Namibia wipes colonialism off the map
More than a century after his death, , veteran of the Franco-German war and successor to as imperial chancellor, has been wiped off the map of Africa.
His name had lived on in , a 450km area known for its tropical rivers and wildlife. But this week it disappeared for ever when the tourist hotspot was rechristened the Zambezi Region, after the river that forms the northern border with Angola.
also announced that Lüderitz, a harbour town, would now be called !Nami=Nüs, which means "embrace" in local , a language. The village of in the former Caprivi region has been changed back to its original name, Lohonono.
The move highlights the imprint of colonial mapmakers all over where the names of streets, cities and regions are reminders of a traumatic past. Changing them is a slow process resisted by some communities and seen as a low priority by others with urgent needs.
Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1919, then administered by apartheid until 1990. A small German population still lives in the country.
In 2004 that killed 65,000 Herero people through starvation and slave labour in concentration camps. The Nama, a smaller ethnic group, lost half their population during what a recent book referred to in its title as . Authors David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen argued that the camps – with their "bureaucratisation of killing" – influenced the Nazis in the second world war.
In 2011, that had been transported there for racial experiments. They were greeted at Namibia's international airport by warriors on horseback who let out battle cries. Hundreds of the skulls remain in Germany, however.
Some believe it remains a forgotten holocaust. , author of , based on her experiences with , said: "I don't think a couple of name changes goes far enough, bearing in mind not one of the German concentration camps has so much as a sign and you can still go out in a buggy and find yourself driving over the bones of those who died. There is absolutely no evidence of what really happened there. I don't think the Namibian government is doing one-eighth of what it should to honour the dead."
Today there is still anger among indigenous communities who live in poverty and demand reparations from , their shanty town homes contrasting with vast German-owned farms. Glyn added: "The Nama people I researched are still living in a ghetto. They put up a magnificent challenge to the Germans but they are landless. Changing a couple of names doesn't really crack it. It's very little and very late."
Similar controversies persist in and South Africa, where many streets continue to be renamed but debate has raged for years over the administrative capital, Pretoria.
South Africa has 11 official languages but none is that of its original population. In his state of the nation address last year, South African president Jacob Zuma pledged that provisions would be made "for the recognition of the Khoisan communities, their leadership and structures".
Zenzile Khoisan, secretary of Khoisan First Nation Indigenous Status, an umbrella representative group, applauded Namibia's move as a first step but complained that it is not a signatory to the . "The original names have to be restored," he said. "They speak to a narrative that has been excised from much of the national narratives of many of the Sadc [southern African] countries.
" Restoring the names of the places means accepting that there was a history that needs to be restored, a brilliant history that precedes colonialism, and a people that suffered intense dispossession and dislocation."
He added: "Restoring the names is a platform for the process of the restoration of these people, to fight for the restitution of these people and the recognition of these people as the foundational people of southern Africa. Indigenous people are now reasserting themselves: in southern Africa there is growing anger and resentment among our people."
The Namibian government did not respond to a request for comment, while the German ambassador in the Namibian capital, of Windhoek, declined to be interviewed.