For Namibia’s capital of Windhoek and the Namibian people, Wednesday, November 23, will be remembered as the day when the statue of former German colonial governor Curt von François, infamously credited for contributing to the genocide of Herero and Nama peoples, was removed.
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“A beginning of the decolonisation process of Windhoek,” is how the city’s mayor Job Amupanda described the removal when talking to the German press agency DPA.
Videos circulated on social media by eyewitnesses who thronged the square where the statue stood showed workers tying ropes around the statue wrapped in white fabric and a crane lifting the figure off the podium as crowds cheered and clapped.
Now the statue will be housed at Namibia’s National Museum and while its physical removal operation took only over an hour, the road to this point started as early as two years ago with a petition by Namibian activist Hildegard Titus.
The activist told DPA that the petition exerted increased pressure on the City Council, adding that Curt von François was representing a brutal past of Windhoek, which is why he should not be glorified.
The future use of the space, where the statue was located, would be subject to civil consultations.
Unveiled in 1965 during the 75-year anniversary celebrations of Windhoek, the 2.4-metre bronze statue of von François stood in the heart of the city for 57 years. The man whom the statue celebrated was a German Imperial officer of colonial troops credited, erroneously to the minds of historians and many Namibians, with the establishment of Windhoek.
Indications are that in December 1893, during clashes with the revolting people of Nama, von François ordered German soldiers to brutally quell the dissent, killing women and children. Up until 1915, what would later become Namibia was part of German South West Africa – a colony of the German Empire. Germany did not officially recognise its loss of this territory until the 1919 Treaty of Versailles
But before the German Empire pulled out of the territories, it preoccupied itself with the merciless pacification of Herero and Nama insurgencies. According to various estimates, up to 100,000 Hereros and 10,000 Namaqua were killed in 1904-1908, considered the first genocide of the 20th century.
Berlin and Windhoek have been negotiating an agreement on reparations for Namibia for the damage done.
In 2021, Germany apologised for its role in the slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople in Namibia more than a century ago and officially described the massacre as genocide for the first time.
A global trend
The development in Namibia is an example of a global trend. In the American South. Confederate statues are being removed because they are seen as honouring people who fought to defend the institution of slavery. Similarly, in East Central Europe, a number of countries have been dismantling Soviet memorials glorifying the Red Army and communist leaders, which for the now independent nations are a reminder of dark times of suppression under the Soviet boot. This is the case in Poland, the Baltic States, Hungary, and of course Ukraine.