Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Ferrari of the Kalahari

Here in Namibia, as in most countries in Africa, there are a variety of tribal peoples who make up the demographic profile of its citizens.  Namibia is a little unique though compared to its neighbors.  Namibia was one of the few German colonies in Africa, called German South-West Africa.  While everyone knows about the struggles associated with apartheid in South Africa, few know about the checkered past of Namibia.  Similar to other colonized countries in Africa, when the Germans entered Namibia they seized a lot of the land from the local subsistence farmers and gave it to white colonists who arrived from Europe.  The locals didn’t appreciate this and in 1903 the Nama tribes, followed later by the Herero people, rebelled.  The Germans defeated the Nama and Herero and attempted to get rid of them by driving them into the desert.  Some of them made it successfully across the border to Botswana, but most of them died of thirst in an attempt to flee.

For those Nama and Herero who did not attempt to emigrate, the Germans captured them, imprisoning them in concentration camps and forcing them to work as slave labor, primarily constructing railways.  There were several concentration camps in German South-West Africa, but the most famous was Shark Island, off the coast of Luderitz.  Shark Island was actually referred to as a death camp by the facility commander with the main objective being to eliminate the prisoners there.  Ultimately, the Germans were quite successful in their goal; between 1904 and 1907 when the camps were operational mortality rates reached 74%, killing nearly 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama.  Unfortunately the closure of the camps in Namibia did not put an end to the concept of concentration camps.  Several camp commanders from German South-West Africa went on to have illustrious careers managing concentration camps for the Nazis thirty years later.  I read an excellent book called The Kaiser’s Holocaust by Olusoga & Erichsen if anyone is interested in learning more about the Herero and Nama genocide.

When the camps were finally closed in 1907 only 15,000 Herero survived, down from 80,000 in 1903.  But the Herero population has recovered over the last 100 years and now nearly 250,000 are alive in Southern Africa.   During my time in Namibia I’ve seen quite a few Herero.  At one point during my trip as we were driving along a long stretch of road through the desert we saw a Herero couple driving what is referred to here as a “Ferrari of the Kalahari.”  It is definitely not my idea of a smooth ride, but I guess it works if you don’t have to get to your destination in a rush.  As you can see it even has shock absorbers:

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