Namibia: Genocide Descendants Turn Up the Heat

6 August 2020

Descendants of the 1904-1908 genocide in Namibia say they remain united against Germany in their pursuit of reparations for the colonial-era crime.

The Nama and Ovaherero traditional leaders yesterday expressed unhappiness over the handling of the genocide issue by the Namibian government, which they said was being treated like a "political game".

In a joint statement by traditional chiefs Vekuii Rukoro and Gaob Johannes Isaak, the group said neither the Namibian nor the German government has undertaken any effort to restore relationships with the affected Nama and Ovaherero communities.

They claimed authorities were avoiding such an approach because doing so requires an honest conversation and the willingness to commit to policies and strategies. The group further feels government is trying to cut them out of the entire process.

"The Geingob administration simply does not have the political capacity or will to negotiate on our behalf and certainly cannot do so at arms' length. Dr Geingob is also incorrect in his claim that we have been 'divided by Germany'. He can speak for himself. We, the Ovaherero and Nama, remain united against Germany. In this sense, Dr Geingob is a disrupter," reads the statement.

The group further clarified their demands, saying the German government first needs to recognise its acts - not only as genocide but as genocide in violation of international law.

They said this would then be followed by an apology and reparations that would account for the loss of life, land, livestock and livelihood. While Germany has previously acknowledged "moral responsibility" for the killings, it has avoided making an official apology for the massacres to avoid compensation claims. Germany's development minister Gerd Mueller last year admitted to the 'war crimes', 'wars of extermination', and 'genocide'.

"It is in the meantime clear that the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1908 were what we today describe as genocide," said Mueller at the time.

Between 1904-1908, German soldiers killed over 65 000 Ovaherero and an estimated 10 000 Nama in a revolt against land seizures by colonists in what historians and the United Nations have long called the first genocide of the 20th century.

Answering questions from the opposition during his state of the nation address in June this year, President Hage Geingob said Germany was prepared to render an apology.

"The Federal Republic of Germany has agreed that the events of 1904-1908 can be termed genocide and they are ready to render an apology at the highest level of German government," Geingob said.

In 2015, veteran politician Zed Ngavirue was appointed by President Geingob as special envoy to lead deliberations with the German government on the colonial-era genocide. However, the Nama and Ovaherero people do not believe the German government has come close to recognising the genocides for what they were.

"There is no apology without recognition. No apology will be accepted or acceptable until the German government will finally recognise and admit that it did something wrong," said the chiefs.

The group claims the German government, during their court hearing in 2017, argued that it did absolutely nothing wrong because it cannot be held legally liable for murdering people and taking their property if those people had no right to exist in the first place. "That is not recognition, nor genocide "denial".

They try to defend and explain. Thus, it seems that the Germans have now embraced the genocides again," they said.

"Germany cannot try to say "sorry" in one forum while arguing in another forum that they had every right to kill our grandparents." The group wants Germany to decide on the apology it wants to render and either stick to their legal argument or disclaim it.

"We admit error, as we were naïve enough to believe that Germany understood that our demand involves three steps and that step two, an apology, certainly cannot come before step one, recognition."

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