Four years ago, the moment of victory for activists finally arrived as politicians in Berlin, Germany, agreed to change street names associated with atrocities committed by German colonial powers during their occupation of Namibia. After more than a decade of debate, the lawmakers voted in April 2018 to recommend new names for streets in the area known as the “African Quarter.”
The German colonizers of what was then called South West Africa now Namibia killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in the 1904-1908 massacres. Historians have since referred to it as the first genocide of the 20th century. Streets in the African Quarter in the northwest of the German capital bear names of some of the people behind those atrocities, such as Lüderitzstraße, after Franz Adolf Lüderitz, the founder of South West Africa.
In 2018, it was announced that those names on the streets are now going to be dropped and replaced with those of freedom fighters such as Cornelius Frederiks, who led the Nama people’s resistance. Adolf Lüderitz would therefore be replaced by Cornelius Frederiks.
Historians have described Frederiks as “the most dangerous enemy of the German Imperial Forces” as he courageously fought against German colonizers taking over Namibian Territories. In 1884, Germans invaded what is now present-day Namibia in Southern Africa. Led by Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismark and Duke of Lauenburg, the Germans invaded the land to obstruct the British who were planning to expand their territories into Namibia. After the successful takeover, the Germans declared Namibia a German state and named it German South West Africa.
The Herero and Nama tribes were the two indigenous people of Namibia who owned the lands and were prosperous cattlemen and farmers. Before the German invasion, they lived in sophisticated and well-developed social settings, but between 1884 and 1903, they helplessly watched on as the Germans took over the lands and properties, killed their labor force and shipped them away into slavery.
In January 1904, members of the Herero ethnic group revolted against the invading Germans who had, as part of the scramble for African lands, secured territories in central, western and eastern Africa. The pushback against the Germans culminated in what has come to be known as the Battle of Waterberg. However, the Germans won and drove the Herero to the Namib desert where most of them died of starvation and dehydration.
In October of the same year, another group, the Namaqua or Nama, rose against the Germans. Frederiks was instrumental in this fight. A church elder and now leader of the !Aman people, a clan in the Nama tribe, he had already joined Hendrik Witbooi and other captains or freedom fighters who had declared war against the German imperial government. Frederiks commanded many war operations against the German forces and became a pain in the butts of the Germans who usually referred to him just as “Cornelius”.
On April 22, 1905, the German General von Trotha issued a second extermination order after the previous one that punished the Herero people. The German General in his order offered bounties for Nama leaders, whether dead or alive. Frederiks and Witbooi were included: 3,000 for Frederiks and 5,000 for Witbooi. In 1906, Witbooi died in the vicinity of Vaalgras while Frederiks continued to lead the !Aman from the village of Bethanie until he too had to surrender in 1906.
In all, the Nama people suffered a similar fate as the Herero as they were also beaten by the colonizers. The Germans officially created the Shark Island Concentration Camp in Luderitz Bay where they dumped captives including Frederiks as well as the remains of the dead locals. The island is located along the coast and had very harsh and cold weather conditions which were not favorable for habitation. The captives were left to their fate and died of hunger, cold or disease. Frederiks also died there on February 16, 1907, largely due to the inhumane conditions. A monument was erected to Fredericks and the !Aman community on Shark Island in 2002.
His grave is around the town Luderitz in Namibia, on the Shark Island peninsula, facing the Atlantic ocean, according to this report. Historians believe that he was given a proper burial by the Nama people even though the remains of many captives were thrown into the sea or left unburied by German officers. The body parts of some of them were even taken to Germany to be studied by anthropologists. On the back of this, some argue that Frederiks’ head was shipped to Germany.
Last year, the German government announced that it will pay up to $1.3 billion in aid to Namibia over an undisclosed period of time in a bid to formally acknowledge the European country’s role in what has been described as a genocide against the natives of the territory now known as Namibia.