The inglorious main role in this war was played by the Commander-in-Chief of the German Defense Force, Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha. In his notorious ‘extermination order’ of October 2, 1904, von Trotha declared the Herero – men, women and children – practically ‘outlawed’ and thereby expanded the initially ‘normal war’ into an extermination campaign. The protection force blocked the way back out of the arid Omaheke, the Herero were trapped and died of thirst. Only a few managed to flee to Botswana or (in a roundabout way) to return to more water-rich areas of Namibia.
According to computergees, the number of Herero killed in the Herero War (including women and children) is discussed quite controversially in the literature. Some sources put up to 85,000 fallen Herero, others estimate the number to be significantly lower. In any case, a large part of the Herero living at the time died as a result of this war. The Herero War is therefore now classified by most historians as genocide (and has now also been recognized as such by the German government) and is considered one of the darkest chapters in German colonial history.
Here is an excerpt from the notorious extermination order issued by Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha on October 2, 1904:
“… The Hereros are no longer German subjects…. Within the German border, every Herero is shot with and without a rifle, with and without cattle. I no longer take in women and children, drive them back to their people or leave them shoot them too.
These are my words to the Herero people.
The great general of the mighty German Kaiser. – v. Trotha ”
(Source: quoted from Spraul (1988), GWU 12, pp. 723, 728, in: Eicker, Steffen (2009): Der Deutsch-Herero-Krieg und das Völkerrecht. Writings on international and public law. Vol. 80. Peter Lang Verlag: Frankfurt, Berlin, Bern, p. 63.)
The 600-page dissertation by Steffen Eicker cited here is certainly one of the studies that investigated the Herero War and its effects on the relationship between Germany and Namibia, which has continued to this day (see also section “Foreign policy: Relations between Namibia and Germany “) most comprehensively and competently.
With the outbreak of World War I, the conflicts between the Allies and the German Empire quickly spread to Namibia. As early as July 1915, the outnumbered German Schutztruppe had to capitulate to the South African armed forces advancing north. After the end of World War I, “German South West Africa” became a mandate area of the League of Nations through the Versailles Treaty of 1919, before the League of Nations transferred the administration of Namibia to South Africa as a trust territory in 1921.
After the First World War, around 6,400 of the 13,000 Germans living in Namibia at the time were deported to Germany. In 1921 South Africa took over the administration of Namibia as a mandate area of the League of Nations. In the following decades, South Africa repeatedly laid claim to Namibia and de facto administered it as its fifth province.
In the course of the decolonization of Africa after the Second World War, a growing national consciousness and the striving for independence also developed in Namibia among the local population. In particular, the abolition of the apartheid laws introduced by South Africa, which massively disadvantaged non-white Namibians and degraded them to second-class people, was called for.
In 1960 the ‘Ovamboland People’s Organization (OPO)’, founded in 1958, was transformed into the ‘South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO)’. From then on, SWAPO formed the international political mouthpiece of the non-white Namibians. At the end of 1966, the UN (in its function as the successor to the League of Nations) withdrew South Africa’s trust mandate for Namibia, which South Africa did not recognize. This event marked the beginning of the Namibian War of Independence, an ‘asymmetrical’ bush war that lasted almost a quarter of a century between the SWAPO guerrillas on the one hand and the South African military and paramilitaries on the other.
In the following two decades, South Africa came under increasing pressure from the international community to give Namibia independence. At the same time, South Africa became increasingly isolated through political and economic boycotts. Political milestones on the way to independence were a series of UN resolutions between 1966 and 1989. In these resolutions, among other things, the occupation of Namibia by South Africa is declared illegal and the SWAPO is recognized as the only legal representative of the Namibian people. Of particularly far-reaching importance was UN resolution 435 (September 29, 1978), which called for the South African administration to withdraw from Namibia, a ceasefire and free elections under UN supervision.
The so-called ” gym conference ” played an important role in the ‘nation building’. Together with UN Resolution 435, this dialogue laid the foundations for Namibia’s independence.
However, it was to take another decade before Resolution 435 was actually implemented and the first free elections took place from November 7th to 11th, 1989 under UN supervision. Shortly afterwards, on March 21, 1990, Namibia finally gained independence.
An important boost for Namibia’s independence came from the end of the white apartheid regime in South Africa, which was already emerging. Nelson Mandela, who had only recently been released from custody, was one of the guests of honor at the Independence Stadium in Windhoek when Namibia gained independence on March 21, 1990.