German butchery in Namibian spotlight 

German butchery in Namibian spotlight 

The Marine Denkmal statue in Swakopmund. Source: Flickr


A statue of a German marine holding a rifle and guarding a dying comrade is the focus of protest in Swakopmund, a city on the Namibian coast.

Protesters threw red paint over the statue glorifying German colonial rule in front of the colonial-era State House which is the summer residence of the Namibian president.

The Marine Denkmal statue was erected in 1908 to commemorate troops who crushed a rebellion against colonial rule by the Herero and Nama ethnic groups. Berlin is now close to acknowledging the German colonial response as genocide.

“They can take it to Germany, or they can take it to a museum,” said Uahimisa Kaapehi, an ethnic Herero councillor who wants it removed. “We as Hereros and we as Namibians don’t want German soldiers in front of our State House.”

Germany and Namibia are in negotiations over the butchering of tens of thousands of Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1908.

After three years, 80 per cent of the Herero and half the Nama were dead.

Berlin says it is ready to acknowledge the genocide formally, issue an apology and offer compensation, which has been one sticking point.

Namibia’s tribal patchwork has delayed finding a resolution to the issue. The Herero and Nama are minority groups while the liberation party, the South West Africa People’s Organisation or Swapo, which has held power since independence from South Africa, is dominated by the Ovambo tribe. Swapo has shown little interest in highlighting the colonial regime’s killings and the tiny but economically dominant German-speaking minority has been firm in its resistance.

The port of Swakopmund is the centre of Namibia’s German-speaking community and it has some of the best-preserved colonial buildings in Africa and roads named after German figures. Menus are in German and the city attracts tourists from the European powerhouse.

Wilfried Groenewald, the only German-speaker on Swakopmund’s municipal council, said removing the monument would hurt tourism.

“It’s essential for our tourism industry,” Groenewald said. “People come here to see this.”

Germany ruled what was then South-West Africa from 1884 to 1915 and it attracted thousands of settlers, who took tribal lands. Between 1904 and 1908, the Herero and Nama launched a final insurrection against the German colonialists.

Thousands were exterminated in concentration camps. The Germans transported their victims to camps in cattle trucks and used labour and hunger to kill. In the ledgers the “cause of death” was pre-printed with the phrase “death through exhaustion, bronchitis, heart disease or scurvy”.

Groenewald said the German forces were not solely responsible for the savagery.

“The conflict, of course, was there,’’ the city councillor told the New York Times. “But who started the war? Was it Hereros who killed the German settlers? There was a past from all sides. Everybody had a bad side.”

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