Friday, April 09, 2004

Namibia: the Herero uprising 100 years later

The Herero commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of Okandjira with a re-enactment of that historic battle that had 10,000 Herero facing off against 800 German colonial troops.

I recall somebody once telling me that what happened to the Herero after that battle was the first genocide of the 20th Century. Here is the story ...
On October 2, 1904, [Lieutenant-General Lothar] von Trotha issued his order to exterminate the Herero from the region. 'All the Herero must leave the land. If they refuse, then I will force them to do it with the big guns. Any Herero found within German borders, with or without a gun, will be shot. No prisoners will be taken. This is my decision for the Herero people'.

After the Herero uprising had been systematically put down, by shooting or enforced slow death in the desert from starvation, thirst and disease (the fate of many women and children), those who still lived were rounded up, banned from owning land or cattle, and sent into labour camps to be the slaves of German settlers. Many more Herero died in the camps, of overwork, starvation and disease.

By 1907, in the face of criticism both at home and abroad, von Trotha's orders had been cancelled and he himself recalled, but it was too late for the crushed Herero. Before the uprising, the tribe numbered 80,000; after it, only 15,000 remained.
Following today's re-enactment, Herero and German representatives talked about reconciliation.

And earlier this year ....
"I also wish to express how deeply we regret this unfortunate past," [Germany's ambassador Wolfgang] Massing said at a commemoration of the January 12 1904 uprising in Okahandja, 70km north of Windhoek.

His statement is the closest a German representative has come to an apology for what historians have described as genocide. (source)