Namibia’s quest to dismantle colonial legacy


Windhoek – Namibia continues its drive to dismantle colonial legacy in the country, especially by removing monuments that were erected to honour former colonial masters that still generate emotions 24 years after independence.

After the war of resistance by Herero and Nama people against the Germans at the turn of the 20th century, the German colonial authorities erected several monuments, statues and other symbols of remembrance in honour of their soldiers and settlers, who died fighting the Namibians.

Many such symbols are still standing in many towns across Namibia today. Streets and public places were named in honour of the supposed German heroes. They still carry the names of governors, commissioners and soldiers, who brutalised Namibians during colonial times.

One of the famous colonial symbols that have generated controversy in the years following independence is the Equestrian Monument, locally known as the Rider Statue or Reiterdenkmal that majestically stood at the centre of Windhoek since 1912.

The controversial statue of a horse and rider was erected in honour of German soldiers, who died during the Herero-Nama War of 1904-1908. In 2009, the Reiterdenkmal statue was removed following fierce public debate about its significance in independent Namibia.

In its place, a state-of-the-art multi-million-dollar museum was erected in front of the Alte Feste Museum, with a giant statue of Namibia’s Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma proudly standing overlooking the nation’s capital.

The Independence Museum is built at the very location where the German concentration camp for the Nama and Herero people, who were captured during the war, stood.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba on March 21, 2014, officially opened the Independence Museum, and unveiled the Nujoma and genocide memorial, statues. He also gave a history lecture to those who were in attendance about Namibia’s dark colonial past.

President Pohamba said within the walls of the concentration camp, thousands of Namibians were reportedly de-humanised, tortured, starved, and summarily killed without any regard to their dignity and their humanity.

Many Herero and Nama people were massacred by the German Imperial forces, the Schutztruppe, for resisting foreign dominance.

Thousands died following the infamous extermination order issued by General Lotha von Trotha of the Schutztruppe to indiscriminately kill all the Nama and Herero people following the Battle of Hamakari on August 11, 1904.

General von Trotha and his troops pursued the defeated Hereros through stretches of the barren Kalahari Desert until all but 6 000 of a population of around 50 000 perished.

This is widely considered to be the first 20th century genocide.

“They were treated worse than the beasts of the veld. No distinction was made by the Schutztruppe and the rest of the German colonial machinery whether they were men, women or children. They were all brutalised without mercy,” President Pohamba stressed.

Expressing his anger, President Pohamba said the government will continue with the removal of the Equestrian Monument as it continues to display German superiority in independent Namibia and it is not of national significance.

“The Namibian people have refused to accept that those who sought to colonise and wipe us out, are the masters of our country.

“It is for this reason that our people from the turn of the 20th Century, to the modern liberation struggle, resisted and fought bitter wars to dislodge the colonialists from our country. We fought with determination until final victory was achieved on 21 March 1990.

“We became the masters of this place, now and forever. Not the colonialists. Never again will our Motherland be colonised,” he said President Pohamba, adding that thousands lost their lives during that war; however, “we are fortified by the knowledge that the current and future generations will continue to carry the flame of the revolution forward.”

President Pohamba noted that the genocide memorial statue was conceived and erected as a national symbol in remembrance of “all our people who lost their lives and were subjected to untold hardships and suffering at the hands of the heartless and heavy- handed soldiers of the Schutztruppe and the entire German colonial machinery”.

The Independence Memorial Museum, President Pohamba emphasised will serve as the central repository of materials and memorabilia related to Namibia’s anti-colonial resistance and the arm of liberation struggle.

With the opening of the museum, “Namibia now has a central place where our nation’s long history of anti-colonial resistance and national liberation struggle is being told,” he said.

The display inside the museum tells the Namibia history of the early times when its people lived mainly as pastoralists, to the historic day of independence, the President noted, adding that the museum is indeed a welcoming additional effort to reinforce a common identity and sense of belonging of all Namibians.

President Pohamba, who is in the final year of his second and last term as the country’s Head of State, described the independence museum as a “national symbol in remembrance of all our people who lost their lives and were subjected to untold hardships and suffering at the hands of the heartless and heavy –handed soldiers of German colonial government”.

Namibia is among four former German colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Others are Tanzania, Togo, and Cameroon.

Namibia was acquired by Germany shortly after the 1884 Berlin Conference, which set off the scramble for Africa.

Its de facto occupation began in 1889, when 25 German troops in tourist garb, under the leadership of Major Curt of Francois, crossed through British territory near the port of Walvis Bay and occupied the colonial capital of Winterhoek (Windhoek).

Tanzania was acquired via the efforts of Dr Carl Peters of the German Colonisation Society from 1884 to 1885.

Promising protectorate status to the various tribes inhabiting its territory, Peters rapidly accomplished the subordination of the realm to Kaiser Wilhelm I.

The first German involvement in Togo occurred in 1884, when Dr Gustav Nachtigal, a representative of Chancellor Bismarck, signed a protection contract (similar to those undertaken by Peters in Tanzania) with King Mlapa of Togo City.

In 1888, Curt of Francois conducted an exploratory journey into the interior, and a permanent research station was founded at Bismarck Castle by Dr Wolf. In 1891, Germany assumed direct control over Togo.

Cameroon was acquired by Dr. Nachtigal in 1884 via protection contracts with coastal tribes. The remainder of Cameroon was gradually assimilated via expeditions into the southern reaches by Captain Kund in 1887 and Captain Morgen in 1890. In 1898, rich rubber deposits were discovered in southeast Cameroon, and the area became an economic powerhouse.

Major conflicts with natives flared up in Tanzania from 1891 to 1898, when Chief Mkwawa of the Hehe systematically raided German settlements, protectorates, as well as columns of German troops. In 1898, realising the futility of his struggle, Mkwawa shot himself over a fire.

The Maji Maji Rebellion in 1907 was sparked by natives believing that drinking sacred water rendered them immune to bullets. They suffered devastating losses at the hands of German artillery. All German possessions in Africa were confiscated by a superior allied military presence of British Empire from 1914 to 1918.

March 2014
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