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Politics | Society

Germany apologises for "1904 Namibia genocide"

German Minister Wieczorek-Zeul meeting with Herero Chief Christian Zeraua in Okakarara.

© Thomas Köhler / afrol News
afrol News, 16 August
- German Development Minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, went further than expected from her at the Namibian ceremony commemorating German colonial troops' massacre, or "genocide", of the Herero people 100 years ago. With tears in her eyes, she presented the first ever official German apology to the Herero and even used the term "genocide".

- It was more than the descendents of the victims of the first German genocide had expected, and less than they had hoped, commented the renowned German weekly 'Der Spiegel'. The journal emphasised that historians agree that the slaughter of almost 80,000 Herero and Nama in 1904-07 can only be termed "genocide" and that the German government so far has been alone not recognising this fact.

Minister Wieczorek-Zeul this weekend participated in the official 100th anniversary memorial ceremony for the Herero massacre, held at Okakarara in Namibia. Her being the first ever German Minister participating in the ceremony, there were great expectations regarding the wording of her speech.

- We Germans confess to our historical-political and moral-ethical responsibility and guilt that German at that time took upon them, said the Minister. "I plead you as part of our common Lord's Prayer to forgive us our sins," she added, fighting to hold back tears.

Speaking about the "genocide" committed by imperial German troops 100 years ago, Ms Wieczorek-Zeul referred to the "colonial madness" that had led to racism, violence and discrimination. "All what I have said has been an apology by the German government," the Minister concluded her speech, followed by loud applause by listeners.

German officials had until now not wanted to admit guilt and responsibility for the 1904 genocide in fear of compensation claims made by parts of the Herero community. By not admitting responsibility, Germany did not have to fear legal steps as the genocide was made before international law criminalized crimes against humanity.

With an official apology, Germany also takes on responsibility and compensation claims are therefore becoming more viable. Traditional Herero Chief Kuama Riruako, who first was quoted as saying that he now would drop compensation claims against Germany, on Sunday gave a clear message. "We still have the right to bring the Germans to court."

Both traditional Herero leaders and German authorities now however hope to settle the matter outside courtrooms. The German government has indicated its will to "give targeted aid" to Namibia's Herero community, probably in addition to the considerable development aid already channelled from Berlin to Windhoek.

Minister Wieczorek-Zeul demonstrated the German will to recognise its responsibility and contribute towards relevant funding already while in Okakarara. Here, she inaugurated a German funded cultural centre at Waterberg, where the worst massacres had taken place. The centre is dedicated to the history and culture of the Herero people.

Many Hereros however expect more from the German government, which during the last decades has paid large compensations to the Jewish people and other victims of the Nazi genocide. After all, an estimated 85 percent of the Hereros lost their life in the 1904-07 conflict. Herero culture was changed for ever. The people lost most of its lands and cattle and became economically disadvantaged.

While the moral arguments for a possible compensation for the Hereros are gaining strength in Germany, this is however not always the case in Namibia. Namibia is the principal receiver of German development aid in Africa and the Namibian government wants this aid to keep flowing without restrictions and preferences for one ethnic group.

Before making her groundbreaking speech in Okakarara, Minister Wieczorek-Zeul had made sure to reassure Namibian President Sam Nujoma. "Our cooperation signifies that we feel dedicated to all Namibian citizens and that there of course will not be any payments to special groups," she told President Nujoma, whose ruling SWAPO party predominantly represents the majority Ovambo people.

The German government hopes to keep the Herero satisfied by a number of reconciliation gestures in the near future. According to Ms Wieczorek-Zeul, a German-Herero "reconciliation committee" is already planned to be established at an upcoming meeting in November in the northern German city Bremen. Talks about a possible compensation are not planned.

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