SHARK Island, which in the early 1900s was turned by the German colonial government into a concentration camp where the Ovahereo and Nama prisoners of war were starved, beaten and worked to death, has been declared a national heritage site.
During the announcement this week, Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero people, Adv. Vekuii Rukoro said the decision to name Shark Island a national heritage site is history in the making as thousands of Ovaherero and Nama people were exterminated there.
“Shark Island, to us, the Ovaherero and Nama people, and this is not tribalism, as is being said by some denialists of our genocide, brings back to memory the horrors of the things that have actually happened to our people right here,” he said
Historiographer, Casper W. Erichsen, in his book, The Kaiser’s Holocaust, wrote in great lengths some of the horrors that took place at Shark Island.
“Towards the end of 1906 the bodies of seventeen Nama prisoners, including a one-year-old girl, were carefully decapitated by the camp physician at Shark Island, Dr Bofinger. After breaking open the skulls, Bofinger removed and weighed the brains, before placing each head in preserving alcohol for export to the Institute of Pathology at the University of Berlin,” the book reads in parts.
Gaob Cornelius Frederick, the grandfather of the late David Frederick, was also decapitated on Shark Island and it is suspected that his head was amongst those shipped to Berlin.
It is further documented that the remains of those who were prisoners on the island, were thrown into the sea for the sharks to devour.
Scooper-divers have since discovered some of the skeletons lying in repose on the ocean floor and with some still in rusty chains.
Rukoro said what was even more horrifying is that these crimes against humanity were not done in secret, but in full view of the relatives of those chosen for death and decapitation.
“Just imagine that, and the trauma and bereavement of the watching families and relatives. This is no exaggeration, but is what actually happened and when we talk about the history of Shark Island, these things must be told, so that when some of us talk of the Ovaherero and Nama genocide, it is not for jokes or for sensationalism,” said Rukoro.
The Paramount Chief further noted that the reports of what happened at Shark Island form part of the material evidence in their ongoing court case against the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.
“The German government of today will never convince the family of Gaob Cornelius Frederick, nor the Nama and Ovaherero people and nor, for that matter, the entire world and the skull of such an eminent personality as Gaob Cornelius Frederick, cannot be found it was not, as it were, just another skull amongst many and therefore difficult to identify even with today’s DNA technology,” and irate Rukoro said.
Rukoro further noted that while they are grateful that ‘these rocks’ have been declared a national heritage site, the Ovaherero and Nama people would love to see a visible structure or a replica of the original concentration camp on the rocks.
“A visible replica will bring back the historicity of the Shark Island concentration camp as it looked like in 1904. I am aware of the fact that it was built of barbed wires which may have been removed or could not have survived the climatic elements of the Atlantic Ocean. In that case, I propose that a cement structure be built in much the same way as the former German Military Fort at Namutoni which was completely destroyed by the soldiers of Chief Nehale LyaMpingana, or the former German Military Camp at Okaukweyo which was also destroyed by the combined forces of King Tshaanika of Ongandjera and those of Kavezemba Kariko of Otjohorongo, both at the invitation of the then Paramount Chief Samuel Maharero of what was known as Hereroland,” he said.
Rukoro noted that they do not want to hear from the government that there is no money, as he says the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, provided there is political will to do so, can award a one-year fish- or Rock-Lobster quota for this purpose.
“That will be money spent for a noble cause, and in the national interest, rather than to corruptly turn a few politicians and business people into multi-millionaires overnight,” said Rukoro.
Rukoro finally suggested that neutral scooper-divers be hired to pull material evidence up to the surface for all to see what the Germans did to the humanity of the Ovaherero and Nama people and for the Teacher’s Handbook being prepared under the auspices of the Museum Association of Namibia, to have a chapter on the authentic and comprehensive history of Shark Island for Secondary Schools and the rest of mankind.
“Let me remind the Namibian National Heritage Council not to take too long to visit yet another important historic site in the Otjinene Constituency, called “Ozombuzovindimba” – hopefully in October this year. That will coincide with the usual annual commemoration the Ovaherero people have been having for decades to mark the day on the 2nd October 1904, when General Lothar von Trotha issued the very first Extermination Order on African soil that shocked humanity the world over. It is better late than never,” he concluded.