How was the “forgotten genocide” of Namibia, committed by Germany and recognized a century later

It will not be easy to heal the deep and ancient wounds left by Germany in Namibia of what is now regarded as a genocide perpetrated by colonial forces.

This Friday, after more than 100 years, Berlin officially recognized the atrocities it committed during the colonial-era occupation of Namibia and offered the African country a sum of money as compensation.

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But how do you compensate for destruction of an entire society? What price can you put?

Germany agreed to pay more than $ 1 billion.

“In light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will apologize to Namibia and the descendants of the victims,” ​​Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday.

The German official added that his country, in a “gesture to recognize the immense suffering inflicted on the victims,” ​​will support the development of the African nation through a program that will cost more than US $ 1.3 billion.

The sum will be paid over 30 years and invested in infrastructure, medical care and training programs that benefit the affected communities.

But some Namibian leaders they have refused so far to back the deal, state newspaper New Era reported.

In Namibia, descendants of both the victims and the settlers have fiercely argued over what price can be placed on genocide.

The German colony of South West Africa

“All along this beach, there was a concentration camp”Says Laidlaw Peringanda. “The barbed wire was running where you see the parking lot today.”

The artist and social activist points past a row of outdoor cafes and a children’s playground on the waterfront in Swakopmund, Namibia’s main seaside resort, where cold Atlantic waters crash against the edge of the Namib Desert.

Swakopmund is one of the busiest beaches in Namibia. (Photo: Getty Images).

“My great-grandmother told me that some members of our family were brought here and forced to work, and they died.”

Talk about the years 1904-1908, when present-day Namibia was the German colony of Southwest Africa.

Tens of thousands of people died when Colonial forces brutally repressed the uprisings from two of the main peoples of the country, the Herero and the Nama, killing most of them and leading others to a desert (the Omaheke Desert, in the east of the country) where many died of starvation.

The survivors ended up in camps where they were used as slave labor.

It is estimated that as many as 65,000 of the 80,000 Herero living in South West Africa under German rule at the beginning of the colonial period perished, as well as perhaps 10,000 of an estimated 20,000 Nama population.

If they weren’t starving, they did so from exhaustion, thirst, or bullets and cannons. The rape of women was systematic.

Hundreds of victims’ skulls were sent to Germany for studies on racial differences that sought to prove the superiority of whites. Twenty of those skulls were returned from a hospital in Berlin to Namibia in 2011.

The atrocities committed in then-South West Africa have been described by historians as “the forgotten genocide” of the early 20th century.

Since 2015, when Germany formally recognized that the atrocities committed there could be classified as genocide, the country had been negotiating a restorative justice agreement with Namibia.

Laidlaw Peringanda in a mass grave of concentration camp victims.  (Photo: BBC Mundo).

Laidlaw Peringanda in a mass grave of concentration camp victims. (Photo: BBC Mundo).

Never before has a former colonial power sat down with a former colony in this way to reach a comprehensive agreement on the legacy of the past.

Germany said at the time that it would present a formal apology.

“Any Herero, with or without weapons, will be executed”

European powers sealed the cast of Africa at the Berlin conference in 1884. Germany, which had colonies on the territory of present-day Cameroon, Togo, and Tanzania, also annexed the southwest coast of the African continent, now Namibia.

There, Germany expelled communities from their lands, which were handed over to German settlers. The native population was subjected to all kinds of abuses, including rapes and murders.

In 1903, the Herero and Nama warriors rebelled, launching attacks that killed dozens of settlers.

Germany responded ruthlessly.

In 1904 the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, dispatched some 14,000 soldiers to Namibia under the command of the notorious Lothar von Trotha, the general who had brutally suppressed native rebellions in China and East Africa.

Those who survived battles like the one at Waterberg were killed, or forced into the fiery Kalahari Desert, where German soldiers had poisoned the water wells.

Von Trotha’s message to the Herero leaves no room for doubt:

“I, general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Herero. The Herero nation must leave the country … If they refuse, I will force them with cannon shots… Any Herero, with or without arms, will be executed ”.

A train transporting Herero prisoners to the concentration camp (1904).  (Photo: GETTY IMAGES).

A train transporting Herero prisoners to the concentration camp (1904). (Photo: GETTY IMAGES).

“Von Trotha told his soldiers not to lose their honor by shooting at women and children, to shoot to scare them and force them to flee into the desert, where they faced certain death from thirst and hunger,” Reinhart Koessler, professor at the department of political science at the University of Freiburg and academic specializing in political memory, who has studied Germany’s colonial past in West Africa for two decades.

For Koessler, Von Trotha’s words “were a clear intention of extermination, and that is what constitutes genocide, the will to eliminate an ethnic group.”

The rape of herero women and nama was so widespread that many descendants now have some German ancestry.

“I am a direct descendant of the Ovaherero. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents had German blood in their veins due to the sexual abuse that German soldiers committed against my people, ”Ngondi Kamatuka, acting president of the Ovaherero Association against Genocide in the United States, told BBC Mundo.

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