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Namibia commemorates victims of colonial war

August 2014
  • Former Rider monument (2010)

    Former Rider monument (2010) ...

  • Monument for the victims of the colonial war in Windhoek

    ...and new monument for the victims of the colonial war in Windhoek. Photos: Sven-Eric Stender

On the 110th anniversary of the so-called battle at Waterberg Namibian press and radio featured commemorative programmes and articles. The Allgemeine Zeitung published a special page, the private German-speaking radio station Hitradio Namibia interviewed the head archivist of National Archives and started a survey. Most of those interviewed expressed the view that it is necessary to continue the dialogue on the colonial war in order to heal the open wounds of the past. There were also voices that called for the debate to be closed and finally let the issue rest.

On 11 August 1904 Herero warriors and soldiers of the German Schutztruppe had engaged in heavy battles at the Waterberg. The Herero broke off the fights and fled eastward with women, children, elderly and cattle. Thousands died in the Kalahari and thousands more died later in concentration camps – following the example of the concentration camps erected by the British during the Anglo-Boer Wars some years before in neighbouring South Africa (see history).

The new monument which was unveiled in March in front of the old German fort (Alte Feste) in Windhoek is also dedicated to the victims of the colonial war. A man and woman with a child stand on a pedestal, lifting their arms with broken chains into the air. The monument takes the place of the so-called Rider, a German soldier on his horse, which was erected in 1912 to commemorate the German victims of the war. In 2010 it was moved on initiative of a group of Namibians of German origin to avoid a possible demolition. Over Christmas 2013 the newly-placed Rider was demounted and heaved into the courtyard of the fort, where it is supposed to serve as a museum exhibit. The bitter protests by some members of the German community were fruitless; in September 2014 the Namibian Council of Monuments announced an ex post de-proclamation of the Rider as a national monument.

  • One of the information boards of the newly established History Path

    One of the information boards of the newly established History Path. Graphic: Waterberg Wilderness

At the Waterberg itself the 110th anniversary of the battle was commemorated with a memorial service at the cemetery located on the premises of the state-owned rest camp.

Just a few days earlier the neighbouring Waterberg Wilderness private nature reserve opened its new "History Path". The 2,2 kilometre trail leads to a battle ground of 1904 and a camp erected in 1906 for Herero refugees who had sought shelter in the bush. Information boards present the events and developments before and after the battle and explain why they continue to join Namibia and Germany in a very peculiar relationship to this day.