By fPcN -Editorial - 30. May 2018
-vf- The German genocide targeting indigenous peoples in the South-Western corner of Afrika happened not even five generations ago. But due to the events of the First World War and its consequences, the German people had no peace of mind to reflect the deeds of their great-great-grandfathers and -mothers committed afar during the short time when Germany had joined other European nations in the colonial madness. Thereafter WWII overshadowed and preoccupied analytical minds until the end of the cold war and the reunification of Germany, when it was realized that sti
an estimated 300 skulls from mainly Herero and Nama but also San genocide victims were still stored at the Charité in Berlin. Only 20 have been returned so far to their home soil in a rather controversial operation.
Today, however, it would be unforgivable to continue a policy based on denial or characterized by deaf ears or eyes shut. While earlier attempts by civil society since the 60's to address the persistent problems of Germany's colonial past were regularly refuted by the German governance - Germany has until today not even
signed or ratified the Indigenous Peoples Convention ILO Convention C169 but is now supposed to observe the legally not binding United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007 - the turn in the approach to the persistent problems deriving from the colonial atrocities was imminent and had to come.
Though other former colonial powers have likewise been deeply reluctant to acknowledge the violence associated with their imperial and colonial history, the German governance was recently forced to change its policy and German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, confirmed this by issuing a “political guideline” and recognizing that the specific massacre in South-West Afrika should be referred to as “a war crime and a genocide”.
Weather or not the full sovereignty of Germany as a state without a full Constitution exists in reality or as it is presented today officially - the voices disputing this grow ever louder - it was realized that it is the German people who have to come to terms with their history, own it, adhere to it and take responsibility. And it was realized that this can in the case of Deutsch Sued-West Afrika not be done by just pushing the descendants of General Lothar von Trotha to utter a mere personal "SORRY" just on behalf of the von Trotha family, and it is definitely is not done by the diplomatic wiggles and half-hearted attempts of the last few years - only set to deceive again after the first step was done into the right direction.
The aboriginal nations of the Ovaherero, the Nama and the San, especially the Kx'a/Ju–ǂHoan and ǃKung/Juu, are the right people to directly address in open and transparent peace, reconciliation and reparation negotiations with Germany based on the necessary process of free and prior informed consent, whereby the present governances of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa must play the role of facilitators and promoters rather than the co-master of hush-hush talks behind closed doors or corrupt deals.
Genuine justice must prevail - if lasting peace shall be achieved.
... continued between the paragraphs of the following article:
Uncovering the German genocide of the Namibian people
By Henning Melber - NewAfrican
In January 1904, Ovaherero, in a surprise attack, killed more than 100 German farmers to resist further encroachment of their land and subjugation under foreign rule. Following an order by chief Samuel Maherero, they spared missionaries, women and children. Germany responded with a massive mobilisation of troops and military equipment dispatched to the colony. In August 1904 the war escalated into a military encounter at the Waterberg in the heartland of the Ovaherero. Being unable to defeat the Germans, the Ovaherero tried to escape, seeking refuge partly in the adjacent Omaheke semi-desert. The German commander, General Lothar von Trotha, issued an extermination order. He declared that the Ovaherero were no longer subjects under German rule and not allowed to surrender.
Tens of thousands died of thirst or hunger on their way to neighbouring Bechuanaland (today’s Botswana), where Ovaherero [fPcN-Ed.: and San] are still living. Others were captured and put into concentration camps. Imprisoned women were sexually abused systematically. In the harbour towns of Lüderitzbucht and Swakopmund, the prisoners died of unprotected exposure to the harsh climate, malnourishment and forced labour. The mortality rate peaked at about 80% on the notorious Shark Island, adjacent to Lüderitzbucht, which the Germans had initially rented from the British Cape Colony, whose officials (and those at the British foreign office) closed their eyes.
The Nama under chief Hendrik Witbooi rose after witnessing the warfare against the Ovaherero. Unlike them, they resorted to a guerilla strategy and engaged the colonial army for years. In his mid- 70s, Witbooi died from a wound suffered in battle. Jakob Marengo, of Herero and Nama descent, kept the German soldiers busy until 1907. He was finally killed in the border area of the Cape Province by a German patrol entering the foreign territory with the consent of the British. The captured Nama [fPcN-Ed.: and San as well as Damara] suffered a similar fate as the Herero.
