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Namibia: 'let's die fighting rather than die of maltreatment'.

"If we rebel, we will be annihilated in battle since our people are practically unarmed and without ammunition, but the cruelty and injustice of the Germans have driven us to despair and our leaders and our people both feel that death has lost its terrors because of the conditions under which we now live," wrote the Herero chief, Samuel Maherero, in 1904, on the eve On the Eve (Накануне in Russian) is the third novel by famous Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, best known for his short stories and the novel Fathers and Sons.  of the Herero uprising against German colonial rule. On the 104th anniversary of the rebellion this month, Anna Rosenberg traces native resistance to German rule in South West Africa South West Africa: see Namibia.  (now Namibia).


On a midsummer day Mid·sum·mer Day  
1. June 24, observed in Europe, Latin America, and Scandinavian communities in the United States in commemoration of the summer solstice.

 in early 1913, a German missionary walked down a dusty road in Windhoek, South West Africa (GSWA GSWA Geological Survey of Western Australia
GSWA Great Swamp Watershed Association
GSWA German South West Africa
GSWA Generalized Sliding Window Algorithm
GSWA Galvanized Steel Wire Armour
). The missionary, Gustav Becker, was on his way to hold a wedding in the church of the Namaspeaking parish. He had good reason to anticipate nothing more than an uneventful ceremony for, since his arrival in Windhoek one year earlier, relations with the parishioners had been smooth or at least without audible discord.

"When Becker entered the church, however, he was disturbed by what he saw. He faced a crowd crowned with top hats, despite his order days before not to wear them. He had claimed that the hats made Africans the laughing stock laughing stock

a person or thing that is treated with ridicule

laughing stock
noun figure of fun, target, victim, butt, fair game, Aunt Sally Brit.
 of Europeans, but now he felt little inclination to laugh himself. He reported to his superior that this was 'open resistance'."


The historian, Philip Prein, recounts this incident as an example for how African resistance in German colonial South West Africa continued seven years after the native population had been heavily defeated in war by the Germans. The conflicts of 1903-1907 had killed more than half of the native population and had forced the survivors into a status of semi-servitude, but still their willingness to resist was not broken. The history of Namibia The history of Namibia has passed through several distinct stages, and Namibia has really only existed as a modern state since South Africa relinquished control of the country in 1989. Early in the 20th century, Namibia was a German colony (German South West Africa).  under German colonial rule has often been looked at from the perspective of the victims who died during the Herero Genocide of 1904. But as the story of the top hat-wearing Namas suggests, Africans were not just helpless victims. Colonialism in Africa could not have ended without native resistance. Africans did not just stand by watching while they were gradually dispossessed, enslaved Enslaved may refer to:
  • Slavery, the socio-economic condition of being owned and worked by and for someone else
  • Submissive (BDSM), people playing the 'slave' part in BDSM
  • Enslaved (band), a progressive black metal/Viking metal band from Haugesund, Norway
 and even killed. Some were victims, some were collaborators and agents of imperialism, but others rebelled.


Since the beginning of the German colonial intrusion into what was then South West Africa, the Africans gave the colonial power a hard time. Between 1884 and 1915, there were numerous rebellions which kept the colonial power in constant fear and alert. Hardly a year passed when the Germans did not have to face an indigenous rebellion of some kind. The resistance came from a profound discontent with the prevailing situation, but different ethnic groups had different motives to rebel.

Economic problems resulting from the gradual expropriation The taking of private property for public use or in the public interest. The taking of U.S. industry situated in a foreign country, by a foreign government.

Expropriation is the act of a government taking private property; Eminent Domain is the legal term describing the
 of cattle and land were a driving force. Social factors, like the inequality in treatment of black and whites, maltreatment maltreatment Social medicine Any of a number of types of unreasonable interactions with another adult. See Child maltreatment, Cf Child abuse.  of Africans and racial and social discrimination were other reasons. Internal power struggles also played a crucial role as did religious motivations.

German colonial ambitions

Europe was in a colonial fever during the 18th, 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries. The possession of colonies was an important manifestation of power, and Germany could not stand idly by. In fact, it did not want to lose its colonial territories to Britain. It had become a matter of prestige to govern over South West Africa.

