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Germany agrees to pay Namibia €1.1bn over historical Herero-Nama genocide

Germany calls atrocities ‘genocide’ but omits the words ‘reparations’ or ‘compensation’ from a joint statementhttps://youtu.be/xdNg2sgfcbE

Germany has to agreed to pay Namibia €1.1bn (£940m) as it officially recognised the Herero-Nama genocide at the start of the 20th century, in what Angela Merkel’s government says amounts to a gesture of reconciliation but not legally binding reparations.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children were shot, tortured or driven into the Kalahari desert to starve by German troops between 1904 and 1908 after the Herero and Nama tribes rebelled against colonial rule in what was then named German South West Africa and is now Namibia.

Since 2015, Germany has negotiated with the Namibian government over what it calls an attempt to “heal the wounds” of historic violence.

Seven Herero men in chains in what was then German South West Africa but is now Namibia.
Seven Herero men in chains in what was then German South West Africa but is now Namibia. Germany has agreed to pay for atrocities committed between 1904 and 1908.

“Our aim was and is to find a joint path to genuine reconciliation in remembrance of the victims,” the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said in a statement. “That includes our naming the events of the German colonial era in today’s Namibia, and particularly the atrocities between 1904 and 1908, unsparingly and without euphemisms.

Namibia became a German colony in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck to forestall perceived British encroachment and was known as German South West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika). The Palgrave Commission by the British governor in Cape Town determined that only the natural deep-water harbour of Walvis Bay was worth occupying and thus annexed it to the Cape province of British South Africa.

Windhoek

From 1904 to 1907, the Herero and the Namaqua took up arms against brutal German colonialism. In a calculated punitive action by the German occupiers, government officials ordered extinction of the natives in the OvaHerero and Namaqua genocide. In what has been called the “first genocide of the 20th century”, the Germans systematically killed 10,000 Nama (half the population) and approximately 65,000 Herero (about 80% of the population). The survivors, when finally released from detention, were subjected to a policy of dispossession, deportation, forced labour, racial segregation, and discrimination in a system that in many ways anticipated the apartheid established by South Africa in 1948.

Most Africans were confined to so-called native territories, which under South African rule after 1949 were turned into “homelands” (Bantustans). Some historians have speculated that the German genocide in Namibia was a model for the Nazis in the Holocaust. The memory of genocide remains relevant to ethnic identity in independent Namibia and to relations with Germany. The German government formally apologised for the Namibian genocide in 2004.

Swakopmund

“We will now officially call these events what they were from today’s perspective: a genocide.”

On Thursday, official circles in Berlin confirmed reports in Namibian media that after nine rounds of negotiations the two sides had settled on the text of a joint declaration and a sum of €1.1bn, which will be paid separately to existing aid programmes over 30 years.

Of the overall sum, more than a billion euros will go towards projects relating to land reform, rural infrastructure, water supply and professional training. Communities of Herero and Nama descendants, which form ethnic minorities in all of the seven affected regions, are meant to be involved in the development of the specific projects.

Some €50m will go towards setting up a foundation for reconciliation between the two states, including cultural projects and youth exchange programmes.

German church and monument to colonists in Windhoek, Namibia.

The text of the joint declaration calls the atrocities committed by German troops a “genocide” but omits the words “reparations” or “compensation” – a move borne out of fear that such language could set a legal precedent for similar claims from other nations.

A spokesman for the Namibian president, Hage Geingob, described German’s acknowledgment of genocide “as the first step” in the right direction. “It is the basis for the second step, which is an apology, to be followed by reparations,” the spokesman said.

Some of the numerous groups that make up the descendants of the genocide’s survivors have been critical of the framing of the negotiations from the outset and have declined to back the Namibian government’s stance.

Paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro, leader of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, has criticised his government for not insisting on financial reparations: “When German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier comes to Namibia to render the apology we will embarrass him,” he told local media.

Namibian newspaper New Era reported on Thursday that at least three traditional leaders who had supported the government’s negotiations up to this point had refused to endorse the final wording of the declaration, which could make it difficult for President Hage Geingob to sign the deal.

The German side’s position is that it has negotiated the agreement with a Namibian government representing the country’s population as a whole, and that the deal does not stand or fall on the approval of Herero and Nama descendants groups.

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