HUMAN RIGHTS: Germany Scuttles Herero Demands

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By Karina Boeckmann*

BERLIN - The German government is insisting that it will neither render an apology nor pay any reparations to the Herero and Nama who suffered the first genocide of the 20th century that took place between 1904 and 1907 in German South-West Africa – modern-day Namibia – during the scramble for Africa.

A chilling account of the "killing fields" of Namibia has been published in 2010 by David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen under the provocative title 'The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism'.

"When the Great Powers partitioned Africa in 1884, unfortunately we were allotted to the Germans," said Advocate Krukoro from the Ovaherero Genocide Committee, one of the 60 Namibian delegates, during the Berlin visit from September 27 to October 2, 2011.

In 1904 some 17,000 German colonial troops commanded by General Lothar von Trotha started a brutal extermination war on Herero and Nama to suppress revolt against the continued deprivation of land and rights. After their defeat at Waterberg on August 11, 1904 they were chased, murdered or driven deep into the Omaheke desert where they died of thirst under the eyes of the German soldiers.

Thousands of men, women and children were later interned in German concentration camps and died of malnutrition and disease. The territories of Herero and Nama were expropriated, their community life and means of production destroyed. Although being a crime against the Law of Nations the discussion about the mass murder of Namibian peoples didn't start until Namibian independence in 1990.

"According to the authors," wrote Ian Thomson in a review for The Telegraph in August 2010, "the 'killing fields' of Namibia presaged not only Hitler's genocidal madness, but served as inspiration for the dictator's hoped-for empire in the European east, where Jews and Slavs were seen as 'subhuman'. In the previous century, German settlers had been encouraged by the Kaiser to scorn the Judaeo-Christian morality of compassion for the weak and view the African tribes in their midst as metamorphosed apes. (“Exterminate all the brutes!” exclaims Conrad's European trader Kurtz.)"

Before a delegation of Namibian government representatives and leaders of the indigenous Herero and Nama travelled to Germany in September 2011 to repatriate 20 skulls of their ancestors, stolen by the former colonial 'Kaiserreich' for racial research, the German government asked the delegation not to raise the reparations issue.

According to the Namibian Sun, the demand was made in a memo sent by the German government to Namibia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. "For a smooth flow of procedures, the German government will not allow an opportunity to discuss reparation," read the memo.

Nevertheless, the delegation not only demanded reparations from the German public, but also an apology for the mass murder of 80,000 Herero and Nama. "We have finally come to demand reparation in order to close this dark chapter of our history in the service of a sustained and everlasting reconciliation that is imperative for both Germans and Namibians to live side by side in peace and prosperity," the secretary and liaison officer of the Ovaherero/ Ovambanderu Council for the Dialogue on the 1904 Genocide, Ueriuka Tjikuua, told journalists.

Ignoring the memo, Tjikuua said what had happened to the OvaHerero, OvaMbanderu and Nama people in Namibia was not something that can be wished away by the Germans. "The issue of genocide and reparation will continue to haunt the Germans for decades to come if this matter is not attended to, addressed and resolved amicably to the satisfaction of all stakeholders," he said.

Marshall Plan

Tjikuua said a Marshall Plan was implemented for Germany after World War II. "Why not construct a similar plan for the descendants of the genocide survivors? We are human beings too, like the Jews who suffered the same fate. Therefore, it is only fair and just to demand the restitution of the losses and irreparable damage caused by the colonial German government. You are giving us the skulls today – where is the flesh?" he asked.

Tjikuua said they had gone to Germany in peace and to receive the mortal remains of their forefathers and mothers as well as to return them to the land of their ancestors.

"We expect to be provided with the research findings since these remains (skulls) were stolen and brought to Germany for research purposes. We have therefore a vested interest to know and learn how the intellectual capacity of the black people differs to those of the Germans, as the racists and fascists on this planet earth would like us to believe," he added.

Tjikuua said the purpose of the mission to Germany was to extend a hand of friendship to all Germans and to invite the German Government to accept a call to engage both the Namibian and German governments in a Structured Dialogue for Restorative Justice.

