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On 11 August 1904, the German army attacked the Herero at Waterburg by encircling them and expelling them into the desert. They were acting upon an order by Lothar von Trotha that any Herero person (man, woman, or child; armed or unarmed) was to be executed if encountered within “German boundaries”— that is, the southwest corner of Africa where the Herero had lived for 300 years before that. Those who survived the attack where either expelled into the desert or captured by German soldiers. Most of the former died of starvation or thirst, most of the latter were bayonetted, hung, or worked to death in concentration camps. The conservatively estimated death toll between this period – 1904 to 1907 – is expected to have been seventy thousand.
This period of white imperialism (and the many periods after that) in our country is filled with pain and trauma – a pain and trauma that our country presently struggles to heal from because of the amnesia we have all collectively subscribed to. The manifestation of this amnesia is that we have streets named after Otto von Bismarck (in Swakopmund) and Lothar von Trotha (in Otjiwarongo). We have a town named after colonial-power-funded trader who claimed a land occupied by our people – Adolf Luderitz. And in Henties Bay, we have a structure which resembles a tool that was used to publicly execute innocent black people – the infamous Gallows. The Gallows is the subject of this petition.
The Gallows is an old tree stump with a rope and noose in Henties Bay which, according to www.hentiesbaytourism.com was erected, “as a friendly but firm warning to keep the town and beach clean – or else…” It was erected in 1978 by two white settlers (read, “two Europeans who either fooled black Africans into selling their land to them or killed them and occupied it”).
Historically, gallows were useful in the public hanging and lynching of black people across the world. It is synonymous to death and is triggering of our trauma. It is simply unacceptable that we should have it: an object which represents white imperialism, colonialism, lynching and slavery in our public space – where the purpose is to memorialize and celebrate. Names, artefacts, monuments, and statues of historical figures are significant for the curation of our history – but that happens in museums and not in public spaces.
To give context; imagine a painting – no matter how entertaining it may be – of Adolf Hitler put up in front of a store in Munich. You do not have to imagine it because there is a greater chance of Leo von Caprivi raising from the dead than there is of that ever happening. And the reason is that everybody understands how morally reprehensible Hitler’s legacy is – we understand how inhumane the Holocaust and his ideology was. His paintings are in museums such as the German Historical Museum in Berlin, where they are used to educate and curate Germany’s history. Why do we see confusion when we talk about black trauma – slavery and colonialism?
The public presentation of artefacts such as The Gallows is a loud and serious invalidation of our trauma and a poor attempt at whitewashing our painful history. We will not be told that the erection of such a structure was to warn people to keep the beach clean when everything about the year in which it was erected inclines us to believe that it was to warn black people to keep clear of the beach.
We therefore demand for:
1. The removal of the Gallows "landmark" from its current public location in Henties Bay;
2. The placement of the Gallows in a Namibian Museum with an accurate description;
3. The response to this petition within two weeks of its submission to the Henties Bay Municipality and all listed respondents;
4. Commitment to meet the representatives of the petitioners.
A failure to respond to this petition by way of writing or action within two weeks of submission will force the initiator of and the signatories to this petition to take down the artefact ourselves.
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