Herero genocide - the facts and the criticisms

Please allow me to add some comments and correct some historical errors regarding John Grobler’s article (“Still no redress for Herero”, March 13 to 19).

As Grobler correctly points out, the Herero-German war resulted in genocide - the first genocide to take place in our genocidal century, before the mass killings of Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Tutsis and other groups which became victims of “ethnic clea nsing” and mass murder. The Herero war erupted in January 1904 because of the intrusive trade conducted by European traders on a credit basis, and the colonial restrictions placed on chiefly authority.

Large sections of land changed ownership, not only as a result of white expansion, but also because Herero leaders sold their land to recoup their losses and regain their power.
This general socio-cultural crisis was compounded by the devastating effects of the rinderpest in 1897. It is generally estimated that 80% of a total population of about 80 000 Herero perished in the war.

Governor Theodor Leutwein not only wanted to preserve the Herero as a pool of labour, as emphasised by Grobler, but he also believed - naively, as one might say - in a “humane” form of colonial rule, underestimating the hardships and deprivation German c olonialism brought to the Namibians.

General Lothar von Trotha, however, was not dispatched by Otto Bismarck. The “Iron Chancellor”, who was no colonial enthusiast at all, was forced into retirement by Wilhelm II in 1890 and died in 1898. Moreover, Leutwein was relieved of his military comm and before Von Trotha arrived in Namibia, and thus he did not resign in protest.

Leutwein was considered too “soft” for the job, and he had been attacked by the settlers for being too lenient in dealing with Africans. Von Trotha was an experienced colonial soldier. He had participated in the Boxer Rebellion in China and in another Af rican uprising in German East Africa before he was sent to Namibia.

Unwilling to accept advice from his officers and colonial administrators, he intended to annihilate the Herero, irrespective of economic, social and moral concerns which were raised by members of his staff. When the general staff in Berlin realised that Von Trotha actually meant to kill as many Herero as possible, and not merely to defeat them in battle, he was eventually ordered to stop his murde rous military machine.

However, the discussion between “hardliners” and those thinking along more humane lines took time. The order arrived much too late in the German colony, where racist hysteria among the settlers had reached unequalled proportions. Further damage was done by Von Trotha’s initial attempts to ignore the order to accept a surrender.

The lives of Africans may have been cheap to the colonisers, but mass destruction on this unprecedented scale was unacceptable to most contemporaries. Von Trotha’s so-called “Herero Proclamation”, which announced the merciless killing of all Herero, resu lted in a fierce debate in the German Parliament and among the shocked public. Chancellor Bernhard von B?low defended his bloodhound, Von Trotha, in Parliament, but admitted later in his memoirs that mass murder of Africans could not be condoned.

The horrific story of the genocide of the Herero is not complete without mentioning that the Nama, under the leadership of Hendrik Witbooi, rose against the Germans after the Herero rebellion had been crushed. The ensuing guerrilla war was the most vicio us military struggle of the German empire before 1914. Like the Herero, many Nama died in the fighting and in concentration camps. It is estimated that about 50% of the Nama perished.

Hopefully, the controversy about the apology of the German president to the Namibians will have at least one positive result: a greater awareness in Germany of the German colonial past and its sinister aspects. - Dr Tilman Dedering, department of history , Unisa

It would be nit-picking to criticise the description of the savage reprisals by the German imperial government against the equally savage rebellion of the Hereros. But other aspects of the article seem to indicate the author’s choosing to ignore facts of history.

He makes Bismarck (died 1898) dispatch Von Trotha in 1904. He ignores that Germany, until 1918, had an emperor, not a president. Between the government of Wilhelm II and the one of Federal President Roman Herzog, there have been about four other complete ly different regimes.

Making Herzog responsible for William II is like holding Nelson Mandela responsible for Paul Kruger and Cecil John Rhodes.

As for your front page picture of middle-aged “sex-slaves”, the intention in taking the picture was clearly ethnological rather than pornographic. - Derrick Dorn, Oranjezicht

The Mail & Guardian cannot be unaware of the issues involved in using pornography as a cover photo in last week’s edition.

Displaying not one, but two pornographic pictures of black women in one issue means that, in your opinion, anything is justified to get a point across. This is like the people who write sex at the top of a flyer as a merchandising ploy to get people’s at tention.

Images of the naked bodies of humiliated women should not be used to sell newspapers. It is like being raped twice. I have seen porno-graphy in your paper before and thought, well maybe it’s just an aberration.

