The “Scramble for Africa” was the colonization of African territory by European powers during the “New Imperialism” period from 1881 to 1914. In 1870, only 10 percent of Africa was under formal European control; by 1914 it had increased to almost 90 percent of the continent. There were different motivations for European colonizers, including desire for valuable resources, the quest for national prestige, tensions between pairs of European powers and religious missionary zeal.
Bismarck had his sights on Namibia and his dream of establishing an empire to rival that of Britain and France led to German colonization of Namibia in 1884. At the Berlin Conference in 1883, Africa had been divided between various European nations – largely to the surprise of Africans. As a result, Germany ended up with this arid desert land that most Europeans saw little use in claiming.
In 1889, 25 German troops landed at Walvis Bay disguised, ironically, as ‘tourists’. (I wish there was a picture.) Walvis Bay at the time was under British control, and the German troops could not simply march onto British territory in full battle gear.
The German Colonial Administration was never fully in control of Namibia because of rebellions by the pre-colonial Namibian population. What resulted was a genocide by the Germans of the Herero, Damara and Nama. About 60,000 Herero were killed out of a total population of about 80,000 and thousands more Damara and Nama people were killed. Those that survived were moved to concentration camps. There are many images online of Namibians in chains. It is thought to be the first instance of cultural genocide by a European nation.
Germany lost all its colonial territories after WWI, but Namibia didn’t gain independence; the next to conquer Namibia were the Afrikaaners, and eventually Namibia’s Indigenous people were subjected to Apartheid. In May 1967, because of Apartheid in the country, the UN took over with the goal of independence. In May 1968, the country was given the name Namibia. It would take more than 20 years for free elections to take place.
In 1990, having been instructed by the UN Security Council to end its long-standing involvement in Namibia and in the face of military stalemate in Southern Angola, South Africa negotiated a change of control and Namibia finally became independent on 21 March 1990.
Independence Day on 21 March 1990 was celebrated in Windhoek’s sports stadium which was attended by numerous international representatives, including the main players, the UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and President of South Africa F W de Klerk, who jointly conferred formal independence on Namibia. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia watched by Nelson Mandela (just released from prison) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state.
It took until September 2019 for the German government to acknowledge there was a genocide: “It is in the meantime clear that the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1908 were what we today describe as genocide,” Development Minister Gerd Mueller said after meeting tribespeople on Friday, according to a ministry spokesman.
Today, the clothes that Herero women choose to wear is a permanent reminder of the tribe’s unsettling past and history. The style of dress was introduced by the German wives of missionaries and colonialists who first came to the country in the early 1900s. Their cultural dress, the “Ohorokova,” is a continued protest against the Germans who butchered them, making it a subversion of their former rulers’ fashion. The attire is topped off by a cow horn-shaped hat, paying homage to their traditional identity as cattle breeders. Before their arrival, most Herero were bare-breasted and wore front and back leather aprons, made from sheep, goat or game skins.
Negotiations with Germany are ongoing. The tribes brought a lawsuit in the U.S. seeking compensation from plunder by Germany of human remains and other property of the tribes that ended up in New York institutions Like the American Museum of Natural History. That suit was dismissed in early 2019 based on jurisdictional problems, but, with the over $70 billion in reparation to survivors of the Holocaust during WWII, the Herero are not giving up.
And then, there is the matter of De Beers. I’ll be looking at that soon.