The genocide was a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment that the German state under Kaiser Wilhelm II, through German colonial troopers of German South-West Africa, undertook against the Ovaherero and Nama people in periods leading up to the native Ovaherero and Nama peoples’ uprising between 1904 and 1907 but largely during that period of open hostilities.
After years of exploitation, racial subjugation and increasing dispossession off their cattle and land by German settlers, on 12 January 1904 the Ovaherero, led by thier Paramount Chief Samuel Maharero, rose-up against German colonial rule in South West Africa. Ovaherero recorded numerous victories over German troopers at Okandjira and Oviuombo battles which amongst other things led to the recall of the then German Colonial Administrator and Troops Commander Theodor Leutwein and scaled-up troops reinforcement, in August, new German Colonial Commander, Lothar von Trotha defeated the Ovaherero in the Battle of Waterberg and drove them into the desert of Omaheke where most died of German chemical warfare of poisoning water wells and thirst.
On October 2nd 1904 at the village of Ozombu-zovindimba in Otjinene, Omaheke region, von Trotha issued his infamous Extermination order to OvaHerero, armed or unarmed, children or women, to all vacate the “German territory of South West Africa or be killed” and thus signaling intent to destroy OvaHerero nation in part or in whole as per the dictates of the UN definition of genocide as a crime against humanity.
The few who survived fled to neighboring Angola, Botswana, and South Africa. The insignificant share that took refuge in the Erongo Mountains and elsewhere, amongst whom was Hosea Kutako who would lead his people through a new phase of nationalism and mobilization towards the Namibian statehood, were rounded up by Germans and herded into concentration camps.
In October 1904, the Nama people also rebelled against the Germans and, through a similar Extermination order issued on April 1905, suffered the same fate.
It is estimated that up to 80 000 of the 100 000 Ovaherero people in 1904 died.
The genocide was characterized by widespread deaths from starvation and thirst because those who fled the violence were prevented from leaving the Namib Desert. In 1985, the United Nations’ Whitaker Report classified the aftermath as an attempt to exterminate the Ovaherero and Nama people of South-West Africa, and therefore one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the 20th century.