From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


“In 1908, Luederitz was plunged into diamond fever. People rushed into
the Namib desert hoping to make an easy fortune and within two years,
a town, complete with a casino, school, hospital and exclusive
residential buildings, had been established in the barren sandy
desert. The diamond-bearing gravel was screened and washed in huge
recovery plants. Over 1 000 kg of diamonds were extracted before World
War I. However, the amount of gemstones greatly diminished after the
war. Furthermore, considerably larger diamonds were found to the south
near Oranjemund, causing Kolmanskop to become a ghost town.

The weight unit for diamonds is called a “carat”. One carat equals
approximately 0.2 grams. In Elisabeth Bay, located nearly 30
kilometres from Kolmanskop, about 1000 carats, that is around 200
grams, of raw diamonds were extracted daily. To achieve this, many
waggon loads of diamond-bearing sand and gravel had to be brought in
to the recovery facilities. The material was then screened and washed
in huge drums.

Normally, 10 tons of sand contained only 1 to 2 carats of diamonds.
Today, Elizabeth Bay, like Kolmanskop, is a ghost town. However,
although very picturesque, the place is only allowed to be visited
with a special permit. Because a new recovery plant began operation
nearby, Elisabeth Bay is situated in a strictly guarded diamond zone.
Visitors who apply for a permit must prove that they have no criminal





“A hundred years ago, three quarters of the Herero people of the
German colony of Namibia were killed, many in concentration camps.
Today, the descendants of the survivors are seeking reparations from
the German government. This film tells for the first time this
forgotten story and its links to German racial theories.”


On 2 October 1904 the German commander, General von Trotha issued the
following proclamation:

“I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the
Herero people… All Hereros must leave this land… Any Herero found
within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without
cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women or children;
I will drive them back to their people. I will shoot them. This is my
decision for the Herero people.”


“The Herero were the first ethnic group to be subjected to genocide in
the twentieth century. In 2001, the Herero became the first ethnic
group to seek reparations for colonial policies that fit the
definition of genocide. The Herero are the latest plaintiff to use the
procedures of the Alien Torts Claim Act of 1789 to seek reparations in
a US federal court for war crimes committed overseas. This article
analyzes the legal arguments by Hereros against Germany within the
context of current understandings of international law and identifies
the challenges that lie ahead for this claim. The article also
explores the implications of the Herero claim for other ethnic groups
victimized by colonization.”


Its Past on Its Sleeve, Tribe Seeks Bonn’s Apology
BY Donald G. McNeil Jr.  /  May 31, 1998

Asked where he got his traditional Herero dress hat, Alexander
Tjikuzo, 63, answered, ”My grandfather left it to me.”

What is unusual about the old khaki hat with the round gold badge is
that it is an imitation of those worn by the German soldiers who from
1904 to 1907 nearly wiped out the Herero tribe, which dominated what
is now central Namibia. Locally, Mr. Tjikuzo is said to have one of
the snappiest German uniforms that the Hereros wear on Red Flag Day
and Heroes Day, when they visit the graves of their chiefs here.

It was in this sleepy farm town in 1904 that the Herero finally
exploded. For 20 years, German settlers moving inland had been
stealing land and cattle, raping women, lynching men with impunity and
calling them ”baboons” to their faces. When the Herero attacked,
they killed all the men, but on the orders of their leader, Samuel
Maherero, spared women, children, missionaries and the few English and
Afrikaner farmers.

When word reached Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin, the counterattack was
brutal and quickly expanded into slaughter, which some later saw as an
ominous portent of the Holocaust. In a bizarre twist, many racist
theories adopted by Hitler were being formed at roughly the same time
here by a visiting geneticist.

In this age in which national apologies are demanded, in which
President Clinton expressed regret for slavery on a trip to Africa and
German leaders have gone down on their knees to Jews and Poles for
World War II, the Herero are asking for their turn. Germany seems to
be wavering on the edge of apologizing and even paying reparations,
but the politics of modern Namibia — the former German colony of
South-West Africa — complicate matters.

