UPDATE 05. June 2021: Herero Chief announces mass protests against Steinmeier visit

Will true friendship among peoples be on the German agenda?

Will the Germans bring justice and reconsiliation this time? - ask two members of the KhweKhwe community of San people living near Omaruru, Namibia. Photo: Vinesh Rajpaul

PROLOGUE: As it turned out, Germany only negotiated with a certain segment of two of the affected peoples, leaving theSan people ('Bushmen'), who were also massively decimated by the German Protection Force at the time, completely out of the picture. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas seems to have fallen into a trap set by some Herero with connections to powerful politicians and officials in the Namibian government, with the intention of siphoning off the money. It is a never-ending saga of how Germany is dealing with this situation that has been waiting to be resolved since the end of World War I and has been pressing since the end of World War II and the Cold War, while the world is already in World War III with the current global bio-chemical war and the economic onslaught by the globalised monopolists. Even most of the "exhibits" - i.e. remains of people massacred at the beginning of the 20th century to be returned to Namibian soil - still rest in German museums and collections. The official recognition of the actual genocide is an important step forward, but now Germany has to get it right. And that's what the German government failed to do for now, when last month the representative of Namibian civil society, Mr Kaunatjike, who was on an official mission to Berlin and Germany, was severely insulted by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Africa Commissioner Günter Nooke. With Nooke on the team, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Heiko Maas will achieve nothing. Elephants never forget and neither do the indigenous peoples of Namibia, but whether the San Bushmen, the Ovaherero and the Namaqua can ever forgive will depend on whether there are Africa-savvy people in the German delegation who care about genuine friendship between peoples and not just a financial intrigue, and also on delivering a genuine message of reconciliation while dispensing with the usual political overtones or undertones. The San, because of their small stature, were often not even considered hominids by many of the white colonialists in southern Africa - including especially the Dutch Boers and the British - until the end of World War I, and hunting premiums were actually paid for killing them as "vermin". Does this horrific injustice live on now? Is this why the Germans did not even include the San in the mission? The San are the oldest living ethnic group of Homo sapiens - is the genocide against them to continue? It is high time to make real peace with the remaining traditional Bushman communities, such as the Ju/'Hoansi or KhweKhwe - and this applies to the government of Namibia and the other peoples as well.

Germany officially recognizes colonial-era Namibia genocide

A German newspaper lithography depicting a battle with Herero people from the early 20th century.By DW - 28. May 2021

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany had caused "immeasurable suffering" to the Herero and Nama people, in what is now Namibia, in the early part of the 20th century.

Germany on Friday formally recognized as genocide the crimes committed by its colonial troops at the beginning of the 20th century against the Herero and Nama people in what is now Namibia.

It's the first time that Berlin has recognized the attrocities committed, with the declaration coming after five years of negotiations.

What did Germany say?

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said in a statement that as a "gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering" Germany caused, it would set up a fund amounting to €1.1 billion (US $ 1.34 billion).

Affected communities would play a key role in deciding what the funds were used for, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, while legal claims for compensation would not be deducted from it.

The aim of the negotiations that lasted more than half a decade was "to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims," Maas explained.

This includes naming the events of the German colonial period in what is now Namibia and in particular the atrocities in the period from 1904 to 1908 "without sparing or glossing over."

"We will now, also in an official capacity, call these events what they were from today's perspective — a genocide," Maas said.

The foreign minister said that representative of the Herero and Nama communities were closely involved in the years-long negotiations with Namibia. 

How has the declaration been perceived in Namibia?

"The acceptance on the part of Germany that a genocide was committed is the first step in the right direction," President Hage Geingob's spokesman Alfredo Hengari told AFP.

Some representatives of the Herero and Nama peoples have voiced criticism of the agreement, saying that it was a PR stunt by Germany and a bid to defraud the Namibian government.

However, neither of the groups expressing objections — the Ovaherero Traditional Authority and the Nama Traditional Leaders Association — can be considered as representing all Herero and Nama groups.

