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Saturday, August 08, 2015
"Genocide doesn't have a statute of limitations"
On July 6, a delegation of Namibian leaders, lawyers, and heads of civic organisations, arrived in Berlin hoping to meet with German President Joachim Gauck, to present him with a petition signed by over 2,000 German public figures including members of the Bundestag, the German national parliament. The document, titled "Genocide is Genocide ", called on the German government to accept "historical responsibility" for the genocide perpetrated against the Herero and Nama people over a century ago.
In October 1904 General Lothar von Throtha, the commander in German "South-West Africa", issued an extermination order - to kill any Herero, armed or not, found within the borders of German colonial territory. As the Herero fled into the desert towards Botswana, the German authorities sealed off the border. Thousands died of thirst and starvation, the rest were sent to concentration camps. By 1909, 65,000 people had been killed, and an estimated 80 percent of the Herero people and 50 percent of the Nama had been wiped out.
In 2001, the Herero People's Reparations Corporation filed a civil lawsuit with a US court requesting $2bn in recompense from the German government and several corporations. The legal case was unsuccessful.
In 2004, at the hundred year anniversary of the Herero uprising, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's development aid minister expressed regret for the mass killing. "We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time". But the minister dismissed calls for financial compensation for the victims' descendants. Many Namibian activists thought the minister's statement did not go far enough.
In 2011, the skulls of 20 victims of the genocide - for decades stored at the Berlin Medical Historical Museum - were handed over in an official ceremony to a Namibian delegation.
In 2015, a motion was submitted in the German parliament by the Left Party calling on Angela Merkel's government to apologise to Namibia, and repudiating the effort to use development assistance to deal with the historic trauma, calling it "a unilateral move, made without consulting the Namibians". The motion said development assistance is entirely different from "restorative justice", which requires that the injustice first be recognised.
When the Namibian leaders arrived in Berlin, they were planning to reiterate their demands for an apology, reparations, and for the repatriation of the remaining skulls to Namibia. Yet by the second week of July, reports emerged that the Namibian delegation was given the "cold shoulder", did not get to meet with President Gauck, and that the petition was handed to a lower-level bureaucrat in the president's office. The delegation was confined to a street entrance, and not invited to sit down to present the document. The Herero leader, Chief Vekuii Rukoro, who led the delegation, was displeased by the reception. He denounced the German government, saying:
"The refusal of the German president to personally come and receive such a historic document at this critical juncture and the uncivilised manner in which his office decided to receive such a dignified and high ranking delegation ..." - adding that the behaviour showed the "punch of typical German arrogance and paternalism which we reject with the contempt they deserve".
On July 8, Norbert Lammert of the Christian Democrat party, and president of the Bundestag, wrote in Die Zeit, that Germany perpetrated a "race war" and a "genocide" in Namibia.
The Namibian delegation has now set October 2 as the deadline for an answer to their demands for reparations. The activists have since travelled to London where they met with a team of lawyers to ponder legal action against Germany, should it miss the upcoming deadline.
"The whole of Africa will be united behind the Ovaherero and Nama of Namibia, and Germany will be the new international exile state guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity," warned ChiefRukoro.