Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Genocide Germany Forgot

"Every Herero on German territory, with or without rifles, with or without cattle, will be shot. I'm not taking in any more women and children, drive them back to their people or have them shot." - General Lothar von Trotha on October 2, 1904

Between 1884 and 1915, Germany was the colonial master in what is today Namibia. In 1904, the Herero launched a major uprising against their German colonial masters, killing more than 100 Germans. The uprising led Germany's von Trotha to order to decimation of the entire Herero population. Fortunately, he did not succeed, and today there are again 120,000 Herero and 60,000 Nama minorities in the country. The Herero people were massacred between 1904 and 1905. More than 70,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama, most of the tribal populations, were killed as an anti-colonial uprising was crushed. Christian Kopp from Berlin Postkolonial says the term genocide is appropriate "because there was a clear intent to wipe out the Herero and the Hama." Lothar von Trotha said at the time he would "wipe them out with rivers of blood."

Henning Melber, an expert on Namibia from the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Stockholm. "The point about Germany in South West Africa is that it waged a war quite openly that these days would classify as genocide. It is not as if genocide was practiced in secret. In imperial Germany, events in German South West Africa were considered important and the political elite boasted quite openly that they had wiped out the Herero and Nama." During the fight German soldiers are said to have forced the surviving Herero into the Omaheke desert and blocked access to all water sources. Thousands died a painful death from starvation and thirst.

Niema Movassat, deputy for the opposition Left Party in the German parliament, says hundreds of thousands were shot or hanged, or deprived of water and left to die of thirst in the desert. Or put into camps for forced labour. "One has to take responsibility for this," he told DW. At the end of February, the Left Party brought a motion before parliament calling for the murderous campaign in what was then German South West Africa to be declared as genocide. "There has never been an official apology," said Movassat.

It was only after Namibia became independent in 1990 that the full scope of the crime became public knowledge in the country itself. 100 years after its deadly campaign against the Herero people of Namibia, the then Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul visited the former colony on Saturday. She asked for the country's forgiveness. "We Germans recognize our historical, political, moral and ethical responsibility and guilt," the development minister said. Wieczorek-Zeul told several thousand Herero people who gathered at the site of the battle. "Blinded by colonial delusion," she said, Germans brought "violence, discrimination, racism and destruction" to the country. She said, the crimes that took place a hundred years ago would have been defined as genocide, and von Trotha would have been brought before a criminal tribunal.

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