Namibia genocide apology delayed
Germany promised an apology to Namibia for colonial-era genocide before its September general election but bilateral talks drag on with both sides failing to agree on key issues.
Berlin’s special envoy for the Namibian talks, Ruprecht Polenz, is now unwilling to give predictions, telling DW: “I do not want to say at this stage when we’ll reach the end.”
Since December 2015, Namibia and Germany have held talks on colonial-era massacres, carried out in the former colony between 1904 and 1908. An estimated 75,000 members or more of the Herero and Nama tribes were killed after rebelling against German rule. The colonialists reacted with brutal force, massacring, poisoning water supplies and forcing the population into deadly concentration camps.
Germany has so far failed to apologise for the crimes. Last year, the government used the term “genocide” for the Namibian occupation. The case could spark similar demands in other former German colonies and will be followed in Paris and London, which once controlled far larger empires.
Last year, a spokesman for Berlin’s foreign ministry promised a bilateral declaration about the massacres before the September 24 general election, which now seems unlikely.
A new government in Berlin might withdraw from negotiations. “I do not see that any new government would make significant changes to the general line of negotiations,” Polenz said, although there is mounting frustration in Windhoek over the delays.
Norbert Lammert, the Germany’s lower house Speaker, called it “a little bit embarrassing” last year that Berlin had not apologised for the genocide.
Berlin publicly ruled out paying reparations to Namibia before the talks began. In justifying the controversial stance, Polenz said: “I find it appropriate to clarify such issues from the beginning so that expectations remain realistic and don’t put a strain on negotiations.”
History professor at the University of Hamburg Jürgen Zimmerer said many former colonies were closely monitoring negotiations and the lawsuit Herero and Nama representatives filed against Berlin in New York. The German government has so far refused to acknowledge the legal summons.
“The British government has also admitted that it is following developments very closely. It will depend on the circumstances in each individual country if former colonies are going to demand reparations,” Zimmerman said.
He said Namibia was a specific case because a genocide took place and because it was placed under South African control by the League of Nations and administered by South Africa.
It was therefore subjected to Apartheid until 1990 and decolonised far later than other African countries.
The former liberation movement SWAPO that fought for independence from South Africa has been ruling the country since 1990 and is regarded as dominated by the Ovambo tribe, to the exclusion of the Hereros and Namas. The Windhoek government cannot represent the tribes in the issue, they argue in the US legal challenge.
Namibia. Picture credit: Pixabay