By Anisha Padma:
“The horror! The horror!”, proclaims Kurtz as he draws upon his last breath in The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
More than 75,000 Herero and Nama individuals dead.
Native women forced to serve the German soldiers as sex slaves.
Body parts chopped for play.
And, no reparations were ever made. Yet, I’m inclined to ask myself, after the genocide of the Herero and Nama people, will the German state ever fully realize the horror?
History of Genocide
Before Adolf Hitler led a massive campaign to systematically eradicate Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, General von Trotha led an equally egregious genocide campaign against the Herero and the Nama people in modern-day Namibia.
German imperialism began in South West Africa, thanks to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who exercised his control for gaining access to the region. This led to the seizure of land and property. The Germans adopted a military-like presence throughout the entire establishment of forts. And in an attempt to generate revenue, the Germans taxed the very people who bore rightful claim over the land that they had settled on.
These actions fueled the tempers of the Herero and Nama people and resulted in many uprisings in order to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. But the Germans were not to be trifled with. “All the Herero must leave the land. If they refuse, then I will force them to do it with the big guns. Any Herero found within German borders, with or without a gun, will be shot. No prisoners will be taken. This is my decision for the Herero people,” said General von Trotha on October 2, 1904.
As we read these words today, we can clearly understand that this statement was meant for initiating a genocide – the systematic extermination of a group based on their ethnic, racial, or religious identification. In a manner similar to the Trail of Tears in the United States, the Herero were forced into the Kalahari desert, where numerous people died.
Those who did survive, faced a fate that seemed to be more terrifying than death. Coerced into the concentration camps on Shark Island and forced to live a life of harrowing labour and extreme depravity, the Herero and Nama people suffered massive decimation. This systematic extermination of the Herero and Nama tribes influenced the practices employed towards the victims of the Holocaust.
The genocide in Namibia resulted in the injustices that were later continued during the Holocaust. In the concentration camps, besides forced labour, sinister acts of violence were committed. Experiments under the ruse of medical science were conducted on the Herero and Nama people by Eugen Fischer. He examined the children born to women who were used as sex slaves by the German soldiers. He believed that the mixed race children were still inferior to their German fathers, and this was based on no empirical evidence.
Inspired by these findings, Adolf Hitler used Fischer’s findings to substantiate his belief in the racial superiority of the Germans in Mein Kampf.
Fischer continued his experimentation in the Nazi Germany by performing forced sterilizations. All of these injustices combined led to a staggering number of deaths – “65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people were exterminated in concentration camps”.
Arguing for reparations
Although the Holocaust that resulted in the murder of more than six million Jews was not the first murderous campaign that was enacted by the Germans, but it led to reparations. But, these reparations were made towards the Jewish people and the state of Israel, a major modern global player. Approximately worth five billion dollars, the German state created a foundation titled, “Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future” for reparations.
The manner in which they did this was to completely stop raising the issue of the injustices committed during the Holocaust through financial reparations. But even this is not enough in order to achieve a sense of justice. We should make reparations through our educational system, where we teach our future generations about our previous mistakes rather than erasing them from our histories.
Despite the violence which unfolded in Namibia, Germany has not even paid financial reparations to Namibia. When asked about this, the German officials said that the reparations were directed towards a “specific group” (The Developing Norm of Reparations and Apologies for historical claims). But where was this argument, when it came towards paying the reparations for the Jews? Simply admitting that you had an “unfortunate past” is not enough. Especially when Namibia faces the damaging effects of colonialism, as it is a poor nation and its minority population of whites is still holding onto the stolen land. That is why this petition to call for reparations is so important. The colonial powers need to be held accountable for the genocide, slavery, and violence committed by them. Unfortunately, the government in Namibia is often forced to stay silent in order to forge economic ties with Germany.
Thus, the burden of calling for reparations has to come from the organizations that aren’t supported by any institutional power. It is important to reiterate that the colonial powers need to pay, because they developed their wealth by stripping these third-world nations of their own resources and labour (The Meaning of Monetary Reparations after a Genocide).