£1 billion compensation for genocide ‘too little too late’, Namibian tribes tell Germany
The tribes’ leaders have asked for a far larger sum, almost £500bn, to go directly to descendants of the massacres
By Justin Huggler
BERLIN 2 June 2021
Namibian tribes have rejected Germany’s ‘offensive’ offer of €1.1bn (£950m) in recognition of an early 20th century genocide, throwing into doubt an agreement through which Berlin hoped to atone for the colonial atrocity.
Germany for the first time officially recognised the systematic murder of tens of thousands of Herero and Nama men, women and children by its forces between 1904 and 1908 as genocide last week.
But a deal announced at the same time under which Germany pledged €1.1bn in development aid is in danger of unravelling before it is even signed after Herero and Nama leaders rejected it as “offensive”.
They are unhappy Germany has not admitted legal liability for the genocide and are calling for formal reparations in a legal admission of guilt. They want the money to be paid directly to their communities and are demanding the far higher sum of 8tn Namibian dollars (£413bn).Advertisement
Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, was reportedly planning to fly to the Namibian capital Windhoek to sign the deal next week, but that trip is now in doubt. Plans for the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to travel to Namibia to offer a formal apology have reportedly also been put on hold.
The agreement announced last week followed five years of negotiations with the Namibian government, and was widely hailed as a historic admission of guilt by Germany.
But Herero and Name leaders who took part in the talks have now rejected the deal and broken with the Namibian government over it.
Manase Zeraeua, chief of the Ovaherero people in the Erongo region, said the agreement came as a “surprise” to him and was “offensive”. He called on the government not to sign it.
Kazenambo Kazenambo, a prominent Herero MP and former minister in the Namibian government, objected to statements by German ministers describing the killings as genocide “from today’s perspective” — a formulation reportedly drawn up by German officials to avoid any admission of legal guilt.Advertisement
“What about the perspective back then when these atrocities happened? The entire process shows that Germany controls everything,” he said.
“Either Germany is blackmailing Namibia and sees the whole thing as a PR coup, or they see the Namibian government as a puppet.”
“If Namibia receives money from Germany, it should go directly to the traditional associations of the affected communities, not to the government,” said Joyce Muzengua of the Landless People’s Movement, a political party with links to the Herero and Nama communities.
Historians have long regarded what took place in the then colony of German South-West Africa between 1904 and 1908 as the first genocide of the 20th century and a precursor to the Holocaust.
Tens of thousands of Herero and Nama men, women and children were driven into the Namibian desert to die of starvation and dehydration.
Others were sent to concentration camps where they died of disease and abuse. Many victims were beheaded, and their skulls sent to Germany for scientific experiments.Advertisement
“I believe that the nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this is not possible by tactical measures, expelled from the country,” General Lothar von Trotha, the commander of German forces, wrote in 1904 of the Herero.
Historians still debate the exact death toll, but it is believed the include at least 65,000 out of a population of 80,000 Hereros, and 10,000 out of a population of 20,000 Nama. Some accounts put the total number of dead as high as 100,000.