From Namibia to Auschwitz to Now


When it comes to the matter of the Jewish Holocaust, we are always told that “we must never forget”.

But what of Africa and Africans? Oh how quickly we forget!

Thirty years before there was the Jewish Holocaust, there was the systematic decimation of as any as 100,000 people in Namibia by the Germans.

Some historians say it was a dry run for what would follow in Europe.

General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha, leading German troops, declared: “The Herero nation must now leave the country. If it refuses, I shall compel it to do so with the ‘long tube’ (cannon). Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children.”

He also said: “Every Herero within the borders of the German Suid-West Africa, with or without a gun; with or without cattle will be shot.”

The Ovaherero were driven into the desert and their wells were poisoned. Many were bayoneted or burned alive on nightmarishly Kafkaesque human pyres.

Those who could fled into Botswana and South Africa, and those who were not killed were pressed into service as slave labour and sex slaves in concentration camps - where many died.

In just four years, from 1904 to 1908, around 65,000 of the 80,000-strong Ovaherero population had been murdered. Add to that the 10,000 Nama similarly massacred by Germany’s finest colonial sons.

Yale University historian Benjamin Madley, in his dissertation titled "From Africa to Auschwitz," says this was a morbid dry run for the Nazi atrocities on Jews.

And it took more than 100 years for Germany to acknowledge “political and moral responsibility for the past and colonial guilt”.

But it still falls short of admitting to genocide and refuses to pay reparations – even though millions have gone to Jewish victims of similar horrors.

President Hage Geingob’s government has gone a long way in getting Germany to sit down and start on the path to coming clean on its sordid past.

Namibia’s leader has chosen the route of diplomacy and statesmanship, a commendable and admirable approach considering the horrible scars left by the first holocaust of the 20th century.

Yet it appears that there is no international solidarity from other SADC nations in support of Namibia’s quest for justice, as if other Southern African nations do not also carry the wounds of the vilest acts perpetrated on one human being by another.

In addition, representatives of the Oveherero and Nama are seeking recourse through the legal system, as we report elsewhere in this issue of The Southern Times.

Their battle, like that of the Mau Mau who were victims of British concentration camps in the East African nation of Kenya, does not get the media attention it deserves or the support it demands from our legal fraternity.

Harvard professor Caroline Elkins, in “Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya”, says those British paragons of civilisation imprisoned nearly 1,5 million Kikuyu in camps and fortified villages.

“Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted.

“The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.”

Should we talk about the unappeased events of November 23 to 25, 1977 in Chimoio, Mozambique?

In what was called Operation Dingo, Rhodesia attacked a refugee camp housing Zimbabweans who had fled colonial oppression in their homeland. Thousands died that day.

Read about how on May 4, 1978 apartheid launched an aerial raid on a refugee camp housing Namibians who had fled the horrors of South West Africa at a place called Cassinga in Angola, killing up to 1,000 defenceless people.

Should we hop across to Madagascar and talk about how France massacred tens of thousands of Malagasy between 1947 and 1948; or swing to the other end of Africa and talk about 1945 when the French went on orgy and killed thousands of Algerians in Sétif in a matter of a few days?

Does any of this blood mean anything in international law and justice?

Like the Jews, we should never forget. And we should not let the perpetrators of the crimes rest easy as if the blood of Africans is not as red as theirs.

Israel has harnessed the shared grief of its holocaust to build an international narrative that accords respect to Jews.

It is not about being mired in the past. It is about openly talking about what has happened, acknowledging past crimes, and finding ways to go forward as humanity with mutual respect.

This continued lack of acknowledgement and penitence for the crimes against Africa and Africans contributes to the perpetuation of the ill-treatment of the continent and its peoples in contemporary inter-state relations.

Consider how Israel is treated in geo-political affairs. Everyone knows that they are not to be taken for granted because they have ensured that the perpetrators of crimes against them will not get off lightly.

For as long as the West thinks it can get away with the heinous crimes it committed here and against us, it will not take us seriously in all other affairs.

We will continue to be a people open to be used and abused.




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