UPDATE 11. June 2021: Why Germany’s Apology for Its 1904-1908 Genocide in Namibia Does Not Go Far Enough

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)



Why Germany’s Apology for Its 1904-1908 Genocide in Namibia Does Not Go Far Enough

STORY JUNE 11, 2021 Watch Full Show


  • Nyoko Muvangua

    advocate who was born of the Ovaherero people and grew up in a village in Namibia.

  • Emsie Erastus

    researcher focused on decolonization and technology.

Germany has apologized for its role in the first genocide of the 20th century, which took place in Namibia, a former colony then known as German South West Africa. Between 1904 and 1908, German colonizers killed tens of thousands of Ovaherero and Nama people in Namibia. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas officially described the massacre as genocide and outlined an offer of more than $1.34 billion in development aid to the Namibian government. The offer was not negotiated with survivors of the genocide, and critics have described it as a pittance. We speak with Nyoko Muvangua, born of the Ovaherero people who were targeted for ethnic cleansing by the German government, and Namibian researcher Emsie Erastus.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to look at developments with another G7 country, Germany, which recently apologized for its role in the first genocide of the 20th century, which took place in its former colony known as German South West Africa, now the country of Namibia. Between 1904 and 1908, German colonizers killed tens of thousands of Ovaherero and Nama people in Namibia. Last month, for the first time, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas officially described the massacre as genocide and outlined an offer of more than $1.34 billion in development aid to Namibia.

HEIKO MAAS: [translated] Today we officially refer to these events as what they were: a genocide. We are therefore acknowledging our historical responsibility. In the light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness. And as a gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering that was inflicted on the victims, we want to support Namibia and the descendants of the victims with a substantial program worth 1.1 billion euros aimed at reconstruction and development.

AMY GOODMAN: The Namibian Parliament is set to vote soon on Germany’s offer, which was not negotiated with survivors of the genocide, and critics have described as a pittance. This week, Namibia’s prime minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, opened a contentious session of Parliament addressing the agreement. She spoke Tuesday.

PRIME MINISTER SAARA KUUGONGELWA-AMADHILA: Since this reparations amount was made public, concerns have been raised that this amount is not enough and that it is unacceptable to the affected communities and the Namibian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Opposition lawmakers spent the parliamentary session denouncing the deal. This is Utaara Mootu of the opposition Landless People’s Movement Namibia.

UTAARA MOOTU: Honorable Prime Minister, never in my existence as a millennial would I say that I’ll be looking at a colonizer the way I’m looking at you right now. You have betrayed us. You have betrayed —

SPEAKER: Order. Order. Order.

UTAARA MOOTU: — the Namibian people.

SPEAKER: Order. Order. Order. Order.

UTAARA MOOTU: You have betrayed our country. You have betrayed our identity. You have betrayed us!

AMY GOODMAN: In a minute, we’ll get response from two Namibians. But first, this is part of a BBC documentary about the genocide by historian David Adetayo Olusoga. It’s titled Namibia: Genocide and the Second Reich.

SAMUEL WEST: For a hundred years, what happened in Germany’s long-lost African empire has been hidden. It’s the story of a genocide that implicates the highest level of the German government, the Army, and even some of Germany’s biggest companies. But the ghosts of the Namibian genocide have been reawoken. They’ve returned to haunt modern, liberal, postwar Germany. And in doing so, they’ve forced Germany to wake up to a very uncomfortable fact: that the dark racial theories that helped inspire the Nazis run much deeper into German and European history than most people want to acknowledge.

BEN MADLEY: Soldiers received specific orders which allowed them to kill anyone. It was an overall strategy aimed at ethnically cleansing the countryside to create Lebensraum for German settlers.

KATUUTIRE KAURA: The whole process was genocidal, of the deliberate extermination of Herero, the vernichtungsbefehl, the destruction order. Many of members of my own family died.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt from the BBC documentary Namibia: Genocide and the Second Reich.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Emsie Erastus is with us. She’s in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, which was the site of Germany’s first mass concentration camp, where thousands of people were beaten, worked and starved to death by the Army of the Second Reich of Germany. Also with us is Nyoko Muvangua. She is born of Ovaherero people and grew up in a village in Namibia. Now a lawyer in South Africa, she’s joining us from Johannesburg.

I want to begin with Nyoko Muvangua. Can you respond to what Germany is offering and who they negotiated this deal with?

NYOKO MUVANGUA: Good morning, afternoon, depending on where you’re listening from.

What Germany is offering is — there are two answers to that. The first is over a billion euros. And it is not reparations; it is grants. And the amount was negotiated with the Namibian government to the exclusion of both the Ovaherero and the Nama people. We were just excluded from all of this. So, that’s the immediate answer to your question.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your response to what they are offering? And what are you demanding? You’re a descendant of those who died in this genocide at the turn of the 20th century, the first genocide of the 20th century. And if you can tell us further? Because I think, I daresay, certainly people in the United States, most people, have never heard of what place.

NYOKO MUVANGUA: Sure. If I may, I wonder whether I should commence, perhaps, your question elsewhere. What I would like to start with is what happened between 1904 and 1908, which would better inform my response to your question.

Between 1904 in 1908, Germany, as a colonizer of Namibia, wanted land, Namibian land. And the Ovaherero and Nama people at the time were land and cattle owners. So Germany wanted them to give up their land. When they resisted, the German government, through a general, an Army general called von Trotha, issued an extermination order, which was specific. It said all the Ovaherero and all the Nama peoples must be killed. There were two extermination orders: one pertaining to the Ovaherero and the other pertaining to the Nama people. But what both extermination orders said was both must be killed, spare no woman, spare no child and spare no man. Either drive them out of the country — they could go to Botswana, Angola or southern Africa, but they must either die or get out of Namibia.

