'Germany in denial'

The German government and its ambassador to Namibia have been accused of being flippant and evasive on apologising and paying reparations for the 1904-08 genocide, while using development aid as a carrot.

02 March 2018 | International

The German government has been accused of soft-soaping the Namibian government with development aid, to avoid having to pay reparations to communities affected by the 1904-08 genocide.

The former colonial power has also been accused of a sinister attempt to wipe the Nama and Ovaherero genocide from memory, by referring to it as “atrocities” and of sugarcoating its role through the bilateral funding it gives Namibia each year.

Academic and social commentator Dr Henning Melber also reminded the Namibian and German governments this week that their negotiations for reparations were in violation of international indigenous law, which gives affected communities the right to represent themselves.

During a recent public lecture on genocide matters, Melber remarked that German government officials, including the country's ambassador to Namibia, Christian Schlaga, exhibited a flippant attitude towards the genocide issue.

In a letter published in a local newspaper this week, Schlaga explained that the two governments were trying to find a common language for the events that took place from 1904 to 1907.

He added that the focus would be on how the term 'genocide' would figure in such a text and that Germany was ready to apologise for the atrocities committed in its name, but it remained important for Germany that such an apology must be accepted by Namibia as marking the end of the moral discussion.

“We will talk about the necessary details of such an apology,” he added.

Melber, however, said there could never be an end to the moral discussions around the genocide.

“I am shocked. Basically what Germany is saying is, let us negotiate if and how we will apologise. It is clear that Germany is in complete denial and it is offensive; there can never be an end to a moral discussion. It will last forever. We cannot unhappen injustice, but we can deal with it. Just as much as the Holocaust haunts the German generations, so will the Nama and Ovaherero genocide,” he said.

According to Melber, Germany is being offensive and is dangling development aid like a carrot in front of the Namibian government.

“This is at an opportune time with the financial constraints, so the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) can be rolled out and the Germans are off the hook.”

Social scientist Sima Luipert, who spoke as a descendent of the Nama victims, said oral history dictates that the genocide started before 1904 and was already happening in the very late 1800s.

“They have wiped the !Hoan clan off the face of the earth and the Nama who fled to South Africa were extradited, court marshalled and charged with high treason. We saw a gradual dispossession of land of the Nama people already during this time,” she said.

According to her, the Namibian government only sees the development aid as a big cake and does not want to lose out on its share, hence its reluctance to boldly confront the German government.

There are two separate processes currently at play with regard to the genocide issue.

The Ovaherero and Nama genocide case against the German government, which was lodged in New York, was postponed to 3 May at the German government's request.

Germany made their first appearance in the US federal court in January this year after it had rejected a summons since 2017.

Meanwhile, the Namibian government is negotiating with its German counterpart, and appointed a special envoy, Dr Zed Ngavirue, to head these talks, which have been lambasted by Nama and Herero groupings – the affected genocide communities.

Ngavirue told the media last month that six rounds of negotiations had so far taken place.

“We can say we have advanced to that point of them not contesting that indeed what happened was genocide and that they are prepared to give an apology.

“The sticking point now has been reparations, because in a document that we submitted, we quoted a quantum that they felt was unrealistically high. We later submitted another one, which they did not say was unrealistic, but they went about suggesting what they are prepared to give, on the understanding that they say it's not reparations, but 'healing the wounds'.

“As you know the word reparations in Germany is a byword, a sensitive word that they will never want to be used because of their history.

“So we said, let's not ponder on the word; we should put our focus on getting them to understand our situation,” Ngavirue said at the time.

JEMIMA BEUKES

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