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Tracing the Herero and Nama Genocide: Excursion to Namibia from 7 to 19 December 2019

Namibia Windhoek Train Station
Photo: Wolfgang Form

From 7 to 19 December 2019, eleven students went on a study trip to Namibia under the direction of Dr. Wolfgang Form, managing director of the ICWC, and Prof. Dr. Eckhardt Koch, professor at the Institute for European Ethnology/Cultural Studies at the University of Marburg. During their time spent in the Namibian capital Windhoek and on the Waterberg Plateau, the students and teachers from the fields of law, peace and conflict studies, sociology, international development studies, European ethnology and cultural and social anthropology investigated the question of how the German colonial period in general and the genocide of the Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1908 in particular are remembered in Namibian society today.

Namibia Windhoek Goethe-Institut
Photo: Wolfgang Form

On the agenda of the excursion was a series of talks with various actors in Namibian society, including representatives of various Herero interest groups, German institutions active on site such as GIZ, Goethe-Institut and the German Embassy, as well as the Bishop of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Windhoek and the former head of the Namibian National Archives. For the participants of the excursion these conversations opened up a variety of perspectives on the issues of coming to terms with the colonial heritage and the memory of the genocide as well as the consequences of the historical events on the living situation of different population groups in present-day Namibia.

Genocide Memorial in front of the Independence Memorial Museum and the Alte Feste (Old Fortress)
Photo: Michelle Tredup

In addition to the exchange with various stakeholders, visits to various museums, memorials and historical sites formed the core of the study tour. The participants visited the Independence Memorial Museum and the Owela Museum in Windhoek, graves of soldiers of the German Schutztruppe and the former Paramount Chief of the Herero in Okahandja and the now closed Okakarara Community Cultural and Tourism Centre, which was opened in 2004 on the occasion of the centenary of the Battle of Waterberg by the then German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. At the Waterberg, the historical site of the decisive battle in the war of the Germans against the Herero, the students were given an impression of the spatial dimensions of the area, which is characterised by the extensive Waterberg plateau and the surrounding farms stretching over several hectares.

Christuskirche (Christ Church) in Windhoek from a bird's eye view
Photo: Wolfgang Form

As a result, the twelf-day excursion allowed for an intensive, albeit fragmentary, immersion into Namibian society, its culture of memory, current lines of conflict and discourse, and conveyed a differentiated picture characterised by complexity.

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    The territory of today's Namibia was under German colonial rule from 1884 to 1919. In January 1904, the ethnic group of the Herero rose up against the German colonial rulers and thus started the colonial war that culminated in the decisive battle at the Waterberg in August 1904 and led to the genocide. The ethnic group of the Nama joined the anti-colonial fight of the Herero in October 1904 and was also defeated militarily. After the war, the survivors of both groups were imprisoned in concentration camps until 1908, had to work for the German colonial power and died in their thousands from exhaustion, hunger and maltreatment. The assessment that these events constituted genocide is based on the so-called "extermination order" issued by the then military commander Lothar von Trotha to the Herero people on 2 October 1904 in relation with the events during and after the war between 1904 and 1908.