And that’s exactly what happened. Our land got taken. Our cattle got taken. Our people got killed. Those that survived were forced out of the country into Botswana, Angola, southern Africa and elsewhere, as well. And those that were not able to leave the country were enslaved. They were in concentration camps. They were poisoned. So, that’s the background of this. And I’m not sure about the number of the Nama people who got killed, but history tells me that 80% of the Ovaherero people got killed during the genocide.

Fast-forward to 2004. The then-German ambassador, I believe, in Namibia said — this was in response to people, to the Ovaherero and Nama people themselves taking hold of their agency and saying what happened to us at the turn of the 20th century was a genocide, we are entitled to reparations, but, at the very least, from a human being point of view, we are entitled to an apology from Germany. The then-German official stood up at a gathering in Namibia, in rural Namibia, and purported to apologize. However, that got recanted by the government, the German government, by saying that she had no mandate to do that; the German government was not apologizing.

Reverse and fast-forward a little bit. Concurrently, there were proceedings instituted by the Ovaherero and the Nama people in New York seeking the German government to do two things. The one is to apologize for the genocide, and the other, to repay, to pay reparations. In court papers, the German government took the attitude that whatever was committed in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 was no — there was no crime called a genocide, so whatever was committed at the time could not have been a crime, because the crime of genocide did not exist at the time. So, this has always been Germany’s stance.

So, it is, to me, very interesting, the turn suddenly to call what happened in 1904 a genocide. And I don’t understand German myself, but when one listens carefully to the translations of what Mr. Maas said, he seems to be saying that what happened then should be called what it would be today: a genocide. There is a nuance there. But for present purposes, it is sufficient to accept and take that Germany has called what it did in Namibia at the time — is calling what it did in Namibia at the time to the Ovaherero and the Nama people a genocide.

So, what then happens when you accept wrongdoing? When you accept wrongdoing, you do two things: You apologize, and you repay, you atone. And that’s in the form of reparations.

Germany — sorry, in Namibia, what happened in 2006 is, in Parliament, the then-paramount chief of the Ovaherero people tabled a motion, which was unanimously adopted in Parliament, that the Ovaherero and Nama people would directly negotiate with Germany for reparations and that the Namibian government would serve the role of a mediator. It was more of a supporting role. But then the Namibian government turned away from that resolution altogether, excluded the Ovaherero and the Nama people, negotiated directly with Germany.

And that’s the result of what you were asking me about earlier, the grant or aid money and the very loose statement by Mr. Maas in newspapers of the world. He has still — Germany has still not approached the people directly, by the way. This is something that no one is talking about. We are hearing from newspapers, from yourselves, that Germany is calling this a genocide, Germany is apologizing. Germany has not come to the Ovaherero people or the Nama people to apologize at all for what happened. In fact, the minister was supposed to come, and the president — or, yeah, the minister was supposed to come to Namibia a week or so ago, and canceled the trip because of the uprising of the — not physically, but the rejection of the offer by the Ovaherero and the Nama people.

So, you want to know what my comment is on that. My comment is that what was offered is an absolute insult. It’s an insult because it had nothing to do with us. Our names are being used in circumstances where what is really going on between the German and the Namibian government has nothing to do with us. And one wonders whether the Namibian government and the German government are negotiating as equals. I shudder to think not. They are not negotiating as equals. And it was also interesting that when the announcement was made, the Namibian government was caught off guard. It didn’t realize that Germany was going to announce to the world that it had offered this grant money and purported to apologize to the Ovaherero — or, to the Namibians, I suppose, to use Germany’s language.

AMY GOODMAN: Nyoko, I wanted to bring Emsie Erastus into this conversation, who’s in the capital of Namibia right now, who’s in Windhoek, a researcher on decolonization and technology. Emsie, you wrote a piece for the BBC headlined “Why Germany’s Namibia genocide apology is not enough.” In it, you say Germany “needs to come to terms with the origins of a racialised view of the world, placing Western authorities at the top and Africans at the bottom.” Can you give your reaction to what has been offered and what you see needs to be done at this point? We have just about a minute.

EMSIE ERASTUS: Well, I wanted to start off with what advocate was saying and a clip that you played, and sort of tied in with what the German foreign minister, Maas, said in his apology. What advocate Nyoko said is that she questioned the relationship between Namibia and Germany, and questions if it’s that of equals.

And what we are seeing in reparations, especially with the Ovaherero and Nama genocide, is that, first of all, when Namibia — when Germany came to Namibia, or South West Africa, whatever they deemed to call it at that time, they did not come to have a friendship or a relationship. The mission was clear at the Berlin Conference. It was to — the scramble for Africa — and some scholars call it the “rape of Africa/” — it was to come and take the resources of Africa.

So, at the very — from the very beginning, Germany needs to acknowledge the relationship that did exist during the genocide, when the genocide took place. It was not a friendly — it was not a friendly relationship. It was not one of equals. When we look at what history tells us, it’s that people who were in the land at that time, they were deemed to be savages, barbaric tribes. Still to this day, the narrative is still going on in the media where we call the Ovaherero and Nama communities as tribes, and we call the German settlers former colonial powers or something like that. You know? So, already, when we are just speaking —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

EMSIE ERASTUS: Yeah. When we are just speaking, there is no equality in that. And that, already, we should start to question that, before we even go to any — discuss anything when it comes to Germany’s apology.

AMY GOODMAN: And we will come back to this issue. I want to thank you, Emsie Erastus and Nyoko Muvangua. Thank you. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.


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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


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