German Imperialism in South West Africa

Almost twenty years of German colonialism in South-West Africa (modern Namibia) generated fierce hostility on the part of the Herero, the main tribe of the region. By 1904, German alienation of the native land, the resentment caused by racist attitudes against the native peoples, as well as the catastrophic effects on the native agricultural economy resulting from cattle plague (the Rinderpest), created the warlike outburst of the Herero in 1904, a contest that soon saw their former enemy, the Nama, join with them in an unavailing struggle against the superior German arms. The brutal retaliation of the German commander in the field, General von Trotha, gave rise to what has been dubbed by one author as "the first genocide of the twentieth century" as tens of thousands of Herero were wiped out by starvation when pushed into the wilderness of the Kalahari desert.

(a) The statement of Hendrik Witbooi (Nama chief) on the German administration

The German himself . . . . . . is just what he described the other nations as ... he makes no requests according to truth and justice and asks no permission of a chief. He introduces laws into the land . . . [which] are entirely impossible, untenable, unbelievable, unbearable, unmerciful and unfeeling.... He personally punishes our people at Windhoek and has already beaten people to death for debt.... it is not just and right to beat people to death for that. . . . . He flogs people in a shameful and cruel manner. We stupid and unintelligent people, for so he thinks us to be, we have never yet punished a human being in such a cruel and improper way for he stretches people on their backs and flogs them on the stomach and even between the legs, be they male or female, so Your Honour can understand that no one can survive such a punishment.

(b) The following letter was written by Samuel Mahahero on 6 March 1904 in reply to a letter of the German Governor Leutwein asking him why he had started the war.

The beginning of the war is not just in this year begun by me, but by the whites, for you know how many Hereros have been killed by white people, especially [by] traders with rifles and [by guards] in prison. And always when I brought the matter to Windhoek, the blood of my people was always valued at no more than a few head of [cattle] . . . . The traders increased the trouble in the way that they of their own accord gave my people credit [i.e., loans]. After they had done this they robbed them, going so far as to take away by force, to repay themselves, two or three head of cattle for a debt of one pound sterling. These are the things which have caused the war in this land.

And now in these days the white people said to us that you who were at peace with us and had love for us were not here, and they began to say to us: the Governor who loved you has gone to a hard war, he is dead and because he is dead you [Hereros] must also die. They went so far as to kill two Hereros of Chief Tjetjo, even Lieutenant N. began to kill my people in the gaol. Ten died and it was said that they died of sickness, but they died by the hands of the labor overseer and by the lash.

Eventually Lieutenant N. began to treat me badly and to look for a reason for killing me, so he said: the people of Kambasembi and Uanja are making war. Then he called me to question me. I answered him truthfully 'No', but he did not believe me. At last he hid soldiers in boxes in the fort. And he sent for me so that when I came he could shoot me. I did not go; I saw his intentions and so I fled. Thereupon Lieutenant N. sent men with rifles to shoot me. Because of these things I became angry and said: 'Now I must kill the white people even if I die. That I should surely die I heard from a white man named X. .................I am the Chief, Samuel Herero.

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