Now I’ve been convinced that you condone it. Those pictures and your decision to use them not only pander to but encourage sheer voyeurism. The article’s reasonable discussion of the historic wrongs done to the Herero people does not mean that any barbar ic photo (and I mean that term to cover the image itself, the people who made it and the people who keep it alive in the world) makes good illustr ation. Many images are so grotesque that there is no good way of “using” them. What you have done is exploitation of the kind I once believed newspapers like yours considered unacceptable. - Teresa Barnes, department of history, University of the Western Cape

The editor replies: I am surprised to hear that anyone could possibly extract a voyeuristic pleasure from those images. They were not an attempt to smuggle erotica on to the front page by devious means - for the simple reason that they are neither eroti

c nor titillating, except to the most deranged consciousness.

The fantasies that they represent, occurring against the backdrop of genocide, tell the reader more than a million words ever could about the sick mind of colonialism. Should we also ban the pictures of naked corpses heaped up at Auschwitz because the im ages are grotesque?

Wrong, Makgoba

I’m shocked by William Makgoba’s article (“Less gravy will sweeten the pot”, March 13 to 19) in your paper and that you gave him most of a page.

Firstly, he must research before writing. He says we can’t afford our 27 ministries. Constitutionally we’re allowed up to 27, but after the National Party left government, we, the African National Congress alliance, cut them to 22, saving costs and impro ving delivery levels. How can he argue when even his facts are wrong?

He says cut the ministries by half to 10 or 12. Thus defence, safety and security, correctional services and justice come together. The minister would have more than 250 000 employees, as well as four difficult portfolios, in terms of our problems with c rime. He says welfare, health and housing should be one. The poor minister would have about 40% of the budget to manage.

Labour, trade and industry, minerals and energy, public enterprises, tourism and - I almost forgot - that all-so-important finance portfolio should be one. With such powerful ministers why bother with the presidency? Strangely enough, after proposing the se mega-ministries, he leaves transport, communications and sport, with the small addition of culture, alone.

I was not aware the latter portfolios with small budgets are more important than the former with much larger budgets. If such proposals were adopted, the quality of leadership given to these portfolios would suffer drastically. It’s difficult for one min ister to have safety and security, but correctional services, justice and defence also, is too much. It’s only worked in small islands and [Hastin gs] Banda’s Malawi (he was the minister of everything).

Makgoba proposes four new ministries: transformation, non-racism, non-sexism and quality assurance. He’s original. These are goals to strive for, not departments to administer. That’s why there’s no Reconstruction and Development Programme ministry, each ministry must take responsibility. All ministers better handle such goals, unless he thinks they won’t support them.

My advice to Makgoba: concentrate on what you understand - for example, molecular immunology - or join the University of Witwatersrand’s introduction to politics courses. If the M&G wants to debate governance, then ask those who understand it to write ar ticles. I have to admit the article was very amusing and could be considered if we still had small bantustans. - Matthew Parks, Cape Town

Suurbraak reality

I am reacting to the article on Suurbraak published in your paper (“Tourism is ‘white people’s crap’ for the ‘Brakenaars’ of Sourvomit”, March 6 to 12, by Zebulon Dread).

I would like to say that I do not pay the people on my farm so little as stated by the squatter-author. My labourers get free housing, electricity, water and wood. Doctors’ consultations and transport are also provided. I further contribute to their pens ion schemes.

I invite anyone to come and see that the children on my farm are well fed. In fact, I have a loyal and happy labour force, some of whom have been with me for close on 30 years. I have visitors every weekend, who come here because they love and appreciat e the area and its people. - Henri Barry, Lismore farm, Suurbraak

Alcoholic disaster

I find Charlene Smith’s article (“Democracy blues for Soweto shebeens”, March 13 to 19) on the decline of what patrons can spend on drinks not only misleading, but ill-conceived.

Under apartheid our people became alcoholics by design. The new democracy was supposed to put a stop to that. If this has not happened then it means we are still living in the past.

My own experience as a Hillbrow resident who lives in a shebeen culture is that we should engineer a decline of this culture because it breeds death and destruction. It’s a pity that the article gives a reader the slant of a township thing. This is a nat ional disaster.

Alcoholism for me, like witchcraft, is a disease that is structurally linked to the nature of economic exploitation. Alcohol is hell on earth for the jobless, it eats away at our social fabric and kills our future.

This is the second struggle. In fact, to write about this as a person of colour is tantamount to a witchcraft accusation because in my culture you don’t accuse anyone of witchcraft if you did not study it at home. Which makes me wonder what Smith’s motiv e really was in writing this distortion. - Pat Dooms, Hillbrow

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