Herero/Nama/Saan Genocide                    

Location: German Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia)            


Victim Group: Ovaherero, Namaqua, Saan peoples              

Perpetrators: German colonial forces                                    

Number of deaths (estimated): 34,000-110,000                      

Officially Recognized by Canada? No  


Significant Individuals:

·        Eugen Fischer

·        Otto von Bismarck (Germanchancellor)

·        Heinrich Goering (firstcolonial governor)

·        Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany’sKaiser)

·        Lieutenant General Lothar vonTrotha (colonial governor)


1484: First European, Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao, landed on the shores of what is today modern Namibia.                                   

1882: German tobacco Franz Luderitz merchant bought enormous swaths of coastal territory in this region

1884: Germany as a nation began more actively establishing itself based on Luderitz territorial occupation

Feb 26, 1885: Berlin Conference ends with plans on how effectively divide Africa among 13 European nations (see also:Scramble for Africa); not a single African person was in attendance.

1886: Portugal and Germany hammer out among themselves where to place distinct borders for each of their territorial gains; Portugal took ownership of what would later be known as Angola and Germany took control of German South West Africa, now termed a German protectorate. While the harsh climate of this region resulted in a relatively sparse population, it was already home to nearly a dozen different local peoples, most notably the Herero, the Nama, and the San.

1886-1904: Historical evidence of this pre-genocide period shows us that the colonial process of this region ranged from relatively peaceful trade to halfhearted treaty attempts to outright dispossession of land and racial violence. Germany claimed to act as intermediaries in local conflicts, but as the 20th century approached, German leaders in some cases actively worked towards creating increasing local instability in order to ease the seizure of land.Unfortunately, this was a relatively common tactic across European-held African colonies.

1904: By this time, tensions over land negotiations were becoming heated between local chiefs and German settlers.German colonists were attempting to force local tribes into a small territory that was unsuitable for grazing, poor for agriculture, and completely disconnected from their traditional lands. Predictably, violence broke out between the two negotiating sides.

January-October 1904: Reports of some Herero peoples attacking railroads and German settlements reached Kaiser Wilhem II in Germany, resulting in him sending in a new, more forceful Lieutenant to control the region. Upon his arrival, Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha issued the now-infamous Vernichtungsbefehl (extermination order).

“I, the great General of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people. The Herero are no longer German subjects…The Herero people must however leave the land. If the populace does not do this I will force them with the Groot Rohr [Cannon]. Within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will no longer accept women and children, I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at. These are my words to the Herero people…”

1904-1908: German leaders summarily executed Herero prisoner of war by hanging on October 2, 1904, and with this act initiated the formal policy of annihilation. Thousands of Herero men, women, and children were chased into the more desolate regions of this territory where they were weakened and eventually succumbing to hunger and thirst. Reports of mass shootings of non-combatants and poisoning of wells contravened existing international legislation on war crimes established in 1899. By December of 1904, the violence was so extreme that there began to be active resistance in some parts of the German parliament and military settlers, respectively. While on paper, the extermination order was lifted after domestic pressure, local conditions and violence on the ground in the protectorate did not improve. Captured Herero peoples were sent to a number of concentration camps that had been designated for forced labour. One of the most notorious of these camps was located on Shark Island, known colloquially as Death Island. It would be misleading to equate these to the industrialized death camps of the Holocaust—however, the inhumane conditions of these camps make it clear that death was the anticipated outcome. Disease,starvation, exhaustion, and violence on the part of German captors led to mass death of Herero and later Nama prisoners. Sexual violence was reported, as well as medical experimentation on inmates. By 1908, an estimated 80% of the Herero population had been annihilated, as well as about 50% of the Nama peoples.


1908 marks the end of the conflict, as that is when all Herero and Nama prisoners of war were ultimately released. Within the next decade, a number of African colonies, including the German South West protectorate, were pulled into the First World War, fighting on behalf of their colonizers. In May 1915, South Africa invaded the protectorate on the side of Britain, leading to the surrender of German forces on July 9, 1915. The Treaty of Versailles in 1918 solidified this territorial loss. This date marks the end of 31 years of German rule in this territory. However, racial segregation and continued dispossession of land continued under British rule. For the next seven decades, protests concerning the lawfulness of incorporating West South Africa into South African ensued. As more and more territories began gaining independence during decolonization post-war, Namibia finally became an autonomous, independent state in 1990. At the turn of the new millennium, Namibian leadership began calling for independent investigation of the atrocities committed by Germans nearly a century prior. In 2004, Germany offered a symbolic acknowledgement of the crimes committed between 1904 and 1908, even going as far as to use the term “genocide.” Skulls and other human remains of Herero and Nama peoples that had been sent to Germany for study and preservation have been returned to Namibia for a final resting place. However,negotiations between Namibia and Germany remain tense and unresolved, as Germany has rejected the possibility of reparations similar to what has been distributed to victims after the Holocaust. This has been based on the fact that the United Nation Genocide Convention on Genocide was signed in 1948, and therefore cannot be retroactively applied to the Herero and Nama Genocide.

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