Initially, German contact with Namibia was confined to missionary activities and trade. As the colony became more and more important to Germany and resistance more threatening, the colonisers had to find means to pacify pac·i·fy  
tr.v. pac·i·fied, pac·i·fy·ing, pac·i·fies
1. To ease the anger or agitation of.

2. To end war, fighting, or violence in; establish peace in.
 the country and raise the benefits of trading. Increasing European settlement was to make this possible.

But the natives were highly experienced warriors and would not allow the Germans to seize power so easily. Initially, the Germans tried to gain control by collaborating with different ethnic groups, using the time-tested "divide and rule" tactics or so-called "protection treaties".

As more and more ethic groups realised that they did not gain much from these agreements, the Germans found new ways to forcefully tie them down to the treaties. But the Nama people, led by Hendrik Witbooi Hendrik Witbooi is the name of:
  • A 19th century Namaqua leader, see: Hendrik Witbooi (Namaqua chief)
  • A former deputy prime minister of Namibia, see: Hendrik Witbooi (politician)
, rejected any form of dependence on the German colonial power and opposed the "protection treaties", whereas the Hereros had agreed to German protection already in 1890. Angry about the Hereros' submission to German control, the Nama chief Hendrik Witbooi wrote to his long-time enemy, the Herero leader, Samuel Maharero Samuel Maharero (1856 - 1923) was a chief of the Herero people in German South-West Africa (today Namibia) during their revolts and in connection with the events surrounding the Herero massacre. , taunting him: "I learn ... that you have given yourself into German protection, and that Dr Goring has thus gained power to tell you what to do, and to dispose as he wills over our affairs, particularly in this war of ours with its long history.

"I am amazed a·maze  
v. a·mazed, a·maz·ing, a·maz·es
1. To affect with great wonder; astonish. See Synonyms at surprise.

2. Obsolete To bewilder; perplex.

 of you, and take it very ill of you who call yourself the leader of Hereroland ... Are you still paramount chief A paramount chief is the highest-level traditional (usually tribal) chief or political leader in a regional or local polity or country typically administered politically with a chief-based system.  of Hereroland? I can't see how you can call yourself that, since you have put someone else over you and have submitted to him and his protection ..."

But gradually all the ethnic groups, even the Witboois in 1894, were forced into the German treaties, which implied that the Africans had to fight on the side of the Germans against "enemies of the German Protectorate protectorate, in international law
protectorate, in international law, a relationship in which one state surrenders part of its sovereignty to another. The subordinate state is called a protectorate.
, both outside and inside the country".

Feeling that a bigger threat had arrived, the Nama and Herero made peace in 1892 in order to cope with the new situation under the Germans. The Germans knew that the only way to have effective power over the country was to occupy it. European, and especially German settlers were eager to come to South West Africa as they were seeking new economic possibilities outside Europe.

And they went for the land to build their farms. As a result, the natives were expelled from their land on a wide scale. But the land was not always taken forcefully; sometimes it was sold or exchanged by the people living on it. Cattle was another necessity for trading purposes; so more and more astute tactics were employed to get African cattle--sometimes supported by self-obsessed chiefs. The grandfather of Daniel Ndjombo, a 77-year-old Herero farmer, lived under German colonial rule. Ndjombo today tells the story of how his grandfather exchanged a full-grown ox for a fancy colonial firelighter n. 1. a piece of) a substance that burns easily and can be used to start a coal or coke fire.

Noun 1. firelighter - (a piece of) a substance that burns easily and can be used to start a coal or coke fire

The possession of cattle was not only of economic but of social relevance as it determined the social position of Herero men within their society and regulated social relationships. Cattle also played a crucial role in religious rituals, thus the expropriation of cattle did not only have economic implications but also social significance.

The rinderpest rinderpest or cattle plague, an acute and highly infectious viral disease of cattle, primarily in N Africa, SE Asia, and India. It less frequently affects other ruminants, such as sheep, goats, and wild game.  (cattle-plague) of 1897 was a major blow for the native population as 50-95% of African livestock died. The settlers did not have to face this situation as they had vaccinations which could save their cattle. The Germans offered these vaccinations to the natives but only in exchange for fertile grazing grazing,
n See irregular feeding.


1. actions of herbivorous animals eating growing pasture or cereal crop.