The historical facts are not disputed. Lieut. Gen. Lothar von Trotha,
notorious for his butchery in German East Africa, was dispatched with
10,000 volunteers and a battle plan.

Von Trotha pushed the Herero guerrillas and their families north to
Waterberg and then attacked from three sides, leaving one exit: the
Omaheke Desert. When the Herero fled into it, he poisoned the water
holes, erected guard posts along a 150-mile line and bayoneted
everyone who crawled out.

He then issued the Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order:
”Within the German borders, every Herero, whether armed or unarmed,
with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall not accept any more
women or children. I shall drive them back to their people —
otherwise I shall order shots to be fired at them.”

The remaining Herero were rounded up and sent to labor camps, where
they starved or died of overwork, typhus and smallpox.

By 1907 the order had been denounced and von Trotha had been recalled
— but the rebellion had been crushed. Before the war there were
80,000 Herero. In the 1911 census, 15,000 were found.

Few people outside southern Africa or Germany have heard of the tribe
unless they have read Thomas Pynchon’s novel ”Gravity’s Rainbow” or
seen travel books depicting their unusual clothes.

In Mr. Pynchon’s 1973 novel, a psychedelic take on World War II during
the rain of German rockets on London, a fictional Herero battalion
called the Schwarzkommando runs rocket batteries in the occupied
Netherlands. Historians say they are a figment of Mr. Pynchon’s
imagination. The tiny numbers of black Germans, descendants of French
African soldiers occupying the Rhineland after World War I, were
sterilized by the Third Reich, not drafted.

The unusual clothes are another issue. Alone in Africa, Herero women
habitually wear hoop skirts. They adapted their high-waisted dresses
and hats that jut out like cattle horns from the wives of Victorian-
era missionaries. On holidays they wear versions of the dress in red
and black, the colors of Herero nationalism — and of the 19th-century
German Empire. Their men wear the German volunteers’ uniform.

German diplomats are always invited to Herero celebrations. ”We are
treated like V.I.P.’s and often asked to give the keynote speech,”
said one diplomat, who confessed that he is baffled by the practice.

The peculiar attraction between the Herero and Germans here resembles
the one in the Natal region of South Africa between the Zulus and
British, two other peoples who fought a brutal colonial war.

”It’s the respect of a soldier for a soldier,” explained Kuaima
Riruako, paramount chief of the Herero. ”We never gave up our army,
even during the German period.” The chief is a leader in the quest
for reparations.

But the links are much closer. Because many Herero women were forced
into sexual slavery to survive after the rebellion, many Herero today
have German ancestors, and German is widely spoken here.

Those relationships later helped underwrite Nazi pseudoscience used to
justify the Holocaust. Eugen Fischer, a University of Freiburg
geneticist, studied mixed-race children in the colony and concluded
that each was physically and mentally inferior to his or her German
parent. Hitler read his book, ”The Principles of Human Heredity and
Race Hygiene,” while in prison in 1923 and used its notions of
subhuman races in ”Mein Kampf.” Under Hitler, Fischer was named
rector of the University of Berlin and in 1934 taught the first course
for SS doctors.

”This was the peak of scientific racism,” said Frank Chalk, co-
director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights

Now the Herero are a minor tribe, greatly outnumbered by the northern
Ovambo people, who were beyond German reach in colonial days but led
the fight against white South African rule, which ended victoriously
in 1990. The governing party, the South-West Africa People’s
Organization, is dominated by Ovambo and many Herero belong to the
opposition, so the Government does not back their quest. Per capita,
Namibia gets more German aid than any other country — $350 million
since 1990 — but almost every pfennig is spent in Ovambo areas.

Another Herero leader, Mburumba Kerina, says his people do not want
cash but ”a mini-Marshall Plan” to get businesses started, and
scholarships to German universities.

”Helmut Kohl came here in 1995,” Mr. Kerina said, ”but he refused
to see us.” Mr. Kerina led protests.

In March, President Roman Herzog of Germany visited and the issue was
raised anew, with different results. Calling the massacre ”a dark
chapter in our bilateral relations,” Mr. Herzog declined to
apologize, but came close in saying that the colonial authorities had
”acted incorrectly” and that the killings were ”a burden on the
conscience of every German.”

