Waterberg and Omaheke 1904
By Klaus Lorenz, M.A.
The uprising of the Herero which broke out on 12 January 1904 surprised all Europeans in South West Africa. The warning words of Karl Dove of the year 1896 werde forgotten. He had drawn attention to the likely main reason of a violent resistance movement of the Herero: The failure of the balancing act of Governor Leutwein in the question of land between expropriation of the Herero in whatsoever form by own will, by sale or under controlled pressure of the government and the now increasing spreading of European landholding at the expense of the Africans. The fact that the Africans were forced into reservations made it clear to them that the former freedom of roaming around with their large herds of cattle, their most valuable property and expression of social prestige, from water point to water point and from pasture to pasture in the borderless Damaraland was over.
The violent resistance against the state-decreed restrictions in the question of land erupted in more than 120 murders attended with robbery against Germans exclusively. The system of Colonel Leutwein for the administration of the colony had foundered on the central problem of the question of land, lacking sufficient resistance against the pressure of the settlers in favor of the rights of the Africans and their right to exist. The Africans had lost confidence in the German partner.
Helmut Bley has furnished proof that the uprising reached the dimension of war at a very early stage – „the first war of Wilhelminian Germany since 1871.“ The immediate reinforcement of the Imperial colonial troops on the own initiative of the Empire without participation of Windhoek was by far beyond the departmental competencies of the Colonial Department of the Foreign Office. Governor Leutwein was not longer consulted, fundamental measures were taken on the basis of the nervous initiatives of the Emperor and the Supreme General Staff. The second phase of German colonial policy in Southwest Africa started, the experimental stage was replaced by the stage of conquests.
The instrument of power of the European colonial power with its officers/civil servants did not longer exercise the dual civilian and military capacity – the colonial troops were not longer an administration. In accordance with its legal mission the sole role as an instrument of a policy which was not longer pursued to a large extent independently in Windhoek but developed with other aims in Berlin was taken over due to the uprising of the Herero, not on the own initiative.
German colonial policy in Southwest Africa together with the activities of the Imperial Colonial Troops stand under the verdict of the first mass genocide of German history – of the Herero people - already in contemporary political discussions and especia1ly in recent historiography since the events at the Waterberg Mountains and in Omaheke.
The "Omaheke legend", which to this very day dominates historiography and journalism, was created by the Supreme Genera1 Staff in Berlin and basing on these facts later on by historians of the GDR, especially Horst Drechsler. According to his thesis the colonia1 troops are supposed to have forced the bulk of the Herero people into the waterless Omaheke (sand field) by planned operation without a chance to escape after a battle of encirclement at the "Waterberg Mountains", a plateau about 250 km west of Windhoek, on 11 August 1904, where except for a sma1l rest the whole people died dreadfully of thirst and starvation in this genocide.