1908 January 27 – Concentration camps officially dissolved

ICON Namibia's Past 03-01 DoNP 800 x 540

• Concentration camps officially dissolved – Taking stock of the victims •

In 1908, the German colonial administration dissolved the concentration camps that had been erected by order of Berlin on 12 December 1904. The official date on which the last OvaHerero and Nama were released was 27 January, the Kaiser’s birthday.

Victims of wars and concentration camps

The war against the OvaHerero was considered to have been decided with the Battle of Ohamakari / Waterberg on 11 August 1904, even though armed groups continued to attack patrols and raid farms until 1905. The war against the Nama in the south of German South West Africa was officially declared over by the colonial administration on 31 March 1907. However, the ǃKharakhoen, also known as Fransman Nama, continued to resist under their captain Simon Kooper until 1909.

Historians are unable to determine exactly how many OvaHerero and Nama fell victim to the wars and concentration camps. The reason: there are no exact figures from the time before the wars. The Nama were estimated at around 20,000 and the number of their victims at around 10,000. That corresponds to half of the people.

The losses among the OvaHerero were even higher. Before the war, historians have concluded from estimates by missionaries familiar with the area that 60,000 to 80,000 OvaHerero lived in German South West Africa. According to the census of 1 January 1911, their number was 19,423. If one adds the refugees in Botswana and other areas outside the German dominion, the figure is 20,000 to 25,000. The number of victims among the OvaHerero is therefore somewhere between 35,000 and 60,000 – perhaps about half, but perhaps even almost three quarters of the people.

Genocide – number of victims not a criterion

Today’s media reports often quote higher figures. They also rely on information provided by victims’ associations, which seek to substantiate the offence of genocide. The definition in Article II of the UN Genocide Convention, however, does not specify either absolute or percentage figures as a criterion:

“[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(…).” (Source: Genocide Convention of the Untited Nations of 1948)

Historians also see a form of destruction in cases where social structures are shattered and central aspects of identity are curtailed.

After years of war and captivity, the survivors found themselves in a world that was no longer their home: most of the land on which they had lived before the war was confiscated by the colonial administration and sold to German settlers. They were forbidden to own land and livestock. They had to carry passport stamps and were not allowed to move freely. The only way for them to live was to work for the Germans on the farms and in the villages or to live in one of the reserves.



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