Between 1904 and 1908, Germany conducted one of the most horrific genocides of the 20th century. While western history books tend to focus on the Holocaust, what many people don’t know is that one of the first genocides of the century occurred in Namibia. Under German orders, the Nama and Herero ethnic groups were mutilated and slaughtered to the point where 80% of the population was gone. Historians estimate that over 100,000 people were killed. Now, Namibia is demanding reparations from Germany, who has long refused to provide reparations let alone acknowledge that the genocide happened in the first place.
Most recently, Vice News released a short documentary on the efforts of the Herero and Nama people to obtain solace for the horrific killings of their ancestors. During the events of 1904-1908, Germany stole the Herero people’s (originally cattle farmers) land and relocated them to a largely infertile and uninhabitable reserve where they could no longer farm the way their ancestors had. Now, they are demanding for their land to be rightfully returned, and are in the process of suing the German government.
What shocked me the most about the documentary (although actually, it wasn’t really as shocking as it was just infuriating) were the reactions of Namibians of German descent to the news. As discussed by Vice, white Namibians make up 8% of the population yet own nearly 60% of the land. However, apparently owning over half of the land just simply isn’t enough. One interviewee’s response especially resonated with me because of her astounding aura of superiority and privilege when asked how she felt about the Herero and Nama demanding reparations. After scoffing at the question, (3:21) she then goes on to ask “really?” several times, before proclaiming that we don’t even know for sure that it was their land in the first place.
What this young woman fails to realize, however, is that it’s not so much the land that is the issue as it is the fact that the minority white population continues to benefit from the effects of apartheid while black Namibians, like the Herero ethnic group, live in the slums, excluded from experiencing any of the luxuries that white Namibians are easily allotted. The simple fact that the minority white population owns the majority of the land is another clear indicator that apartheid in a sense is still well and alive.
Other white Namibians throughout the documentary asserted that Germany has indeed provided large sums of money to the country as a form of reparations. But what good does this money do when there is still poverty rampant throughout the country? Clearly, there are very few white slums that exist in comparison to the amount of black slums.
But of course, before attempting to decipher the root of systemic inequality in Namibia as a result of decades of German colonial rule, the first step must come with Germany acknowledging the fact that they are responsible for orchestrating a genocide in a formal, written apology. If there is anything that they owe to the Herero and Nama people, it is AT LEAST the acknowledgement that they were 100% responsible for perpetrating these atrocities.