The Anglo-Boer War which was fought from 1899 to 1902 was a precursor to the German-Herero War in German South West Africa, a country to be named Namibia almost a century later. This was a much deadlier war than all the Anglo-Boer conflicts combined.
The Anglo-Boer War had the belligerents being the British who at the time had the control of the Natal and Cape colonies while the Boers on the other hand had the Orange Free State and the Transvaal as their territories. This war was ultimately won by the British as they crushed their opponents with their superior firepower. The end of the war was marked by the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging.
Be mindful that the Germans had taken interest in the Anglo-Boer War on the side of the Boers because of their blood lines. So once this war was over, the Germans started a bitter conflict in present day Namibia. The belligerents here were the Germans against a combined force of the Herero and the Nama.
During the Anglo-Boer War, the British introduced the concept of concentration camps. According to history, one of the biggest concentration camps lay outside Bloemfontein. This was one strategy that the Germans copied and applied immediately in the next conflict that southern African came to know. The idea of concentration camps was later perpetuated at even a larger scale by the Nazi in WW2.
As a result of the Berlin Conference which took place in 1882, Germany had the control of present day Namibia and they named it German South West Africa. The Germans came in full force to develop their new colony in applying the use of slave labour mainly from the Hereros and to some extent from the Nama.
Thousands of the natives died during the construction of railway networks, the building of roads and seaport infrastructure. The colonizers treated the natives like disposable items and as thousands were dying in the labour process, many more were brought in for free labour from further afield.
The German Empire brought in General Lothar von Trotha and was pitted against Samuel Maherero and Hendrik Witbooi who were in charge of the Herero and the Nama forces. This was a very uneven conflict in that at the end of the war, the Germans had lost no more than 2 000 troops while the native forces suffered a crushing defeat by losing around 70 000 men at the end of the war.
By the way, the Herero and Nama were not simply fighting their opponents with shields and spears as did the Zulus during their conflict with the British in the famous battle of Blood River. The Germans had bought a piece of land now known as Luderizt Bay with a record 200 rifles and the necessary ammunition. Luderitz became a new platform of German influence in Africa.
In 2016 I had an opportunity to visit Luderitz Bay in Namibia. This place remains to be the symbol of German colonial domination and exquisite colonial architecture. The buildings that the colonizers constructed in the 19th century remain strong and are well kept. This is one place in Namibia which continues to attract numerous German tourists.
Besides the 200 rifles received from the German government as payment of land, the Herero and the Nama had already acquired several firearms from traders and missionaries. But all such weapons were no match to the well-oiled German military machine.
The one thing that triggered this conflict was the rebellion by some Khoi and Herero tribes people who killed German citizens and other whites numbering 60. This was the beginning of the extermination of the natives of the land as the war took root and went on for years.
The Germans ordered more troops from Europe and at the height of the conflict, the German forces numbered around 20 000. Why were so many German troops involved in a conflict on some barren desert? While the Germans were fighting to extend territory in Africa, their interest in Namibia and in Luderitz in particular was strengthened by the discovery of diamonds. Diamonds became one major reason why they would never give up that territory.
At the height of this conflict, the Germans created concentration camps in the style of the ones created by the British during the Anglo-Boer War. The natives were rounded up and placed in these camps regardless of whether they were involved in the conflict or not. Women and children also became a part of the slaughter by the Germans.
This war had a direct bearing on Bechuanaland as thousands of refugees started pouring in from German South West Africa. The British watched as some disinterested party in the conflict even though it had started spilling over into British controlled territory. The Herero that now occupy present day Botswana are as a result of the war in our discussion.
The Namibians have for years been calling for war reparations and the Germans have responded by turning a blind eye. It was only one hundred years later when they made a mild admission of guilt. In a speech delivered by Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s Minister of Development aid was quoted saying, “We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time.” It was in her speech that she admitted that the massacres were equivalent to genocide.
The presence of the Herero population in Botswana today serves as a stark reminder of the first genocide that the world came to know at the beginning of the last century. Most of them are found in western and north western Botswana. However, a significant number of Herero people are also found in eastern Botswana in places such as Pilane and Lentsweletau.
The presence of the Herero in our country spells out the abundance of military history in Botswana and shows how this country has remained central to every conflict in southern Africa in the past.