“In 1908, Luederitz was plunged into diamond fever. People rushed into the Namib desert hoping to make an easy fortune and within two years, a town, complete with a casino, school, hospital and exclusive residential buildings, had been established in the barren sandy desert. The diamond-bearing gravel was screened and washed in huge recovery plants. Over 1 000 kg of diamonds were extracted before World War I. However, the amount of gemstones greatly diminished after the war. Furthermore, considerably larger diamonds were found to the south near Oranjemund, causing Kolmanskop to become a ghost town. The weight unit for diamonds is called a “carat”. One carat equals approximately 0.2 grams. In Elisabeth Bay, located nearly 30 kilometres from Kolmanskop, about 1000 carats, that is around 200 grams, of raw diamonds were extracted daily. To achieve this, many waggon loads of diamond-bearing sand and gravel had to be brought in to the recovery facilities. The material was then screened and washed in huge drums. Normally, 10 tons of sand contained only 1 to 2 carats of diamonds. Today, Elizabeth Bay, like Kolmanskop, is a ghost town. However, although very picturesque, the place is only allowed to be visited with a special permit. Because a new recovery plant began operation nearby, Elisabeth Bay is situated in a strictly guarded diamond zone. Visitors who apply for a permit must prove that they have no criminal record.”






“A hundred years ago, three quarters of the Herero people of the German colony of Namibia were killed, many in concentration camps. Today, the descendants of the survivors are seeking reparations from the German government. This film tells for the first time this forgotten story and its links to German racial theories.”


On 2 October 1904 the German commander, General von Trotha issued the following proclamation: “I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people… All Hereros must leave this land… Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people. I will shoot them. This is my decision for the Herero people.”



“The Herero were the first ethnic group to be subjected to genocide in the twentieth century. In 2001, the Herero became the first ethnic group to seek reparations for colonial policies that fit the definition of genocide. The Herero are the latest plaintiff to use the procedures of the Alien Torts Claim Act of 1789 to seek reparations in a US federal court for war crimes committed overseas. This article analyzes the legal arguments by Hereros against Germany within the context of current understandings of international law and identifies the challenges that lie ahead for this claim. The article also explores the implications of the Herero claim for other ethnic groups victimized by colonization.”

Its Past on Its Sleeve, Tribe Seeks Bonn’s Apology
by Donald G. McNeil Jr.  /  May 31, 1998

Asked where he got his traditional Herero dress hat, Alexander Tjikuzo, 63, answered, “My grandfather left it to me.” What is unusual about the old khaki hat with the round gold badge is that it is an imitation of those worn by the German soldiers who from 1904 to 1907 nearly wiped out the Herero tribe, which dominated what is now central Namibia. Locally, Mr. Tjikuzo is said to have one of the snappiest German uniforms that the Hereros wear on Red Flag Day and Heroes Day, when they visit the graves of their chiefs here. It was in this sleepy farm town in 1904 that the Herero finally exploded. For 20 years, German settlers moving inland had been stealing land and cattle, raping women, lynching men with impunity and calling them ”baboons” to their faces. When the Herero attacked, they killed all the men, but on the orders of their leader, Samuel Maherero, spared women, children, missionaries and the few English and Afrikaner farmers.

When word reached Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin, the counterattack was brutal and quickly expanded into slaughter, which some later saw as an ominous portent of the Holocaust. In a bizarre twist, many racist theories adopted by Hitler were being formed at roughly the same time here by a visiting geneticist. In this age in which national apologies are demanded, in which President Clinton expressed regret for slavery on a trip to Africa and German leaders have gone down on their knees to Jews and Poles for World War II, the Herero are asking for their turn. Germany seems to be wavering on the edge of apologizing and even paying reparations, but the politics of modern Namibia — the former German colony of South-West Africa — complicate matters.

The historical facts are not disputed. Lieut. Gen. Lothar von Trotha, notorious for his butchery in German East Africa, was dispatched with 10,000 volunteers and a battle plan. Von Trotha pushed the Herero guerrillas and their families north to Waterberg and then attacked from three sides, leaving one exit: the Omaheke Desert. When the Herero fled into it, he poisoned the water holes, erected guard posts along a 150-mile line and bayoneted everyone who crawled out. He then issued the Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order: “Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall not accept any more women or children. I shall drive them back to their people — otherwise I shall order shots to be fired at them.” The remaining Herero were rounded up and sent to labor camps, where they starved or died of overwork, typhus and smallpox. By 1907 the order had been denounced and von Trotha had been recalled — but the rebellion had been crushed. Before the war there were 80,000 Herero. In the 1911 census, 15,000 were found. Few people outside southern Africa or Germany have heard of the tribe unless they have read Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” or seen travel books depicting their unusual clothes. In Mr. Pynchon’s 1973 novel, a psychedelic take on World War II during the rain of German rockets on London, a fictional Herero battalion called the Schwarzkommando runs rocket batteries in the occupied Netherlands. Historians say they are a figment of Mr. Pynchon’s imagination. The tiny numbers of black Germans, descendants of French African soldiers occupying the Rhineland after World War I, were sterilized by the Third Reich, not drafted.

The unusual clothes are another issue. Alone in Africa, Herero women habitually wear hoop skirts. They adapted their high-waisted dresses and hats that jut out like cattle horns from the wives of Victorian- era missionaries. On holidays they wear versions of the dress in red and black, the colors of Herero nationalism — and of the 19th-century German Empire. Their men wear the German volunteers’ uniform. German diplomats are always invited to Herero celebrations. “We are treated like V.I.P.’s and often asked to give the keynote speech,” said one diplomat, who confessed that he is baffled by the practice. The peculiar attraction between the Herero and Germans here resembles the one in the Natal region of South Africa between the Zulus and British, two other peoples who fought a brutal colonial war. “It’s the respect of a soldier for a soldier,” explained Kuaima Riruako, paramount chief of the Herero. ”We never gave up our army, even during the German period.” The chief is a leader in the quest for reparations. But the links are much closer. Because many Herero women were forced into sexual slavery to survive after the rebellion, many Herero today have German ancestors, and German is widely spoken here.