Members of both groups have demanded an official apology from Germany, as well as financial reparation.

German atonement still has a way to go

DW's political correspondent Emmanuelle Chaze called the move "highly symbolic" and pointed out that talks had been with the Namibian government rather than the Herero and Nama people directly.

Germany also chose to give a financial package rather than compensation for the colonial crimes which is what the affected groups had asked for, Chaze explained.

"The representatives of the traditional Herero and Nama communities would have liked Germany to agree to give compensation to atone for the past," she said.

The communities in Namibia have also asked for Germany to return the tens of thousands of stolen body parts belonging to their ancestors which are being kept in German museums and libraries. They also want looted art to be returned to the country.

Both issues remain to be addressed by German authorities.

A German newspaper lithography depicting a battle with Herero people from the early 20th century.

German forces brutally repressed rebellions — here, a lithography from a German newspaper article at the time reporting on a battle with Herero people

Conclusion more than half a decade in the making

Germany began talks with the Namibian government in 2015 on what was termed a "future-oriented reappraisal of German colonial rule.'' 

Germany's former development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, offered her country's first apology for the killings on a trip to Namibia in 2004, where she said the country's actions would be seen as genocidal in today's terms.

What happens now?

The declaration is expected to be signed by Maas in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, in early June.

Parliaments in both countries must then ratify the declaration. 

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is then expected to officially apologize for Germany's crimes in front of the Namibian Parliament.

What crimes did Germany commit in Namibia?

The German Empire was the colonial power in what was then called German South West Africa from 1884 to 1915.

During that time, its military forces brutally put down several rebellions, killing tens of thousands of people.

German General Lothar von Trotha, who was sent to quell a Herero uprising in 1904, was particularly known for his extreme ruthlessness.

Historians generally accept that up to 65,000 of roughly 80,000 Herero people living in the area at the time, and at least 10,000 of the roughly 20,000 Nama people, were killed.


ab, jsi, tj/msh (AFP, dpa)


Herero Chief announces mass protests against Steinmeier visit

By AFP/FAZ - 05 June 2021-10:55

The top Herero chief has announced mass protests against Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit to Namibia if the German president goes to parliament in Windhoek to seek forgiveness for the genocide of the Herero and Nama people.

Stammesoberhaupt der Herero, Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro (Archivbild aus dem Jahr 2015)
Head of the Herero people, Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro (archive image from 2015) Image: Picture-Alliance


The traditional Herero Chief Vikuii Reinhard Rukoro has announced mass protests against the planned visit of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Windhoek. During the visit, the head of state is to officially ask for forgiveness for German colonial crimes in present-day Namibia. Should Steinmeier make the request for apology in the Namibian parliament, opposition politicians would leave the hall, Rukoro told the Bild newspaper on Saturday. In addition, there would be mass demonstrations by the Herero and Nama in front of the building.

"I will expose Germany," said Rukoro, who is one of the leading critics of the reconciliation agreement between Germany and Namibia to come to terms with Germany's bloody colonial history. He wants to expose Germany "to the embarrassment of having concluded an agreement on the genocide of Hereros and Namas, ratified by a parliament made up of Swapo people and Ovambos who know nothing about the genocide," Rukoro elaborated.

COLONIAL CRIMES IN NAMIBIA: Still a long way to reconciliation

The reconciliation agreement that became public last week, in which Germany for the first time recognises the atrocities committed by so-called German protection troops against the Herero and Nama between 1904 and 1908 as genocide, had triggered a wave of criticism among representatives of victims' groups in Namibia. However, there are chiefs of several Herero and Nama communities in the south-west African country who want to sign the agreement. It is planned that Steinmeier will travel to Namibia as part of the reconciliation process and officially ask for forgiveness on behalf of Germany. A date for the visit has not yet been set. The agreement still has to be ratified by the Namibian parliament.

