The German parliament threw out an opposition motion calling on the government to acknowledge that a massacre committed by German troops in what is now Namibia more than 100 years ago was genocide in 2012.
The massacre was the subject of a documentary film shown on the SABC on Sunday.
An order, issued by General Lothar von Trotha on October 2, 1904, saw more 70,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama, most of the tribal populations, killed as an anti-colonial uprising was crushed.
Namibian victims’ groups and German NGOs have been saying for some time that these German colonial massacres should be recognized as genocide. Christian Kopp from Berlin Postkolonial says the term genocide is appropriate “because there was a clear intent to wipe out the Herero and the Hama.”
Niema Movassat is a deputy for the opposition Left Party in the German parliament. He says hundreds of thousands were shot or hanged, or deprived of water and left to die of thirst in the desert. Or put into camps for forced labour. “One has to take responsibility for this,” he told DW. At the end of February, the Left Party brought a motion before parliament calling for the murderous campaign in what was then German South West Africa to be declared as genocide. “There has never been an official apology,” said Movassat.
It wasn’t until 2006 that the Ovambo people, who formed the majority in the Namibian parliament, gave backing to Herero and Hama claims for restitution.
Little has happened on the German side, says Christian Kopp from Berlin Postkolonial, because the political elite is afraid of the legal and moral consequences that a clear definition of this crime might bring in its wake. “The state could be forced to pay reparations,” Kopp explains.
In 2004, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the then Social Democrat minister for development, travelled to Namibia to mark the centenary of the Herero genocide. She delivered a moving speech which contained a clear reference to German guilt. “But it was later dismissed a purely personal remark, not representing government policy,” said the Left Party’s Niema Movassat.
Henning Melber also believes Germany does not wish to anger its European partners. “I can well imagine that France, Great Britain and Portugal are following very closely how Germany is tackling this issue. If Germany were to agree to hand over millions of euros, that could set a precedent which could trigger negotiations elsewhere. Germany’s European partners might well advise it behind closed doors to let matters rest.
At the end of 2011, a gesture of reconciliation between Germany and Namibia ended in a diplomatic incident. A Namibian delegation had travelled to Germany to collect a number of Namibian skulls which had been found in Berlin’s Charite hospital. They dated back to the time of the Herero massacre. But the occasion was ruined by a faux-pas in which German government representatives left the room while the African delegates were still speaking.
Source: Deutsche Welle