Governments hope to build bridges

30 August 2018 | History

A high-ranking German delegation will accompany the Namibian emissary that will return to Windhoek with the skulls of 27 Nama and Ovaherero people tomorrow.

It is the third such repatriation of human remains dating back to the 1904-1908 genocide in Namibia.

Accompanying the grim cargo will be Germany's minister of state, Michelle Müntefering; its special envoy for the genocide negotiations, Ruprecht Polenz; its regional director for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel, Robert Dölger; and the German ambassador to Namibia, Christian Schlaga.

Müntefering met the Namibian delegation led by the minister of education, arts and culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, upon their arrival in Berlin on Monday.

At the occasion Müntefering said it was a political and personal priority for her to accompany human remains and artefacts purloined during the colonial period during their return home after more than a century.

“I am very confident that this repatriation of human remains will be a further step among the numerous efforts of state and civil society actors to build bridges between our two countries and to invest in a better future,” Müntefering told the Namibian delegation.

Müntefering said further dialogue between the two governments on how to deal with the shadows of the colonial past would continue as soon as tomorrow, when the repatriated skulls will be displayed for public view in Windhoek's Parliament Gardens.

“Namibia and Germany share a trustful partnership. On the basis of this mutual trust both governments are working intensely on coming to terms with the colonial past,” Müntefering said.

“We want to help heal the wounds from the atrocities committed by Germans at the time,” she added.

But representatives of the descendants of the tens of thousands of Herero and Nama massacred during the 1904-1908 genocide have criticised yesterday's ceremony as insufficient.

Esther Utjiua Muinjangue, chairperson of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation, said the handover would have been “the perfect opportunity” for Germany to officially apologise for what is often called the first genocide of the 20th century.

“Is that asking too much? I don't think so,” she told a Berlin press conference this week, describing the attitude of the German government as “shocking”.

This third repatriation was initially planned to take place between 2 and 9 June 2017, but the Namibian embassy in Berlin requested a postponement.

A commemoration service was held in the Französische Friedrichstadtkirche in one of Berlin's central squares yesterday, where the human remains were officially handed over to the Namibian delegation.

A spokesperson for the ministry of science and arts of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Denise Burgert, this week said that the Hendrik Witbooi Bible would be returned to Namibia at the beginning of 2019 by a high-ranking government representative from that state.

“We also would like to combine the return of the Bible with future close relations and cooperation with Namibia,” Burgert said.

“The state of Baden-Württemberg is already in contact with Namibian partners and hopes to continue to expand our scientific and cultural cooperation there. State secretary Petra Olschowski will be visiting Namibia with various institutions at the end of September,” she added.



CATHERINE SASMAN

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