More than 100 (including women and children) were deported to Cameroon and Togo, where most of them did not survive.
An estimated two-thirds of the Ovaherero and one-third to a half of the Nama were eliminated. Those alive were denied their earlier social organisation and reproduction. While concrete figures for the numbers killed remain a matter of dispute, there is clear evidence of the “intent to destroy”.
This is the core definition of genocide. According to this understanding, the “Whitaker Report” presented to ECOSOC in 1985, qualified the German warfare as the first genocide of the 20th century.
The long denial
Political office bearers and the wider public of the Federal Republic of Germany for a long time refused to acknowledge the dark sides of Germany’s colonial past. Holocaust commemoration (and reparation) entered the public domain in the late 1960s. This was not entirely voluntary. Dealing with the Nazi era also in domestic politics and remembrance was brought about not least through a post-WWII generation linked to the student movement of the late 1960s. Since then, Germany has emerged as a leader in terms of engaging with a pitch-dark chapter in its history.
But efforts to bring back Germany’s colonial past failed. 1984, commemorating a century of the infamous Berlin Conference, did not translate into public awareness. Rather, those using colonial-apologetic reasoning responded to the critical reminders provided by emerging anti-colonial civil society groups demanding a decolonisation of the mind. Voices pointing to the violent trajectory from the mass atrocities in the German colonies to the two World Wars remained sidelined. After all, they spoiled the picture of the “good old days”. Critical West German official history focused only on the Hitler regime. If colonialism was a subject in schoolbooks at all, it mainly highlighted its “civilising mission” and the “big colonial powers”.
The end of the Cold War led not only to German unification. When in November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell, Namibians were voting for a government of their own, ending South African foreign rule. Unified Germany and the Republic of Namibia entered the world stage in parallel.
Members of the West German parliament were at least aware of the history. A resolution of mid- March 1989 declared a “special historical responsibility” for Namibia. But there was no reference to the genocide. Instead, the German- speaking minority was mentioned. German policy seemed more concerned with acts of the colonial settler perpetrators, than the fate of the victims or their descendants. Tellingly, the resolution’s euphemistic core phrase of a “special responsibility” remained the official reference point for another 25 years, during which the growing demands for recognition of the genocide remained largely ineffective as regards the official position.
Namibian voices in formation Independence on 21 March 1990 allowed Namibian agencies beyond the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), the liberation movement which duly became the governing party, a voice. It opened a space for the grievances of the descendants of the victims under German colonial rule to be heard. The primary anti-colonial resistance by those population groups living in the eastern, central and southern regions of Namibia, whose land was appropriated first by the German and then the South African apartheid policies, added a largely hidden dimension to the dominant patriotic history cultivated by SWAPO.
Emerging mainly among the contract workers from the northern parts of Namibia in the 1950s and formally constituted in 1960, SWAPO has its main support base in the country’s majority of Oshiwambo-speaking communities. Being settled land tillers, German colonialism never physically invaded their parts of the country but exploited the human resources by institutionalising a contract labour system. The physical presence of settlers was limited to the territory south of this area. [fPcN-Ed.: developing livestock ranches in the areas the Ovaherero and Nama had occupied and extremely large game ranches or National Parks - like Etosha a land of the !HaiǁOm - on the traditional hunting grounds of the San.]
Ovaherero, but also Nama and Damara [fPcN-Ed.: and a priori the very First Nation of the surviving very First People - the San (Bushmen], have demanded since independence the restitution of ancestral lands, from which they were forcefully removed. Now it is mainly the property of commercial farmers, so they are often banned from even visiting the graves of their ancestors. A Land Conference in 1991 discussed the disturbing structural colonial legacy of grossly skewed distribution of commercial farmland. But it avoided the issue of land restitution. Since the history of migration and occupation dates back much longer than European colonialism, it shelved the complicated issue [fPcN-Ed.: which is a powder-keg especially concerning the so-called Caprivi Strip, where today the ruling class of Namibia continues to oppress the indigenous "Caprivians" including the San Bushmen groups, whose home-range has been turned into a National Park from which the San remain expelled.