2. area of pasture or cereal crop to be used as standing feed. See also pasture.
 land or cattle; or by offering credit on usurious usurious adj. referring to the interest on a debt which exceeds the maximum interest rate allowed by law. (See: usury)  terms.

But it was not only economic reasons that drove the natives to rebel. A German missionary wrote at the time: "The real cause of the bitterness among the Hereros towards the Germans is without question the fact that the average German looks down upon natives as being about on the same level as the higher primates and treats them like animals.

"The settler holds that the native has a right to exist only in so far as he is useful to the white man. It follows that the whites value their horses and even their oxen oxen

adult castrated male of any breed of Bos spp.
 more than they value the natives."

The uprising begins

The historian, Jon Bridgman Jon Bridgman is an American historian and a professor emeritus of the University of Washington.

Bridgman, a graduate of Stanford University, who received his doctorate from Stanford University in 1961 spent his entire teaching career at the University of Washington.
, writes: "By the end of 1903, the situation in Hereroland had reached a crisis. The seeds of a revolt, sown many years beforehand, had long geminated."

These uprisings have been described in historical accounts by Horst Drechsler, Helmut Bley and Jon Bridgman. The year 1896 saw the first joint Nama and Herero resistance: The Khauas und Mbandjeru also rose against German colonialism over a series of discriminating incidents.

The Herero leader, Samuel Maharero, was openly favoured by the colonial government, whereas the Mbandjeru chief, Nikodemus, was continuously reminded that he was only chief under German conditions and that he could easily be removed from this position. Maharero's claims for land were granted whereas Nikodemus' demands for the township of Gobabis were rejected.

In July 1895, the Germans had agreed with Maharero to a treaty which allowed the Germans to confiscate To expropriate private property for public use without compensating the owner under the authority of the Police Power of the government. To seize property.

When property is confiscated it is transferred from private to public use, usually for reasons such as
 5% of all cattle that crossed the frontiers of Herero territory. Half of the profit from the cattle which were sold was then given to Maharero. As thousands of Herero cattle were taken on a raid in November 1895, many Herero chiefs were outraged.


In 1901, the Germans decided to count the amount of horses owned by a small ethnic group called the Grootfontein who interpreted this as the first step to total disarmament. But their rebellion was quickly snuffed out by the German troops. The prisoners were brought to Windhoek to work as labourers; their land, livestock and horses were confiscated con·fis·cate  
tr.v. con·fis·cat·ed, con·fis·cat·ing, con·fis·cates
1. To seize (private property) for the public treasury.

2. To seize by or as if by authority. See Synonyms at appropriate.


Elsewhere, the Bondelwart ethnic group had been living in peace with the Germans since the 1890s as they considered their real enemy to be the Nama chief, Hendrik Witbooi. But as the Germans expressed attempts to register the group's weapons in 1903, they, too, like the Grootfontein before them, interpreted the move as a prelude to total disarmament. The Bondelwart rebellion (under their leader Willem Christian) was so successful that all German troops were transferred to the south to fight them, leaving Hereroland empty of German soldiers which provided a perfect opportunity for the Hereros to rise. On the eve of the Herero uprising in 1904, their chief Samuel Maharero wrote to the Nama chief, Hendrik Witbooi: "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 Verb 1. take up arms - commence hostilities
go to war, take arms

war - make or wage war
 against the Germans. Let us die fighting rather than die as a result of maltreatment, imprisonment Imprisonment
See also Isolation.

Alcatraz Island

former federal maximum security penitentiary, near San Francisco; “escapeproof.” [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 218]

Altmark, the

German prison ship in World War II. [Br. Hist.
 or some other calamity. Tell all the kapteins down there to rise and do battle."


Why Maharero chose to turn against the Germans with whom he had always maintained a good relationship is not clear. Some argue that his position as chief was threatened from within the Herero tribe as internal claims for resistance against German rule were articulated.

The Germans had given him power and wealth; he had worked together with them to eliminate his rivals. He was responsible for helping to dispossess dispossess v. to eject someone from real property, either legally or by self help.  his subjects and now he exploited his people's grievances against the colonial power--which had emerged largely due to his actions--in order to unite the Hereros behind him. As the Germans trusted him, he could prepare resistance without arising suspicion.

