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NTLA, OTA scoff at selected genocide day

Nama and Ovaherero leaders react to announcement
The announcement of the closure of concentration camps on 28 May does not mark freedom for the Namas, whose suffering continues unabated, the NTLA said.
Jemima Beukes
The Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) yesterday issued separate statements in which they opposed to 28 May being declared Genocide Remembrance Day, with Nama leaders saying the date, in fact, marks the beginning of the suffering their communities have endured to date.

Sentiments are divided after government yesterday declared 28 May the remembrance day of the atrocities mainly endured by Ovaherero and Nama people at the turn of the 20th century at the hands of the German colonial regime in Namibia. The massacre saw approximately 50 000 to 65 000 Ovaherero and 10 000 Nama people being killed between 1904 and 1908 by German military forces in German South West Africa, as Namibia was known at the time.

The OTA was pushing for the day to be commemorated on 2 October - when Lothar von Trotha, leader of the German troops, issued an extermination order to wipe out the Ovaherero people - and another on 22 April, when the same was issued for the Nama people.

‘Denialist agenda’

OTA acting secretary-general Nandiuasora Mazeingo yesterday said they are still working on an extensive statement in response to the declaration, but they vehemently reject 28 May as part of government’s ‘denialist’ agenda.

"We do not buy the argument that the Namibian calendar is too full. We have Cassinga and Ongulumbashe day. The dates on which both extermination orders were issued are two extremely important events,” he said, adding that genocide is the most grotesque crime committed in Namibia’s history.

“28 May is not such a significant date in the genocide history. It does not speak to the intent of Germany to annihilate our people," he said.

The date 28 May marks the day, 116 years ago, when the commander of the colonial German Schutztruppe ordered the formal closure of all Ovaherero and Nama concentration camps in the country – essentially turning a leaf to freedom of some sort.

In its own statement, the NTLA said: “The motivation given for 28 May is that it was on this date that the announcement was made for the closure of the concentration camps. We believe that the announcement of such closure was accompanied by enslavement in native reserves, which served as enclosures from which slave and sexual labour would be drawn to serve the new white colonial master.

“It is our firm belief that the Nama people continue to be enclosed in the same native reserves in an independent Namibia,” the association said.

Dark chapter

In April 2016, then Swanu president Usutuaije Maamberua tabled a motion in the National Assembly demanding government to declare 28 May as the national genocide remembrance day.

According to him, the enactment of this commemorative day would provide a national mark of respect for all victims of Germany’s persecution. Yesterday, Maamberua told Namibian Sun that it is unfortunate that there is opposition to the date, but he would have wanted those opposing it to push for an alternative date through a political party in parliament.

"It is important to note this is not a genocide day, but [a day] to remember the dark chapter marked by the genocide. The death rates were so very high in the concentration camps and we are not ignoring that many also died in the desert because of starvation. But in the concentration camps, people were brutally killed and hanged and this makes the concentration camp unique," he said.

Victims’ remains

Ida Hoffmann, a former Swapo member of parliament and torchbearer for the fight for reparations for the genocide, commended President Nangolo Mbumba for pushing for the realisation of the remembrance day. She, however, stressed that this move will only be complete when government ensures that the remains of genocide victims are brought back to be buried at home, or put in museums in Namibia.

“I am happy that there is talk about [reparation] money, but my biggest concern is that the skeletons, skulls and remains are still in Germany. There are still remains of our people. It is important that those things are returned. We have not been given an opportunity to lay our people to rest here in a museum and be consoled that our people are resting in peace. As they are there in Germany, they are still in a mortuary. Those museums are as good as a mortuary...”

Speaker of the National Assembly Peter Katjavivi alluded to the time it took for this day to be finally declared, saying as is the nature of any democratic process, there were challenges and obstacles along the way.

"However, through meticulous verification and thoughtful consideration, 28 May was identified as the most appropriate day for genocide remembrance. The topic of genocide and the necessity of addressing its implications, particularly in relation to the German authorities, has been a continuous concern for our nation," he said.

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Namibian Sun 2024-07-17

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