marriages. In 1911 his ‘ Die Rehobother Bastards und das Bastardierungsproblem beim Menschen ‘ was published, which led to the ban on interracial marriages in German colonies. Fischer also conducted medical experiments on the children. Fischer was a Nazi avant la letter and his book ‘ Menschliche Erblehre und Rassenhygiene ‘ would later be read and quoted by Adolf Hitler. He also conducted research into the heads of Herero and Nama, from which he concluded the superiority of the Aryan race over the black African race. Later he was appointed rector of a university by Hitler and he planned forced sterilizations that later took place in Nazi Germany. He also trained people like Mengele.

After the Genocide

In 1985, the United Nations released the Whitaker Report, which recognized the murder of the Herero and Nama as a genocide, making it one of the first genocides of the twentieth century. In 1998, German President Roman Herzog visited Namibia and met some Herero leaders, but he refused to explicitly apologize. In 2001, the Herero filed suit against Germany demanding financial compensation. It was not until August 16, 2004, a hundred years after the start of the genocide, that the Germans officially apologized. German Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul expressed her regret about what happened, but also indicated that the Herero did not have to receive financial compensation. calculate. Germany does provide financial support to Namibia as a whole.