ABSTRACT

In 1884, the German Empire had declared large parts of the territory which is known today as the Republic of Namibia as its first colonial prey, and named it ‘German South West Africa’.1 The process of colonization that took place in the following two decades took the form of settler colonial physical penetration and occupation in the central, southern and eastern parts of the country. This confrontation also provoked violent anti-colonial resistance by local communities, mainly among different groups of the Nama (derogatorily called ‘Hottentots’) and the Herero. These isolated acts of resistance were met in return by military oppression. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, an escalation of the invasions by German traders and settlers resulted in a major concerted occupation of the territory originally under the control of the local cattle herders. The confiscation of land, forced removal and displacement resulted in organized rebellion. Herero communities under the leadership of Chief Samuel Maherero rose up against German colonial rule with planned attacks on German settlers in January 1904. These attacks caught the colonial authorities by surprise, but were soon countered by the full force of the military, with the mobilization by the Empire of massive detachments of troops and weapons. Within nine months, the Herero resistance was decisively broken and the

commander of the German troops, General von Trotha, issued the now notorious ‘extermination order’ (for a debate of its significance, see Lundtofte 2003: 39ff.). The text, issued on 2 October 1904 and rescinded in December of the same year by the Kaiser under pressure from public protests within the German Empire, declared the following (among other things):

I, the Great General of the German Soldiers, address this letter to the Herero people. The Herero are no longer considered German subjects. They have murdered, stolen, cut off ears, noses and other parts from

wounded soldiers, and now refuse to fight on out of cowardice … The Herero people will have to leave the country. Otherwise, I shall force them to do so by means of guns. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, whether found armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall not accept any more women and children. I shall drive them back to their people – otherwise, I shall order shots to be fired at them.