Namibia Genocide Essay Example



“Within the German frontier every Herero with or without a rifle, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will not take over any more women and children. But I will either drive them back to your people or have them fired on. These are my words to the nation of the Hereros’ The Great General of the mighty Emperor, von Trotha”. The Herero Genocide was the deliberate mass extermination of the Herero people, an ethnic group residing in Namibia.

The genocide was committed by the Germans under the rule of General Lothar Von Trotha between the years of 1904 and 1908 in order to try to stop the Herero people’s rebellions against Germany’s colonial rule in Namibia. During the Herero Genocide of 1904, the Germans deliberately exterminated the Hereros; they used mass killings and torture as a way to stop the Herero people’s rebellions against Germany taking over their land and used racism to justify their actions and to dehumanize the Herero people.

Germany ruled many colonies in Africa starting in 1884 with the colonization and creation of their Southwest African colony called German Southwest Africa.  The colony was located in Namibia and was inhabited by many tribes and ethnic groups including the Herero, Damara, and Nama. The Herero were the largest ethnic group in Namibia with a population of about 80,000 people. Germany’s purpose in colonizing Namibia was getting cheap labor, materials, and profits. The European scramble for Africa caused Germany to take over the Herero people’s land to set up over 1,300 European owned farms in Namibia. 

The Herero people’s economy was unstable at this time because of a plague that struck and killed most of their cattle, destroying their food source and main income. This allowed the Germans to take advantage of the situation and create oppressive laws that took away the Herero people’s rights to own land and cattle. The institution of these laws and the loss of their land for the Germans farms angered the Herero people. By January of 1904, the Herero people were fed up with Germany’s unfair colonial rule. The Herero leader, Samuel Maharero and the Nama leader, Hendrik Witbooi worked together to organize the rebellion. A quote from a letter sent by Maharero to Witbooi on January 11th of 1904 states, “All our obedience and patience with the Germans is of little avail, for each day they shoot someone dead for no reason at all. Hence I appeal to you, my Brother, not to hold aloof from the uprising, but to make your voice heard so that all Africa may take up arms against the Germans.

Let us die fighting rather than die as a result of maltreatment, imprisonment or some other calamity. Tell all the kapteins down there to rise and do battle”. In January, the Herero and Nama people rebelled by destroying German owned farms, however they were no match for Germany’s imperial army, led by the ruthless General Lothar von Trotha. A war broke out between the Germans and the Herero people. On August 11th, 1904, the Germans surrounded the Herero near Waterberg and attacked, killing 5,000 and injuring 20,000. The Germans drove the survivors into the Omaheke Desert where they poisoned the few water sources they had in order to start the extermination of the “rebellious” Herero people.

While the extermination of the Herero people is known today as the “Herero Genocide”, the word genocide did not even exist until after the Holocaust ended in 1945. The definition of genocide is the deliberate killing of a particular group of people, whether it be a race, religion, or ethnic group, with the intent to destroy. However, the killing of a group of people cannot be considered genocide based only on the death counts and numbers, the tactics and motives of the perpetrators need to be determined. The Germans used every method possible to exterminate the Herero people from concentration camps and rape, to poison and starvation, showing just how brutal the Germans were.

The Germans used mass killing in order to stop the Herero rebellions against their colonial rule in fear of being defeated and losing their colony. On October 2nd, 1904, German General Lothar Von Trotha ordered the extermination of all the Herero people from his land. General Lothar von Trotha stated , “The Herero people will have to leave the country. Otherwise I shall force them to do so by means of guns. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, whether found armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall not except any more women and children. 

I shall drive them back to their people-otherwise I shall order shots to be fired at them. These are my words to the Herero People. Signed: the Great General of the Mighty Kaiser, von Trotha” In December of 1904, the German government ruled out Von Trotha’s extermination order that all Herero people would be shot on the spot because the Herero rebellions had been put out by the Germans. The German government declared that concentration camps should be placed strategically in the colonies to get rid of the remaining Herero population. The concentration camps were placed in the towns of Namibia and were surrounded by barbed wire, armed guards, and watch towers.