“We are fully aware that human remains (skulls) in Germany amount to hundreds, if not thousands, and we therefore appeal to the German Government and other institutions, whether private or public, to release all Namibian remains (skulls) to be returned to their country of origin in the near future," he said.

"Historic Responsibility"

The German Foreign Ministry has routinely avoided the use of the term "genocide" in dismissing the Hereros' and Namas' claims for compensation and instead chosen vague terms such as "Germany's historic responsibility with respect to Namibia".

"The transfer of these skulls today to the government of the Republic of Namibia reminds of a dark and painful chapter in our common German-Namibian history. During the German colonial rule in Namibia it came to a bloody repression of revolts in former German-South West Africa by imperial colonial troops, in which several members of the Namibian People were killed," said the State Minister in the German Foreign Office Cornelia Pieper on September 30 at Charité University in Berlin that hosted the ceremony in which the skulls of nine Herero and eleven Nama were returned to the Namibian delegation.

The remains of four females, 15 males and one child were part of the Charité anatomic collection. They were used by German scientists to prove the alleged racial superiority of white Europeans over black Africans. Now, 100 years later, the chairman of the executive board of the 300-year old institution, Karl Max Einhaeupl, has deplored "the crimes perpetrated in the name of a perverted concept of scientific progress", and said: "We sincerely apologize".

Pieper declared that Germans acknowledge and accept the heavy moral and historical responsibility toward Namibia. She referred to two resolutions of German Parliament in the years 1989 and 2004. But in fact, both resolutions are vague and spare a clear German apology and a compensation offer to the descendants of the victims of German colonial rule.

The treatment of Herero and Nama in Namibia – mass extermination on the ground of racism, extermination through labour, expropriation of Namibian peoples of land and cattle, research to prove the alleged racial superiority of white Europeans – was the seed that later breaded the Jewish Holocaust (1933-1945).

"Bastard studies"

The German professor of medicine, anthropology and eugenics, Eugen Fischer, who in the former German colony conducted "bastard studies" on the offspring of German or Boer and native Namibian women, later became the teacher of Josef Mengele who tortured thousands prisoners in Hitler's concentration camps to death.

"The Germans have forgotten what they did to our peoples. Men, women and children were murdered," said Ida Hoffman, member of the committee that had prepared the travel to Germany. "German soldiers raped our women and fathered our children. Their blood is in our blood," she said.

Berlin consistently refuses to pay reparations to its former colony arguing that it has been providing development assistance: some 500 million Euros since Namibian independence. But Herero and Nama said that this money never reached them. "We want an official apology from the German government," Supreme Chief Alfons Maharero said.

State Minister Pieper left the ceremony at Charité after protests against the choice of terms in her speech like "reconciliation" and "killings" that were countered with "apologize/reparations now" and "murders". She left shortly after finishing her statements and only seconds before the Namibian Minister of Culture, Kazenambo Kazenambo, rose to speak.

"Imagine a German state minister leaves a hall where a ceremony is being held to repatriate the human remains of victims of German genocide without hearing the delegation head, a Namibian minister, and without hearing what the highest representative of the Nama and Herero has to say. She has no sense of dignity and honour. She left behind the display of human remains of the first German genocide and the first German concentration camp", said Yonas Endrias, a political scientist from Berlin.

"Germany is in big part responsible for the dire situation of the Herero and Nama in Namibia," said Hewat Beukes from the Nama Genocide Committee. "The crimes committed against the Namibian Peoples did not stop in 1907. The ever-intensifying consequences remain with an impoverished nation on all levels and is leading to social and cultural disintegration."

After the "Kaiser's Holocaust" the German State confiscated most arable land and handed vast tracks to German settlers. As these farmers prospected, the indigenous people impoverished and Herero and Nama today are the poorest of the poor.

"Unemployment in Namibia officially stands at 52 per cent, but we now know that Government statisticians were ordered to twist the figures as the true percentage of unemployment is much higher", Beukes said. "Such horrendous unemployment takes place in the face of enormously abundant resources: diamonds, gold, uranium, copper, fish and now oil," he added.

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