Those relationships later helped underwrite Nazi pseudoscience used to justify the Holocaust. Eugen Fischer, a University of Freiburg geneticist, studied mixed-race children in the colony and concluded that each was physically and mentally inferior to his or her German parent. Hitler read his book, ”The Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene,” while in prison in 1923 and used its notions of subhuman races in ”Mein Kampf.” Under Hitler, Fischer was named rector of the University of Berlin and in 1934 taught the first course for SS doctors. “This was the peak of scientific racism,” said Frank Chalk, co-director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. Now the Herero are a minor tribe, greatly outnumbered by the northern Ovambo people, who were beyond German reach in colonial days but led the fight against white South African rule, which ended victoriously in 1990. The governing party, the South-West Africa People’s Organization, is dominated by Ovambo and many Herero belong to the opposition, so the Government does not back their quest. Per capita, Namibia gets more German aid than any other country — $350 million since 1990 — but almost every pfennig is spent in Ovambo areas. Another Herero leader, Mburumba Kerina, says his people do not want cash but ”a mini-Marshall Plan” to get businesses started, and scholarships to German universities. “Helmut Kohl came here in 1995,” Mr. Kerina said, “but he refused to see us.” Mr. Kerina led protests. In March, President Roman Herzog of Germany visited and the issue was raised anew, with different results. Calling the massacre ”a dark chapter in our bilateral relations,” Mr. Herzog declined to apologize, but came close in saying that the colonial authorities had “acted incorrectly” and that the killings were “a burden on the conscience of every German.” He said international laws requiring reparations were not in place in 1907, but he promised to take the Herero petition to Bonn. One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would not be surprised if some aid were forthcoming, although it would never formally be called ”reparations” and paying one tribe might offend others. The Nama, for example, rebelled after the Herero did and lost 50 percent of their population. But they never faced a written extermination order.

A further complication is the nervousness of the country’s small but economically powerful white German-speaking population. “It wasn’t our generation that did it,” said Eberhard Hofmann, editor of Allgemeine Zeitung, a local paper. ”It’s like the biblical quote — the sins of the fathers being paid for by the children. If you asked all the Germans in Namibia today, I’d say the majority would not want reparations.” Since any apology and money would come from modern Germany itself, the issue would seem to make no difference to Mr. Hofmann’s subscribers. But their real fear is land rights.

Half of Namibia’s 1.7 million people are impoverished and living in crowded tribal areas, while German-speaking ranchers own millions of acres seized 90 years ago. “We want reparations to buy land and give it to people who need it,” said Chief Riruako. “We don’t want to seize it the way they’re doing in Zimbabwe. I don’t want to destroy.” Efforts to win apologies gain strength when abuses on one side of the world are mirrored on another. Mr. Kerina, who like many Herero has a German grandparent, is delighted that Japan apologized for having kept Korean women as army sex slaves during World War II. “I thought, hey, that’s my grandmother — a comfort woman,” he said. “And I thought, if the Japanese could pay for that, the Germans could.”


“In the early 1900’s, things seemed very different, At the beginning of the 20th century diamonds were discovered in the desert area just outside Lüderitz. Sometimes these diamonds lay fully exposed on top of the sand. This caused a diamond rush from all over the world and the once desolated lonely desert was engulfed with the influx of fortune seekers. Out of this desert grew the elegant town of Kolmanskop, which included facilities like a casino, theatre, skittle alley, butchery, bakery, soda water and lemonade plant, swimming pool and a hospital with the first x-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere. Some 700 families lived in the town, including about 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 Owambo contract workers. Each morning the ice – vendor came down the streets, which were even then smothered with sand, to deliver the daily ration of ice blocks and cold drinks to each household. Wages were good and virtually everything was free, including company houses, milk deliveries and other fringe benefits. Large metal screens around the gardens and corners of the houses helped to keep the sand at bay and a sand- clearing squad cleared the streets every day.

Shortly after the drop in diamond sales after the First World War and the discovery of richer deposits further south at Oranjemund, the beginning of the end started. So within 40 years the town was born, flourished and then died. One day Kolmanskop’s sand-clearing squad failed to turn up, the ice-man stayed away, the school bell rang no more. During the 1950’s the town was deserted and the dunes began to reclaim what was always theirs. Soon the metal screens collapsed and the pretty gardens and tidy streets were buried under the sand. Doors and windows creaked on their hinges, cracked window panes stared sightlessly across the desert. A new ghost town had been born. A couple of old buildings are still standing and some interiors like the theatre is still in very good condition, but the rest are crumbling ruins demolished from grandeur to ghost houses. One can explore the whole area within the fences and it creates the perfect set up for good photographic opportunities.

It is important to buy special permits before visiting the town. Permits can be bought from the travel agency next to Pension Zum Sperrgebiet in Lüderitz. The area is still mined and it is part of the ‘Sperrgebiet’ (Restricted Area). Visitors who apply for a permit must prove that they have no criminal record. Tourists must provide their own transport from the town. To get to Kolmanskop, drive east on the B4 from Lüderitz for some 10 km and turn south on a well sign posted road. English and German tours are conducted from Monday to Saturday at 9h30 and 14h00. The other ghost town in the Namib Desert is Elizabeth Bay, but tourists are not allowed to visit it.”

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