At these camps, the Herero people were starved to death, worked to death building railroads, and poisoned by contaminated food and water. More than seventy percent of the people in the camps were women and children who were raped, whipped, and abused by the Germans for three years until the camps were shut down near the end of 1907. Although the concentration camps were shut down in 1907, the Herero people did not have freedom until Germany’s rule over Namibia ended.

The German army and government were aware of the mass murder they were committing, but they used racism to justify the genocide and dehumanize the Herero people. In the JSTOR article, “The German-Herero War of 1904: Revisionism of Genocide or Imaginary Historiography?”, Tilman Dedering, wrote about the racist German army leader, General Von Trotha. Dedering suggested that General Lothar von Trotha killed the Herero people for personal reasons and justified the killing with racism, which he was experienced with from fighting previous anti-imperialist rebellions. 

General Lothar von Trotha had experience in stopping rebellions against imperialism from his time in China during the Boxer Rebellion. Von Trotha not only exterminated the Herero people to stop their rebellion against Germany, he killed them as a result of hatred and racism towards Africans to destroy the population. Von Trotha also used racism to convince his army that what they were doing to the Herero people was not wrong and was justifiable because the Herero people were inferior and did not matter. Lothar von Trotha stated, “I believe that this nation as a nation must be exterminated… I prefer for the nation to disappear entirely rather than allow them to infect our troops with their diseases.” 

Von Trotha ordered his army to burn a group of sick Herero women alive in order to avoid infecting their army with germs from Africans who they already considered unhealthy for being black. By the time the genocide ended in 1907, General von Trotha had destroyed most of the Herero population as a result of his racist, imperialistic perspective on the Herero people.

When the genocide ended in 1907, the German army had killed 80 percent of the Herero population. There were about 80,000 Herero people living in Namibia before the genocide and only about 16,000 people survived the horrors of the concentration camps and forced labor. The Germans also killed 50 percent of the Nama population during the genocide. Although the genocide ended in 1907, the Herero people’s rights were still restricted. The Herero were not allowed to own weapons, land, or cattle and still had to perform forced labor until Germany’s rule over Namibia ended in 1919. 

The Herero people are still suffering from the effects of the genocide more than 100 years later. Life will never be the same for the descendants of the surviving Herero because their economy, home, and culture were destroyed by the ruthlessness of the Germans and most of Namibia’s population lives in poverty today. In 2001, the Herero government asked Germany to pay them reparations for the damage they caused to the Herero population. To this day, the Herero are still fighting to get what they deserve to rebuild their community.

The prime minister of Namibia, Hage Geingob, said that the best way Germany could help Namibia would be to provide resources and money to rebuild schools and roads, but this is yet to happen. In addition to the struggle for reparations from the Germans, the Herero people have to be reminded of the past every day because many of the buildings and structures still standing were built by the Herero people in concentration camps during the genocide. The Herero community will forever be haunted by the trauma inflicted by the Germans.

The Germans purposefully exterminated the Herero people to stop their rebellions against Germany’s colonial rule during the Herero Genocide of 1904. They used mass killing in concentration camps and torture through rape, poison, and starvation to exterminate the Herero people. The Germans used racism to justify their actions in Namibia and to dehumanize the Herero people. This is shown through General Lothar von Trotha’s extermination order of the Herero people in 1904. He ordered the murder of every Herero person, which he and his army accomplished by killing 80 percent of the Herero population. 

The Herero genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century and it is also known as the “forgotten genocide” or “Germany’s other genocide” because many people today do not know what it was or that it even happened, which shows why genocide is still taking place today. In conclusion, Germany’s ruthless extermination of the Herero people during the Herero Genocide shows just how brutal and racist they were towards the Herero people by using concentration camps, forced labor, and torture to exterminate the ethnic group and remain in control of their South African colony.