Demands also for Hereros in Botswana

Representatives of the Herero and Nama complain, among other things, about the lack of participation of victim group representatives in the negotiations between Berlin and Windhoek. They also criticised Germany for not paying direct compensation to the descendants of the victims.

The reconciliation agreement provides for German reconstruction aid amounting to 1.1 billion euros, to be paid out over a period of 30 years and to flow primarily into social projects in the settlement areas of the Herero and Nama. However, the Federal Government expressly rejects reparations. It argues that it cannot legally assume responsibility for the genocide because the relevant UN Genocide Convention was only adopted in 1948.

A few days ago, Botswana's former president Ian Khama demanded that the Hereros in Namibia's neighbouring country should also benefit from the money. In an interview with The Namibian newspaper, he said: "It is not at the discretion of the Namibian Parliament, but rather at the discretion of the Botswana government to ensure that Hereros in our country also benefit from the gesture that the German government has offered."

Namibia - then German South West Africa - was a German colony from 1884 to 1915. Uprisings by the Herero and Nama were brutally put down by German colonial troops. Later, the German governor at the time, Lothar von Trotha, ordered the planned extermination of the two ethnic groups. Historians speak of the first genocide of the 20th century.

Source: marf./AFP


Opinion: Namibia's wounds will take time to heal

Germany is going to apologize for the genocide against the Herero and Nama in Namibia. But reconciliation cannot be taken for granted — now the hard work begins, writes DW's Daniel Pelz.

A group of Herero in the desert

By Daniel Pelz - 28. Mai 2021

Will Germany's apology for its atrocities against the Herero and Hama bring a form of closure?

Finally, Germany is officially accepting responsibility for the genocide against the Hereros and Namas. Finally, a German president is going to say the words they've been waiting to hear for over 100 years. Finally, Germany is not going to ignore this brutal crime any longer.

It's a big step forward, at least from a German perspective. But the first reactions from Namibia tell a different story. President Hage Geingob's spokesman has, rather diplomatically, called Germany's announcement "a step in the right direction." And a group of traditional leaders from the Herero and Nama communities have bluntly called it a "PR coup" and an offense against Namibia.

Anger among some Herero and Namas 

Emotions are running high after almost six years of closed-door negotiations. Some Herero and Nama leaders have long demanded direct talks with the German government. They are not convinced that their communities are really going to benefit from the €1 billion ($1.2 billion) reconstruction program that Germany has announced. And they're angry about Germany's statements that there is no legal basis for reparations — which in their eyes sounds as if Germany views the apology as a kind of gift. Other Herero and Nama leaders have supported the negotiations. But nobody knows who is representing the majority.

A heavy burden of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the two governments. Germany's request for forgiveness is only going to be worth anything if the majority of Namibians accepts it. And that requires trust — a big challenge for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He has to find the right words to convince the skeptics that Germany is sincere — something he's capable of doing. The president is a man who knows about the power of words and how to find the right words at the right moment.

After an apology, the work begins

But it's not just about words. Gestures matter as well. Asking for an apology in front of the Namibian parliament is an important step. But it's equally important to repeat it in the home areas of the Herero and Nama, in front of them and in front of their memorial sites for the victims.

Beyond words, the work must continue. Reconciliation does not come about with the stroke of a pen. Reconciliation begins when streets and memorials in Germany no longer uncritically remember the perpetrators of colonialism, but the victims. Reconciliation begins when all German pupils learn about the genocide in school. Reconciliation begins when German tourists that come to Namibia do not just see the picturesque buildings from the German era, but also recognize the terrible history behind them.

Reconciliation begins when not just the president and the government, but a majority of Germans recognize the crimes German troops committed. Reconciliation begins, when the majority of all Namibians, particularly the Herero and Nama believe that Germany is serious about its request for forgiveness. Reconciliation begins, when Germans and Namibians one day stand and shed tears together in memory of the victims. There is still a long way to go.  


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DW's Daniel Pelz