Recently, a Namibian delegation left for Germany to reclaim about 20 human skulls used by colonial-era scientists who sought to prove the racial superiority of whites over blacks. The journey was about reclaiming the skulls of their ancestors killed over a century ago by the Nazi German imperial machine. But how did this happen and why? This is a short piece meant to throw light at these questions. Also to pose another question that the dead would like an answer to: WHEN ARE WE GETTING OUR LAND BACK?
By all estimation, at the current pace of land repossessions in Namibia, it would take more than 100 years and an enormous amount of money, which the government does not have, for the peaceful resolution to land reform in that country. From a moral standpoint, the process has failed. Mirroring the same attitudes of their counterparts in Zimbabwe between 1980 and Mugabe’s Fast Track land program of 2000, the beneficiaries of German colonial and apartheid South African policies are unwilling to voluntarily sell lands that were appropriated from indigenous Namibians to the government for the resettlement of small-scale farmers, and to speed up emergent black farmers to acquire large-scale farms. At independence in 1990, 52% of the agricultural farmlands were in the hands of white farmers, a mere 6% of the population. The remaining 94% of the population were relegated to apartheid-style high density homeland areas. At present, the government has a plan to spend $370m over 9 years to acquire 10.3 million ha of commercial farmland to resettle 6, 730 black families by 2020. Another 5 million ha is to be set aside as small farming units for those previously disadvantaged by colonialism and apartheid. While the progress, not worthy of mentioning, has been going at a snail’s pace, the moral argument against the process is the indignity of the Namibian government having to buy back any land that was stolen from its citizens, a theft that was swift, calculated and planned with brutal German efficiency.
Germans had been coming to present day Namibia since the 1840s. As was the case in the rest of Africa, and contrary to fabricated histories, the missionaries came first. After placating the minds of the royals, soldiers and the common people with their brand of Judeo-Christianity, the way was adequately paved for traders, land, women and cattle grabbers to come in. Completing this systematic and orchestrated plan were soldiers on his or her majesty’s service sent to administer the stolen lands. Due to the propinquity of the Cape Colony to southern Namibia, the German settlers first came into contact with the Herero and other southern Namibian peoples. Initially, the Africans, as was and still is their disposition, were very welcoming of their visitors. Noticing the strain in relations between the Nama and Herero people, the Germans started playing them off against each other and used that arrangement for the wholesale theft of their lands and cattle.
After he orchestrated the further rape of Africa by convening the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, Otto Von Bismarck wasted no time in sending a military governor, Major Theodor Leutwein, to claim Namibia for the mighty and superior German people. Part of that mission team was the father of Hitler’s deputy, Herman Goering, who was the imperial inspector of Namibia. Dr Eugen Fischer, who conducted race tests on the Buster community of Namibia in an effort to prove the racial superiority of whites over blacks, but more especially that of blacks over their mixed race compatriots, was also on that team. Fischer would later head the Institute of Racial Research in Berlin and, together with his acolyte, student and butcher of Jews in Auschwitz, Dr Mengale, made race doctrine a part of Hitler’s Third Reich.
The Berlin Conference stipulated that any land unoccupied by Europeans was free land to be settled, seized and exploited for whatever it produced. Bismarck had hoped that, just as his Belgian counterpart Leopold had accomplished his financial objectives in the Congo by sending in the brutal Force Publique, Leutwein would deliver a profitable enterprise for king and country by working the peoples and the land. But it is the desire of every human to be free and in control of their land, the collective will proving much stronger. The tribes of southern Namibia were no different.
The cattle virus epidemic of the 1890s, an epidemic that by some trick of fate severely affected the indigenous peoples left them heavily indebted to the Germans, who had generously offered the Africans aid on credit. These aids with exorbitant servicing fees should be a very familiar scenario to present-day African governments, most of who are still struggling to pay back these ‘acts of kindness’ from decades ago. If they are still unable to pay these debts today, imaging the Africans of then having money to repay their debts. The Germans used the defaults on loans to summarily move in and seize more lands and cattle from the people. The situation got so out of hand that on January 12 1904, tired of his warriors being lynched, women, cattle and land appropriated, Herero Chief Samuel Maherero and a band of warriors attacked the colonialists and killed 200 men; but spared all women, children, missionaries, Boers and English. Also fed up with the same scenario affecting them, the Namas, under Chief Hendrik Witbooi, joined their historical rivals, the Hereros, in an effort to usurp the colonial establishment.
