More than two decades after losing colonial control in Namibia, Germany is still facing accusations of what is largely described by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century. German soldiers are accused of carrying out the systematic mass murder of tens of thousands of native Namibians during the colonial period – accusations that German authorities have recently appeared to concede.
The two countries are now engaged in intense negotiations, which began last year, with the hope of putting an end to one of Europe’s darkest chapters in Africa, according to the New York Times.
“The Germans thought they could keep this issue under the carpet and the world would never know about it. But now we have made noise,” 51-year-old Sam Kambazembi, a traditional Herero chief whose great-grandparents fled during the genocide, said.
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From 1884, Namibia, which was formerly known as German South-West Africa, was a German colony until March 21st, 1990, when it attained its independence.
The Germans stole large pieces of land belonging to the natives and forced them to work for them as slaves.
Throughout this period, local tribes, including the Herero and Namaqua, put up fierce resistance against the Germans, forcing the colonizers to deploy thousands of troops into the country.
Even though many German soldiers were killed by local insurgents, tens of thousands of natives (many of them vulnerable civilians) are reported to have been killed by German authorities.
A notorious German general by the name of Lothar von Trontha is said to have issued an ultimatum to the Herero people, denying them residency and ordering them to leave the country.
To avoid trouble with General, the Herero people retreated to an arid region called Omaheke, which is part of the famous Kalahari Desert. Many of them are said to have died of thirst and hunger. The Germans are also accused of poisoning water wells in the Namib Desert that served as the only source of water for the Namaqua people.
These appalling actions by the Germans are said to have contributed to the death of at least 65,000 members of the Herero tribe and 10,000 Namaquas.
Several descendants of General von Trotha have since apologized to six chiefs of Herero royal houses for the actions of their ancestor.
Monuments and cemeteries commemorating the German occupiers still outnumber those honoring victims of the genocide – a glaring evidence of the continued inequity in the south African nation.
Many now hope that the ongoing negotiations will yield results that will provide the victims with total closure, including compensation for the atrocities.