5 October 2011

Namibia: Skulls Back On Home Soil

Windhoek — Thousands of Namibians braved chilly weather early yesterday to welcome home 20 mortal remains (skulls) of their ancestors who were killed by imperial Germany during the Herero and Nama uprisings of 1904 up to 1908.

The spirited crowd, numbering close to 7 000, turned up at the Hosea Kutako International Airport in the early hours of yesterday to receive 20 skulls among many that were taken to Germany in the early 1900s by a team of racist scientists who were trying to prove through 'race science' theories that whites were the supreme race.

Representing their green, red and white flags, Herero men and women fully clad in their army uniforms and traditional dresses and a contingent of Nama-speaking people dressed in white, showed up at the airport to witness the return of the human remains of their ancestors.

After the arrival of the Air Namibia flight from Germany shortly after 6 am, the crowd turned rowdy and broke police lines and went straight to the aeroplane carrying the remains to give their ancestors a hearty welcome as well as the chiefs who spearheaded the fight for the return of the skulls.

The move left the official welcoming programme in tatters as neither Prime Minister Nahas Angula nor other officials, including some cabinet ministers, could perform the official welcoming duties at the designated spot due to the disorder.

The hopelessly outnumbered police officers had to push back the crowd which was advancing towards the aeroplane carrying the delegation, which had just arrived from Berlin with the skulls.

The welcoming ceremony was also cancelled as the crowd was deemed too big to view the remains that were supposed to be brought to the Old Terminal Building at the airport, where Prime Minister Nahas Angula and Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture were to address the thousands of people.

Instead Angula met the delegation on one end of the airport away from the crowd where he officially received the remains on behalf of cabinet after which they were transported directly to Parliament Gardens where they lay over night before today's ceremony at the Heroe's Acre to be officiated by President Hifikepunye Pohamba.

Reporting to the Prime Minister, Kazenambo said two representatives of each group that oversaw the packing of the skulls in Berlin would accompany the remains to the National Museum for them to be put in glass enclosures.

Speaking to German journalists, Karas Governor Clinton Swartbooi asked why there should be a discussion on whether genocide was committed in Namibia when it was quite clear that German colonial forces committed the act.

"It was genocide by Germany for own economic and colonial agenda," he said, adding that it was important for Germany to apologise in order to bring closure and "for us to move to the next stage of building strong relations within the pretext of reparation".

Swartbooi said it was also important for Germany to behave properly as a responsible member of the international community the same way they did with the Jews.

"They must begin to respect African people," he said, adding that Germany is now part of financing the Eurozone bail-out and it was quite clear that it being the largest economy in Europe had sufficient resources if it wanted reparation to happen in Namibia.

Swartbooi said as a younger generation of those that suffered atrocities of German genocide, "we will be unrelenting in pursuing this matter to its logical conclusion, it can take 20 years, 30 years, 100 years, but we will not rest until reparation is done to our people."

Chief Petrus Kooper, who was part of the delegation to Germany, said he felt proud to bring the skulls back and that as traditional leaders they felt good to have made their contribution.

Ueriuka Tjikuua, secretary of the OCD-1904, said he took the journey back home with mixed feelings as the treatment in Germany was not good, but praised the three groups for working together as one.

He said some of the things that disappointed him were when Cornelia Pieper, the Minister of State in the German Foreign Ministry, gave her speech at the skulls' handover and then left without listening to Minister Kazenambo's speech.

He added that the German government was invited to a public discussion but refused to attend and that they also did not attend the memorial service except Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the former German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, who also apologised to the Herero people at the 100th anniversary of the genocide.

German Ambassador Egon Kochanke claimed that the programme in Germany was drawn up in conjunction with Kazenambo's office and the Namibian embassy.

"There were private programmes organised by German civil society and minority parties in parliament who are in the opposition and you can not expect that the German government is represented there," said Kochanke.

He said this would be the same if he organised a meeting in Namibia with civil society and opposition parties who are definitely not in favour of this government.

"The German government is a reliable partner of the Namibian nation and the Namibian government and we respect the role that traditional authorities play in this society," he added, saying that "if you want to have real reconciliation and cooperation, then the only way is working with the German government instead of working with those you think are your friends."

But Kazenambo hit back saying that while they had collaborated with the German ambassador on the drawing up of the programme together with traditional leaders, the original programme was ditched in Germany. "The truth is that the programme that we worked together (on), the German government abandoned it," charged the minister.

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