History / English Literature
The Grey Zone: Situating the Rhenic Mission in the Herero-nama Genocide 1904-1908
German South West Africa, now called Namibia, was a German colony from 1814 until 1918. In 1904,the Herero tribe, which was joined by the Namatribein early 1905, rose against the German colonists. Following the uprising, the German army drove all members of the tribes into the desert and later forced them into concentration camps and labour on railroads. The Herero-Nama genocide (1904-08) is often described as ‘forgotten’. In the recent years, Herero and Nama activists in Namibia have tried to raise awareness for their plight and start a conversation with Germany to redress its past wrongs. Nevertheless, little research has been conducted into the roles that institutions and individuals played within the genocide. Whilst this case specifically concerns a German colonial atrocity and the role of the Rhenish Mission within it, the moral questions of responsibility that it raises are applicable to any colonial context. The theoretical framework established for this research draws on genocide, perpetrator, and colonial studies to comprehend the contradictory actions of the Rhenish Mission during the genocide. Drawing on the Rhenish Mission’s reports from 1904-08, their actions and the subsequent consequences are classed into three categories. Firstly, the missionaries saw themselves and therefore acted primarily as missionaries. Therefore, their actions perpetuated the genocide by gathering the fleeing Herero and Nama in collection centres. Lastly, individual missionaries acted to alleviate the suffering of the prisoners in concentration camps. This ambiguity should encourage us to consider both our historic responsibility and our current role within violent contexts.