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Herero Wars

Herero Wars
Part of Scramble for Africa

German troops in combat with the Herero in a painting by Richard Knötel.
Date 1904–1908
Location German South-West Africa
Result German victory, systematic extermination of native peoples
German Empire Herero, Namaqua, and other Namibians
Commanders and leaders
Lothar von Trotha Samuel Maharero, Hendrik Witbooi
Initial Strength:~2,000,[1] Eventual strength: Almost 20,000,[2] Herero: 10,000,[3]
Casualties and losses
KIA: 676, MIA:76, WIA: 907, died from disease: 689, civilians: 100 [4] As many as 65-70,000 including civilians[4]

The Herero Wars were a series of colonial wars between the German Empire and the Herero people of German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia).


  • Background 1
  • The great rebellion 2
  • Herero Wars in literature 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The Hereros were cattle grazers, occupying most of central and northern South-West Africa.

During the Scramble for Africa, South-West Africa was claimed by Germany in August 1884. At that time, it was the only overseas German territory deemed suitable for white settlement. German colonists arriving in the following years occupied large areas of land, ignoring any claims by the Herero and other natives. There was continual resistance by the natives.

A sort of peace was worked out in 1894. In that year Theodor Leutwein became Governor of the colony, and beginning a period of rapid development. White settlers were further encouraged, took more land from the natives, and caused a great deal of discontent.

The great rebellion

In 1903, some of the Khoi and Herero tribes rose in revolt and about 60 German settlers were killed. Troops were sent from Germany to re-establish order, but only succeeded in dispersing the rebels, led by Chief Samuel Maharero.

In October 1904, General Lothar von Trotha issued orders to kill every male Herero and drive the women and children into the desert. As soon as the news of this order reached Germany it was repealed, but by this time the rest of the native population was in full-scale revolt. When the order was lifted at the end of 1904, prisoners were herded into concentration camps and given as slave labor to German businesses, where many died of overwork and malnutrition.

It took until 1908 to re-establish German authority over the territory. By that time some 100,000 Africans had been killed. At the height the campaign some 19,000 German troops were involved.

At about the same time diamonds were discovered in the territory, and this did much to boost its prosperity. However it was short-lived. In 1915, during World War I, British and South African forces occupied South-West Africa, which became a protectorate of South Africa.

On 16 August 2004, 100 years after the war, the German government officially apologized for the atrocities. "We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time," said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's development aid minister. In addition, she admitted the massacres were equivalent to genocide.

Herero Wars in literature

The Herero Wars and massacre are depicted in a chapter of the 1963 novel V. by Thomas Pynchon. The tragic story of the Herero genocide also appears in Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow.

The heavy toll of the Herero genocide on individual lives and the fabric of Herero culture is seen in the 2013 historical novel Mama Namibia by Mari Serebrov.[5]

The war and massacre is significantly featured in The Glamour Of Prospecting,[6] a contemporary account by Frederick Cornell of his attempts to prospect for diamonds in the region. In the book he describes his first hand accounts of witnessing the concentration camp on Shark Island amongst other aspects of the conflict.

See also


  1. ^ Bridgman, Jon M. (1966) Revolt of the Hereros University of California Press. p. 66
  2. ^ Bridgman, p. 112
  3. ^ Bridgman, p. 87
  4. ^ a b Bridgman, p. 164
  5. ^ Serebrov, Mari (2013) Mama Namibia. Windhoek, Namibia: Wordweaver Publishing House
  6. ^ Frederick Carruthers Cornell (1920). The Glamour Of Prospecting: Wanderings Of A South African Prospector In Search Of Copper, Gold, Emeralds, and Diamonds. London, England: London, T.F. Unwin Ltd. 

External links

  • "German minister says sorry for genocide in Namibia" (15 August 2004) The Guardian
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