The then social democratic Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, attended the main commemorative event in August 2004 at Hamakari. Situated at the Waterberg, the military encounters there had triggered the subsequent genocidal practices. In her speech she declared that the atrocities were in today’s understanding genocide and that Von Trotha would be prosecuted for war crimes. Seemingly moved, she asked for forgiveness, in the sense of trespasses being forgiven in the Christian prayer.
New dynamics a century later
2004 marked a century since the beginning of the Namibian War for the descendants of those resisting German occupation. Challenging the official denialism, the centenary resulted in unprecedented public awareness campaigns from German civil society actors. These had started post-colonial initiatives operating mainly locally, engaging with the neglected colonial legacy. Their work impacted for the first time at least partly on members of the political establishment.
When the audience demanded an apology, she stated that her whole speech was an apology. This was mistaken as a change in official German policy. But Germany’s Foreign Minister Joseph Fischer of the Green Party dismissed this as a purely personal statement.
[fPcN-Ed: This was the very first German Foreign Minister after WWII, who placed again German military troops into warfare abroad and onto foreign soil - a move, which earlier had been ruled out by the so-called Basic Law, that is not a full Constitution (Germany doesn't have one since the end of WWII) but the same kind of colonial law the German's had earlier imposted on their colonies. That Basic Law was forced upon the Germans by the Allied Forces led by the USA, who have been also instrumental to change it over time as they seemed fit.]
While Wieczorek-Zeul initiated a unilateral reconciliation initiative financed by funds from the development cooperation portfolio, such follow-up was considered not enough by the affected Namibian groups. Since the Namibian government felt not properly consulted, it only reluctantly engaged with this initiative. The SWAPO majority in the National Assembly, however, a few years later, supported a resolution submitted by the late paramount chief of the Ovaherero and leader of an opposition party. It recognised the legitimate demands for compensation by the affected communities. But after the resolution’s adoption, the government continued to remain passive.
Since the turn of the century, genocide studies has emerged internationally as a new field. It transcended the former exclusive focus on Holocaust studies. While accused of questioning the singularity of the Shoa (which at times mounted to accusations of anti-Semitism), genocide scholars added important perspectives to the domain. The contextualisation of genocides (in the plural) also promoted engagements with the South-West African case. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term during the mid-1940s and whose work brought about the UN’s Genocide Convention, had already referred to it.
A turnaround finally happened in 2015, after the German Bundestag, on the occasion of another centenary, recognised the Armenian genocide. This provoked uproar, with an enraged Turkish government pointing out the hypocritical dimension of such a selective perspective, given the unacknowledged German colonial genocide. Many of the established German media also questioned the double standards. For the first time, the genocide in Namibia became a wider public issue.
Even conservative political party officials realised that only recognition of the historical facts would restore some moral high ground. Last but not least, the social democratic foreign minister, Walter Steinmeier of the coalition government formed by the Social and the Christian Democrats, could not escape the fact that his party, while being in opposition had tabled a (dismissed) parliamentary motion on Namibia jointly with the Green Party, which had introduced the term genocide. At a press conference in July 2015, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry confirmed that the term genocide was now applicable also to what had happened in South-West Africa.
By year’s end the German and Namibian governments appointed special envoys to negotiate how to come to terms with such recognition and its implications.
Negotiations without apology The German side, however, has still not offered any apology. But admitting genocide as a precursor to negotiations over its implications is meaningless in the absence of such an apology.
Much to the frustration of the Namibian government, the German side was at times setting the agenda unilaterally by making its views public on pending matters discussed behind closed doors. It also tried to influence the schedule according to domestic German policy matters, arguing that an agreement would be essential to enabling President Gauck to render an apology before leaving office.
Both governments have so far not offered any meaningful direct representation to the descendants of the affected communities. While these do not speak with one voice and some smaller groups cooperate with the Namibian government, their main agencies have been excluded from the negotiations. For the Namibian government this is an affair between two states and the German counterpart gladly complies. Such an understanding, however, also ignores those who as a result of the genocide live in the diaspora.
The frustration manifested in a direct confrontation between one of the communities’ delegations and the German special envoy during an exchange in the German embassy in Windhoek in late 2016. Reportedly the German envoy triggered a collective walk-out after dismissing that the colonial genocide could be compared to the Holocaust. For the descendants this was a sign that African lives count less than those of Jews and is racist. They have demanded the dismissal of the ambassador and the special envoy.
