The Namibian (Windhoek)

11 April 2014

Rwanda: Never Forget. Never Repeat. Never Again?

editorial

Photo: Corinne Dufka/HRW
A brother and sister find each other after a reunion of families separated during the genocide.

THIS WEEK, Rwanda commemorated the 20th anniversary of probably the most prolific genocide in living memory when 800 000 to one million people were massacred over a period of just about 100 days.

It should not be forgotten that the media was the main catalyst in the brutality that saw practically brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, colleagues and best friends wipe each other from the face of the earth all in the name of physical, cultural and tribal differences. Rwanda may be thousands of kilometres away, but the lessons for Namibians are important, especially for us in the news media.

Over the past few months, many would have witnessed a hardening of stance between blacks and the descendants of colonial and Nazi Germany over the removal of the Reiterdenkmal.

Government took a cowardly position by removing the colonial (and Nazi) monument last Christmas night. By dispensing with the very law, our current leaders weakened their moral stance to put the monument in its right perspective.

But we were equally disgusted by the Kriegsgräberfürsorge, the Memorable Order of the Tin Hats and the Traditionsverband Ehemaliger Schutz- und Überseetruppen, who took a belligerent approach and threatened Government if the Reiterdenkmal was not restored to its original spot.

The three groups said they would do "all things necessary, including legal proceedings" and that government should proceed at its "own peril" and run the risk of having the new monuments demolished. Now they say the episode "might be the beginning of the end of reconciliation, peace and stability". Are starting wars all over again?

Then the three groups want us to believe that the Reiterdenkmal does not commemorate the German colonial regime. Such denialism will not help build Namibia.

Most worryingly for us, though, is that some of our media colleagues are joining in the whitewashing of colonialism and in essence bolstering the hardening of positions.

One newspaper published editorials that all but appear to support the notion of superiority versus inferiority of races. An opinion published 25 March 2014, entitled "Die Mär vom bösen weißen Mann" (The myth of the evil white man) is a case in point.

It quoted a 'well-known black businesswoman' (whose name was withheld and about whom no further detail was revealed) saying: "Every opportunity is used to rant and rave about the 'evil white man'. Colonialism is the keyword, which one gets to hear at every public event. If the white man was so bad, then let's give back our beloved cellphones, because they're not from Africa. Just as much as our nice cars and designer clothes (aren't made in Africa). KFC isn't African either. If we look down on everything coming from the white man, then we have to see where we stand. We'll be sitting, dressed in loincloths in our huts, eating pap."

The editorial, using a rhetorical question to transition from the quote, confirmed that the unidentified black businesswoman's sentiments were justified. "After all, Germany is still the biggest donor to Namibia. On high levels, billions of Namibian dollars are pumped into the country's economy. Additionally, many Germans collect money and other items, to bring them to Namibia and distribute them among the poor. All this, while the rich man sits in his palace, or is being driven around in his Mercedes. In an election year, however, he will rant and rave about the white man again."

Needless to say, the German donations are not made out of a sudden spirit of goodwill towards Namibia and its people. The German government, individuals and organisations are, in fact, very conscious of their forefathers' atrocious past in this country and thus feel it is their duty to give back to Namibia (as a whole, one may add).

Simplifying complex matters only fails to acknowledge that years of systematic oppression and colonialism have led to much of the current status quo in this country, and cannot be eradicated in a quarter of a century through donations alone.

Therefore, an independent and democratic press has a responsibility to help harmonise rather than worsen societal contradictions, especially when the differences can lead to prejudice and hate speech. Namibia's social, cultural and historical background dictate that bias, hate speech and blatant falsehoods shall not be tolerated.

The media need to be aware at all times that this nascent nation relies on journalism for what binds or divides Namibians.

If we are serious about building a nation from the ruins of our disparate and diverse backgrounds, we must deliberately keep reminding ourselves to never forget and never to repeat the mistakes our forebears made. That may require painful reminders such as displaying thousands of human skulls, as Rwanda does, but in an honest and truthful context.

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