Eager to preserve bilateral relations with Germany, Botswana is unwilling to acknowledge the incontrovertible fact that genocide happened on its own soil courtesy of German troops.
Beginning this past week, “Nama”, “Herero”, “Germany”, “Namibia”, “genocide” and “compensation” have been in the news. Missing from that list is “Botswana” because what one can say about Germans slaughtering the Nama and Herero in Namibia can also be said about Botswana with specific regard to the Nama.
Some remnants of Nama and Herero communities whom the German troops (“Schutztruppe”) targetted in a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign by German troops fled to what was then called the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The Nama resettled in the Kgalagadi District and most of the Herero in Mahalapye and the North West District.
After years of difficult talks and steadfast denial, Germany has finally owned up to its war crimes when it ruled what was then called German South West Africa. It pledged to pay 1.1 billion euros (P13 billion) over a 30-year period for projects to help communities of people descended from those killed between 1904 and 1908. In a statement, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, asked the victims for forgiveness. This deal was negotiated by a combined Ovaherero/OvaMbanderu and Nama Council, which consists of 21 traditional leaders – who have been described with the “tribal chiefs” pejorative by some sections of (mostly) international media.
What the German government and the Council thought was a breakthrough is viewed by many in the victim communities as mere motion without movement. Some other traditional leaders in Namibia have rejected the offer, and say they want around 487 billion euros (P5.9 trillion) paid over 40 years, and pension funds for affected communities.
The most peculiar aspect of the deal in question is that it excludes victim communities that live outside Namibia while there is clear understanding on the part of both the German and Council negotiators that the Herero/Mbanderu and Nama communities in Botswana and (South Africa) are also victims. Some of the victim communities also settled in South Africa – a Herero community in Ellisras celebrated the centenary of its resettlement in the town in 2017. It remains unclear why Botswana and South Africa didn’t join Namibia in the negotiation process because Namibia couldn’t negotiate on behalf of victim communities that now hold Botswana and South African citizenship.
Nichodimas Cooper, a Nama activist and board member of the BW Nama Development Trust, reveals that as these negotiations were happening, the Trust engaged Botswana’s Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation and Office of the President as well as the Namibian High Commission and German Embassy.
“Their position was that genocide never took place in Botswana and that they cannot be of assistance,” says Cooper, adding that such response left Botswana Nama to “wander on our own like lost sheep.”
That the German genocide didn’t take place in Botswana is demonstrably false because there is more than ample evidence that proves that it did.
The commander of the German forces, General Lothar von Trotha, sent his troops into Botswana in pursuit of fleeing Nama refugees. This invasion led to the slaughter of 58 Nama, including women, at Seatsub (also known as Sizatswe) in the Kgalagadi Desert, right inside Botswana. The Nama leader, Kaptein Simon Kooper, would later found the village of Lokgwabe, which is 10 kilometres away from Hukuntsi. The name has since been anglicized to Cooper and Nichodimas is Kooper’s descendant.
German army photographers took pictures of this invasion and the Germans have never denied that they crossed into Botswana to slaughter the Nama. Cooper, who has carried out extensive research on the Nama genocide in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, says that it is “shocking” that well-documented evidence that shows more than 300 soldiers German Schutztruppe with 710 camels invading Botswana to slaughter Nama refugees is considered inadequate. He adds that the BW Nama Development Trust is mandated to address issues relating to the genocide that occurred on Botswana soil.
“We have, since 2018, embarked on a research expedition meant to identify the place where the battle took place in 1908. Our people who perished there were never given a dignified burial as it is not clear in the records what happened to them,” he says, adding that so far, three futile attempts to identify the site have been made. “With necessary resources, we will find it someday.”
The genocide aside, Lokgwabe and the presence of Botswana Nama stand as undeniable evidence of German genocide overspilling into Botswana. A campaign is gathering momentum in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa for victim communities in the Diaspora to be included in a new, more inclusive and more generous deal.
Says Cooper: “We are closely following developments as they unfold in Namibia with regard to the envisaged agreement to be formalised by the Namibian parliament. That will give us additional direction on how to add more value to our approach.”
Like a sister Namibian activist group, BW Nama Development Trust has condemned the deal, which it sees as a mere ploy by the Namibian government to officially help Germany literally get away with murder for the convenience of maintaining cordial bilateral relations.
The 1908 Nama genocide on Botswana soil is worth pondering from another perspective. It happened in a place that was supposed to be protected by the British – who had actually volunteered to provide such protection. The British knew that there was a genocide going on in a neighbouring state and never once sought to deploy troops (not mounted police) to protect the western border. The latter establishes the fact that if Bechuanaland was a real protectorate, the 58 Nama refugees would never have been slaughtered inside its territory.
Remote though it is, there is a chance that the controversial deal might put Botswana in a situation similar to Germany’s and also related mass slaughter on Namibia soil. This relates to a 1894 incident (described as “genocide” by descendants of the victims) in which Batawana killed VaGciriku and VaShambyu in the Zambezi (formerly Kavango) region in a place called Lishora. The Lishora Massacre, as it is called, happened on the orders of Batawana regent, Kgosi Sekgoma Letsholathebe. New Era, a Namibian paper, has reported that the Vagciriku and VaShambyu “bemoan exclusion from genocide narrative.”
The paper quotes Romanus Shiremo, a history teacher and Zambezi resident, as arguing that “many Kavangos were killed by Batswanas, led by Chief Sekgoma, who was sponsored with guns and ammunition by German agents, such as Georg Reinhardt and others in Ngamiland in Botswana to come and kill the VaShambyu and VaGciriku people, who were accused of having killed a German trader by the name of Phillip Wiessel and a Scottish trader by the name Robert Arthur Faraday in 1892.”