Maharero tried to draw all the ethnic groups of South West Africa into this uprising. To the Otjimbngwe, he wrote: "If we rebel, we will be annihilated in battle since our people are practically unarmed and without ammunition, but the cruelty and injustice of the Germans have driven us to despair and our leaders and our people both feel that death has lost its terrors because of the conditions under which we now life."

Maharero wrote more letters to the Ovambo, Orlam, Baster baste 1  
tr.v. bast·ed, bast·ing, bastes
To sew loosely with large running stitches so as to hold together temporarily.
 and Nama chiefs. But the Baster chief, Hermanus van Wyk, remained loyal to the Germans and stopped Maharero's letter from going through to Hendrik Witbooi.

The Hereros attacked on 12 January 1904 as the German troops were out of striking distance, trying to fight the Bondelwarts. During the following days, farms and villages were attacked.

The Germans had not expected an uprising, especially initiated by their long-term ally Samuel Maharero. The news of a Herero rising spread quickly. Even Hereros who had been working in the mines of South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa.  came back to fight against the colonial power. Over the first few months until June 1904, the uprising was successful as the Germans were caught by surprise and were not prepared for war. Their inability to hold the Hereros was seen as humiliating hu·mil·i·ate  
tr.v. hu·mil·i·at·ed, hu·mil·i·at·ing, hu·mil·i·ates
To lower the pride, dignity, or self-respect of. See Synonyms at degrade.
 for the German military. Only the arrival of the ruthless General Lothar von Trotha changed the tables. Von Trotha saw the complete annihilation of the Hereros as the only solution to end the war, and issued his now infamous "extermination order Missouri Executive Order 44[1] also known as The "extermination order" (alt. exterminating order) in Latter Day Saint history was an executive order issued on October 27, 1838 by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs. " to spare no Herero.

Driven into the Waterberg, the Hereros were encircled en·cir·cle  
tr.v. en·cir·cled, en·cir·cling, en·cir·cles
1. To form a circle around; surround. See Synonyms at surround.

2. To move or go around completely; make a circuit of.
 and besieged be·siege  
tr.v. be·sieged, be·sieg·ing, be·sieg·es
1. To surround with hostile forces.

2. To crowd around; hem in.

 on 11 August 1904. Those who managed to escape were forced into the Omaheke Desert where they faced death by dying of thirst and hunger. It is estimated that out of a Herero population of 80,000, only 16,000 survived!

But the colony was not appeased yet. Inspired by the Herero rebellion, the Nama took up arms to fight the Germans in October 1904. Nearly half of the remaining ethnic groups joined the rebellion. Five hundred badly equipped Namas faced 10,000 German soldiers who were able to shake colonial South West Africa to its foundations. Over two years the Nama fought a fierce guerilla war which the Germans were unable to pacify. The humiliation for the German army was tremendous. In October 1905 the death of Hendrik Witbooi was to have a major blow on the resistance struggle. Over the next years the natives were defeated.

104 years later

On 7 October 2007, the descendants of Von Trotha arrived in Omaruru in Namibia to apologise to the Herero people for their ancestor's brutality. They expressed deep shame over Von Trotha's actions. "We say sorry, since we bear the name of General Lothar von Trotha. We, however, do not only want to look back, but also look to the future," they told the Hereros.

Which forced the Herero supreme chief, Alfons Maharero, the grandson of Samuel Maharero, to say: "We demand a dialogue with the present German government to obtain restorative justice A philosophical framework and a series of programs for the criminal justice system that emphasize the need to repair the harm done to crime victims through a process of negotiation, mediation, victim empowerment, and Reparation.

The U.S.

But Ulrich von Trotha, one of the family members who went to Omaruru, said her family was on a private visit and "cannot become involved in the demand for reparations reparations, payments or other compensation offered as an indemnity for loss or damage. Although the term is used to cover payments made to Holocaust survivors and to Japanese Americans interned during World War II in so-called relocation camps (and used as well to  from a government".

Although the German government has expressed "regret" at the massacre of the Hereros, and a visiting German minister apologised in general terms in 2004, Berlin still thinks that a formal apology would lead to demands by the Hereros for reparations.

And so, at the 104th anniversary of the Herero genocide, no formal apology or reparations are likely to come forth from the German capital.
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Title Annotation:Feature
Author:Rosenberg, Anna
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Previous Article:Slavery: the case for reparations (2).
Next Article:Why serious visioning and visioners are strangers in Africa.

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