Herero Revolt
(1904–1907)
   The bloodiest and most protracted colonial war in German Southwest Africa, the Herero Revolt resulted in the death of two-thirds of the Herero and half the Nama peoples. The origins of the Herero Revolt date to the mid-1890s when pastoralist tribes in Southwest Africa, now Namibia, came under pressure from business interests and growing numbers of German settlers who wanted their cattle, land, and labor either for railroad construction or the creation of white-owned ranches and farms. This pressure intensified in 1897 as a result of the outbreak of a Rinderpest epidemic that decimated the region’s cattle population and led the German colonial administration to seize tribal lands and relocate the inhabitants onto reservations. Although billed as a means of containing the Rinderpest epidemic, the administration’s sale of seized property made it clear that in reality the creation of the reservation system was little more than an effort to provide cheap land and cattle to settlers. The resultant African hostility over the loss of their property was soon compounded by rapidly increasing debt incurred in an effort to rebuild their lost herds, perpetually low wages on white owned farms, and a growing awareness of racial inequalities within the legal system.
   This long-simmering resentment finally erupted into violence in January 1904, when the Herero, under the command of Chief Samuel Maherero, rose up and attacked and killed more than 100 German settlers near the town of Okahandja. Thereafter, superior numbers and the inexperience of their opponents enabled the Herero to roam at will until the June 1904 arrival of 15,000 German reinforcements under the command of General Lothar von Trotha, an experienced officer who had seen service in German East Africa and China’s Boxer Rebellion. Shortly after his arrival in the colony, von Trotha engaged and defeated the main Herero force at the Waterberg River in August 1904, driving the survivors into the desert where many died of starvation. Two months later a new uprising by the Nama broke out in the southern portion of the colony. Although their traditional rivalry prevented the Nama and the surviving Herero from joining forces, during the next several years both tribes fought a running guerilla war against the German colonial forces. Determined to suppress both rebellions, von Trotha unleashed a genocidal reprisal campaign that quickly decimated both the Herero and Nama peoples, eventually provoking a public outcry that led to both his recall to Berlin in 1906 and the Dernburg reforms that unfolded the next year.
   See also <>, <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Bley, Helmut. South-West Africa Under German Rule, 1894–1914. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1971;
    Bridgman, Jon. The Revolt of the Hereros. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981;
    Drechsler, Horst. “ Let us Die Fighting: ” The Struggle of the Herero and the Nama against German Imperialism (1884–1915). London: Zed Press, 1982;
    Hull, Isabel V. “The Military Campaign in Southwest Africa, 1904–1907.” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 37 (2005): 39–45.
   KENNETH J. OROSZ

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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