He said international laws requiring reparations were not in place in
1907, but he promised to take the Herero petition to Bonn.

One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would not be
surprised if some aid were forthcoming, although it would never
formally be called ”reparations” and paying one tribe might offend
others. The Nama, for example, rebelled after the Herero did and lost
50 percent of their population. But they never faced a written
extermination order.

A further complication is the nervousness of the country’s small but
economically powerful white German-speaking population.

”It wasn’t our generation that did it,” said Eberhard Hofmann,
editor of Allgemeine Zeitung, a local paper. ”It’s like the biblical
quote — the sins of the fathers being paid for by the children. If
you asked all the Germans in Namibia today, I’d say the majority would
not want reparations.”

Since any apology and money would come from modern Germany itself, the
issue would seem to make no difference to Mr. Hofmann’s subscribers.
But their real fear is land rights. Half of Namibia’s 1.7 million
people are impoverished and living in crowded tribal areas, while
German-speaking ranchers own millions of acres seized 90 years ago.

”We want reparations to buy land and give it to people who need it,”
said Chief Riruako. ”We don’t want to seize it the way they’re doing
in Zimbabwe. I don’t want to destroy.”

Efforts to win apologies gain strength when abuses on one side of the
world are mirrored on another. Mr. Kerina, who like many Herero has a
German grandparent, is delighted that Japan apologized for having kept
Korean women as army sex slaves during World War II.

”I thought, hey, that’s my grandmother — a comfort woman,” he said.
”And I thought, if the Japanese could pay for that, the Germans


“In the early 1900’s, things seemed very different, At the beginning
of the 20th century diamonds were discovered in the desert area just
outside Lüderitz. Sometimes these diamonds lay fully exposed on top of
the sand. This caused a diamond rush from all over the world and the
once desolated lonely desert was engulfed with the influx of fortune

Out of this desert grew the elegant town of Kolmanskop, which included
facilities like a casino, theatre, skittle alley, butchery, bakery,
soda water and lemonade plant, swimming pool and a hospital with the
first x-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere. Some 700 families
lived in the town, including about 300 German adults, 40 children and
800 Owambo contract workers.

Each morning the ice – vendor came down the streets, which were even
then smothered with sand, to deliver the daily ration of ice blocks
and cold drinks to each household. Wages were good and virtually
everything was free, including company houses, milk deliveries and
other fringe benefits. Large metal screens around the gardens and
corners of the houses helped to keep the sand at bay and a sand-
clearing squad cleared the streets every day.

Shortly after the drop in diamond sales after the First World War and
the discovery of richer deposits further south at Oranjemund, the
beginning of the end started. So within 40 years the town was born,
flourished and then died. One day Kolmanskop’s sand-clearing squad
failed to turn up, the ice-man stayed away, the school bell rang no
more. During the 1950’s the town was deserted and the dunes began to
reclaim what was always theirs.

Soon the metal screens collapsed and the pretty gardens and tidy
streets were buried under the sand. Doors and windows creaked on their
hinges, cracked window panes stared sightlessly across the desert. A
new ghost town had been born.

A couple of old buildings are still standing and some interiors like
the theatre is still in very good condition, but the rest are
crumbling ruins demolished from grandeur to ghost houses. One can
explore the whole area within the fences and it creates the perfect
set up for good photographic opportunities.

It is important to buy special permits before visiting the town.
Permits can be bought from the travel agency next to Pension Zum
Sperrgebiet in Lüderitz. The area is still mined and it is part of the
‘Sperrgebiet’ (Restricted Area). Visitors who apply for a permit must
prove that they have no criminal record.

Tourists must provide their own transport from the town. To get to
Kolmanskop, drive east on the B4 from Lüderitz for some 10 km and turn
south on a well sign posted road. English and German tours are
conducted from Monday to Saturday at 9h30 and 14h00.

The other ghost town in the Namib Desert is Elizabeth Bay, but
tourists are not allowed to visit it.”