Why reparations?

Two separate processes are currently at play with regards to the genocide issue.

10 September 2018 | International

“The governing parties of the Federal Republic . . . formally agreed that the need to address Germany’s colonial past should be included in their coalition agreement.” Michelle Muntefering, German minister of state,

Jemima Beukes – Germany must pay reparations for the 1904-08 Nama and Ovaherero genocide in order for Namibians to recover from imposed poverty, says Namibia’s special envoy on the genocide, Dr Zed Ngavirue.

The Ovaherero and Nama genocide case against the German government, which was lodged in New York, was postponed to 3 May 2019 at the German government’s request. Germany made their first appearance in the US federal court in January this year after it had rejected a summons since 2017.

Meanwhile, the Namibian government is negotiating with its German counterpart, appointing Ngavirue to head these talks, which have been lambasted by Nama and Herero groupings – the affected genocide communities.

Germany’s refusal to admit to genocide and persistence in talking about atrocities has thrown a spanner in negotiations about reparations.

According to Ngavirue, to date there has not been a written position adopted by the Bundestag.

The call for reparations from Germany for one of the biggest genocides of the 20th century, has been criticised for an extended period, and many believe that the current German development aid to Namibia is enough.

The German government’s support to Namibia has been described as overly generous and its government is on record as saying the biggest chunk of their development aid goes to Namibia.

Asked why reparations are such as big deal then, Ngavirue said it is obvious.

“Everybody knows that this country and people suffered damage as a result of the genocide. All we are interested in is the reconstruction of devastated communities. People have suffered cultural and property damage. This is a process of regaining economic improvement on various levels,” he said.

Facing colonial past

The German minister of state, Michelle Muntefering, last Friday said Germany is obligated to learn from its actions and that the time has come for change.

“This year, in 2018, is the first time that something entirely new was achieved in Germany. The governing parties of the Federal Republic, for the first time in the history of my country, formally agreed that the need to address Germany’s colonial past should be included in their coalition agreement.

“The need to face the colonial past head on has for the first time become part of our basic democratic consensus. This is a big and important step, even though it comes late. It is now time to close this gap in our culture of remembrance,” she said.

However, while German officials are talking about taking responsibility, the country is yet to tender a formal apology to Namibians and talks about reparations remain under wraps.

“The negotiations are ongoing. As you know, there has been a pause in the formal meetings and the formal position will be part of a formal agreement and that would be taken to the government and that would be accepted by our parliament as well. But we haven’t reached that stage yet,” Ngavirue said this week.

Local impact

During the genocide in colonial Namibia over 100 years ago, the Ovaherero and Nama people lost large tracts of land, properties and their cattle.

Even today, many descendants are without land living in sheer poverty while the majority of land is now in the hands of white Namibians, most of whom are of German descent.

Apart from economic ruin, hundreds of Nama and Ovaherero people were killed at will by German soldiers.

The skulls of these people were then shipped to Germany for scientific research and eventually landed in the homes of private collectors or army generals.

Since 2011, Namibia has driven an aggressive campaign to have these skulls and artefacts, including the Bible of the late Nama chief Hendrik Witbooi, return to home soil.

The third repatriation of Namibian remains from Germany took place last Friday, which included a San girl’s skeleton that was collected by colonialists between 1899 and 1900 from Grootfontein, as well as a second San girl’s skeleton and jawbone.

The skull of a Nama woman aged between 28 and 40 that was taken from Shark Island in 1905, was also among the repatriated remains, which were mainly of women.

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