The Namibian (Windhoek)

24 January 2013

Namibia: Wieczorek-Zeul Shies Away From 'Reparations'

GERMAN opposition MP Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul was cautious to be drawn into a debate on reparations demands from descendants of the 1904 to 1908 genocide, only saying that if the Namibian government "wants more", it should raise the matter with its German counterpart.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP), of which she is a member of parliament, alongside the Green Party, last year tabled a motion in the German parliament with demands for the revival of reconciliatory initiatives in Namibia in the context of intensive development aid. This motion was crushed by the German government.

The chairperson of the Namibian-German Parliamentary Friendship Group, Peter Katjavivi, said the reparations matter is at the heart of the dialogue between the two parliaments, saying the two governments "cannot come together without finding a way to deal with this issue".

The patron of the Ovaherero Genocide Committee (OGC), Festus Muundjua, said discussions with the German government had already started with then German chancellor Helmuth Kohl in 1995.

These discussions concentrated on three points: genocide, reparations, and a special initiative for affected communities.

The Namibian parliament expressed its position on reparations when it adopted a motion tabled by Herero Chief Kuaima Riruako in 2006. The German government was informed of this position.

In 2004, Wieczorek-Zeul said at the centenary of the genocide that atrocities committed by the German colonial forces in the then Deutsch-Südwest Afrika "would nowadays be considered genocide". Already then, she stayed clear of raising the issue of reparations.

Muundjua yesterday reiterated that genocide is a crime against humanity, and that the damage and devastation caused by it should be "repaired", hence the demand for reparations.

"Is the special initiative the same thing as reparations?" he questioned. "The dialogue has already started, but people don't want to talk. This is a contradiction in terms, I know. But we want an official dialogue centred around structured topics. What we have now is like a palaver, it is not serious talks."

Wieczorek-Zeul yesterday said she would not want to get bogged down by words and terminology.

"We must not get stuck in words, but we should work towards better conditions of living for the communities," she said, but added diplomatically: "If the Namibian government wants to make new proposals, it must do so."

"My belief was and still is that a long-lasting responsibility of Germany is also shown in bilateral development cooperation," she added.

Wieczorek-Zeul came to Namibia to see the 20 million Euro special initiative on the ground, and visited Otjimbingwe, which is one of the 80 bneficiaries.

She said the most pressing and immediate needs of these communities are access to water and livestock. Also important, she said, are aspects of professional training in renewable energy.

Her impression further was that more transparency and information and debate are required for the successful implementation of the special initiative.

On the return of the Namibian human remains still in Germany, she said the two countries should prepare a way that shows a respectful and sensitive emotions of Germans towards a "very emotional endeavour".

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