Genocide and compensation
On 5 January 2017, the Ovaherero Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro and Chief David Fredericks as Chairman of the Nama Traditional Authorities Association, acting as the main plaintiffs, together with the Association of the Ovaherero Genocide in the USA Inc., led a federal class action lawsuit in a US Federal Court in New York. they refer to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted with the votes of Germany and Namibia by the UN General Assembly in 2007. Its Article 18 stipulates that, “indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves”.
The plaintiffs claim “the legitimate right to participate in any negotiations with Germany relating to the incalculable financial, material, cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual losses suffered”. their complaint asks for the award of punitive damages and the establishment of a Constructive Trust. Into this the defendant (Germany) should pay the estimated “value of the lands, cattle and other properties confiscated and taken from the Ovaherero and Nama peoples”.
[fPcN-Ed.: Interestingly the Ovaherero and Nama - as the first colonizers of the lands in question - did not enjoin the aboriginal San, whose land they had colonized earlier, had occupied it with their livestock and thereby had disrupted the culture of the hunter-gatherers, in their joined demands for reconstitution and reparations. The San suffered even more from that first occupation of their aboriginal lands than from the wars the Germans had waged specifically against the Herero and Nama, and later the Portuguese and South-Africans had launched against anybody who wanted independence, because many San groups in typical peaceful Bushman style "just walked away" into the dry-lands where they could survive but to where neither the aggressors nor their livestock-rearing adversaries could follow. It is unfortunate that the Nama - a likewise Khoisan speaking people - today often try to dominate and misrepresent the very First Nation of the San. Specifically the !Kung San populations in Angola and Namibia were also heavily affected by the long wars waged by the Portuguese and South Africans against African liberation movements. Many San whose ancestral lands are located inside the boundaries of today's Namibia therefore still live and survive as refugees in neighbouring Botswana, to where they had fled first during the German and then the South-African occupations and later due to the oppressive politics of the Ovambo dominated SWAPO, which became the ruling party in Namibia. Though Botswana had a program aimed directly at assisting its indigenous hunting-gathering minority, today the internal politics of the Botswana Basarwa (as the San are called there) have come to resemble very much a politics of the oppressed. All San want to live or return to the areas of their ancestral homelands where their sacred sites are and where their ancestors are buried, and they want to return now, despite the fact that those San who remained inside Namibia like many Ju/’hoansi live as IDP's and in an utter state of dispossession and despair. Therefore all San must be part of a proper and truthful reconciliation process. ]
International media follow the German-Namibian negotiations with great interest. After all, despite its degree of violence, the German colonial adventure was relatively limited. Putting the likely material reparations in relation to the size of the German state coffers, a compensation for damages could solve a problem and might even be an investment in Germany’s reputation. But this would create a precedent other states would want to avoid, which turns the negotiations into much more than an affair between two countries. Maybe this is a limiting factor for the German side, as it is expected to act with loyalty to fellow Western states instead of pave the way for many more claims of a similar nature?
[fPcN-Ed.: With BREXIT, however, the Germans will have now one stumbling block less on the path to overcome the streamlining of EU post-colonial politics and policies. The Germans have a chance to come to an emancipated own, honest solution - a solution which has to also embrace and enjoin the San with their legitimate demands, if the 'Constructive Trust' shall have the option to ever become recognized as a key-tool in a just and fair process leading to lasting reconciliation, peace and even a positive change for true friendship between peoples, who had been mislead earlier to be enemies.]
The San are the oldest survivors on modern mankind’s family tree and everyone's most aboriginal living relatives. But out of sight, out of mind in the remote Kalahari or scattered in the whole of Southern Africa, the remaining genuine San communities are systematically being destroyed and many of the kind and gentle San people are still dying an unnatural death - targeted by genocidal policies developed, implemented and maintained until today by cruel taker-societies.
THIS MUST STOP NOW!
Knowledge imposes on you a higher duty of care: Knowledge commands action for the common good; otherwise, the knower is liable to the charge: ‘you knew about that harm was coming our way but did nothing to warn us or did not advise to avert or defend'. Thereby the knower becomes an accessory to the deed after the harm is done and even before the next harm is encouraged and facilitated by his or her silence. Harm does not prevail because there are bad people ready to launch it, but because there are good people who do nothing to stop them.