Namibian tribe demand German justice

Namibian tribe demand German justice

The Herero complain of ongoing subjugation. Source: Wikimedia

Tribal communities in Namibia are demanding justice from their former colonial occupier, Germany, in an attempt to reclaim their pride and ancestral lands.

Around 3,000 skulls from the Namibian Herero tribe were sent to Berlin for scientists to look for signs of inferiority after hundreds of thousands of civilians had been butchered by German imperial troops suppressing the community’s 1904 rebellion.

Activists are demanding the return of the skulls.

More than 100 German civilians were killed in the uprising and the smaller Nama tribe joined the resistance movement in 1905.

In response, tens of thousands of Herero were forced into the Kalahari Desert, where most died in a state-backed programme of extermination.

“We are talking now about the lives that were lost, the land that was taken, the cattle that was killed, the rape, the lost dignity, the culture that was destroyed. We cannot even speak our language,” said Esther Muinjangue of the University of Namibia in Windhoek.

Thousands of women were systematically raped, often taken as “wives” by the colonialists. “My great-great-grandfather was German. This relationship was not of love, but a product of force,” Muinjangue said.

In today’s Namibia farmers descended from the original German settlers still own land seized from indigenous people.

An ethnic German farmer called Diekmann has a farmhouse with a tropical garden, swimming pool and four children. Diekmann says: “I am interested in a peaceful neighbourhood … We have 20km of common border. And there are more Hereros than Germans.”

The Herero, who make up about a 10th of Namibia’s population of 2.3 million, say they remain marginalised.

“We live in overcrowded, overgrazed and overpopulated reserves – modern-day concentration camps – while our fertile grazing areas are occupied by the descendants of the perpetrators of the genocide against our ancestors. If Germany pays reparation then the Ovaherero can buy back the land that was illegally confiscated from us through the force of arms,” argued Veraa Katuuo, a US-based activist.

Earlier in 2016 red paint was thrown over a German colonial monument in Swakopmund.

Germany was forced out of the colony but the brutal history has been seen as important steps towards the Holocaust. While most German cities commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime, there are no significant monuments to Germany’s colonial adventures.

Only a memorial stone in a cemetery in Berlin’s Neukölln district and a statue of an elephant in Bremen commemorate the Herero.

Berlin refused to use of the word “genocide” about the Namibian killings until July last year when the Social Democrat foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, released a “political guideline” saying that the incident should be referred to as “a war crime and a genocide”.

However, many German-Namibians still deny that a genocide took place and Berlin’s top negotiator Ruprecht Polenz has insisted personal reparations to relatives were “out of the question”. This position led to Herero and Nama leaders to leave a meeting in Windhoek in last month.

“We understand that the German government is proposing an apology without reparations. If that is the case, it would constitute a phenomenal insult to the intelligence not only of Namibians and the descendants of the victim communities, but Africans in general, and in fact to humanity … It would represent the most insensitive political statement ever to have been made by an aggressor nation to the victims of its genocide,” said Vekuii Rukoro, a Herero chief.

Instead of direct payments, Germany has proposed establishing a foundation for youth exchanges with Namibia and funding infrastructure, vocational training centres, housing developments and solar power stations, avoiding talks with the victims’ relatives.

“Development aid never goes to the Herero or Namaqua areas,” said Festus Muundjua, a Herero representative.

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