For his oversight in handling the Africans, and for their killing of 200 Germans under his protection, Major Leutwein was recalled and replaced with Lieutenant General Lothar Von Trotha. The Lieutenant General had made a name for himself by how he sadistically handled the east Africans who resisted German occupation, and the Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion.
True to his reputation, Von Trotha decisively put down the revolt by August. But unsatisfied with the existence of a black tribe that would rise up against the mighty German Kaiser (Caesar), he, on October 2 1904 put out an extermination order against the Hereros. The order, similar to Herman Goering’s Final Solution for European Jews given to Reinhard Heidrich in 1941, called for the total annihilation of all Hereros: males, females, and children, and for the confiscation of their land, property and cattle. Out of a population of between 80, 000 and 120, 000 only 15, 000 were left after Von Trotha and his band of 10, 000 colonial troops crushed them (Von Trotha’s army suffered a loss of 50 soldiers). Other pockets of resistance were also put down by the merciless Germans. Their strategy: hole-up Herero on all fronts, except for the ones leading into the waterless Omaheke Desert, and close all wells leading into the desert). Those who returned out of hunger and thirst were either killed or sent to concentration camps where they were either experimented on and died, or were branded as free laborers to work on German farms, lands that were taken from them. Chief Samuel Maherero and 1500 others arrived in the then Bechuanaland near Tsau in December 1904 and sought refuge from the British among Batswana. The Namas also lost their chief and 10, 000 souls. Von Trotha’s crimes were halted in 1907 by widespread protests from westerners in 1907. He was recalled home to a hero’s welcome for his service to king and country.
In 1908, railroad worker Zacharias Lewala, under German foreman August Stauch discovered diamonds along the southern coast, further compounding the already widespread land theft. The area was soon declared ‘forbidden territory’, effectively placing it under direct German government control. After Germany lost WWI, Namibia was brought under British mandate and was administered from South Africa. After South Africa became independent from Britain in 1961, apartheid was exported to Namibia until independence in 1990. But the collective hopes of the Hereros and the people who lost lands to Germans and other colonialists were dashed when, in 1991, the SWAPO government decided that no lands lost during the colonial and apartheid eras would be given back. Instead, they are seeking to resettle all Namibians who were disadvantaged by the twin evils of apartheid and colonialism.
On paper, the Namibian style of land reform looks good; land acquisition would be decided based on equality and justice, productivity of the land, and within the rule of law. But once again, the rush to rule the entire land by one part/tribe of the country has seen the settling of the land issue pushed further a field by shortsighted visionaries. Maybe owing to the fact that the southern tribes lost their lands (only 10% of Namibian population affected by land grab) and that Swapo, an Ovambo-led independence movement started in the north, the government’s lackadaisical attitude to the land reform can be understood, as the land issue is of little or no political significance. The ruling out of the restoration of ancestral land rights in 1991 still denies those affected by their theft the proper restoration of their identity and history. The African and worldwide campaign to eradicate poverty and provide food security for people has to start with allocating them land. It is a fact that not all of our people are equipped with the know-how to earn in this fast paced world of today. But with their own land, they can farm and adequately provide for themselves, their families, and in the African way, even their neighbors as well. And since agriculture barely contributes to Namibia’s GDP, the condition is ripe for land reforms to be sped up. This unrighteous and unholy phenomenon of paying for stolen land leaves one to ask: would the German or any European government willingly pay Africans or any other colonizers to repossess lands appropriated from their citizens? Land defines a people, no matter how they decide to use it – it should always be owned by the collective and leased to individuals for a set period of time.