On Friday, May 28, Germany’s government formally acknowledged its genocide committed against the Herero and Nama ethnic nations which resided in German South-West Africa, modern-day Namibia, over a century ago. They also agreed to apologize for the atrocities, as well as to pay $1.35 billion over 30 years for development and reconstruction projects in communities of victims’ descendants.
It’s a “gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering that was inflicted on the victims,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement.
German troops massacred approximately 80,000 locals who were resisting their imperialist efforts between1904 and 1908. Many were hung, shot or tortured, while others perished after being beaten or starved in concentration camps. Others were left in the Kalahari Desert and dehydrated to death.
Historians say about 50% of the Nama and 80% of the Herero populations were murdered in what became known as the Maji Maji rebellion/holocaust.
“Our goal was and is to find a common path to genuine reconciliation in memory of the victims. We will now also officially call these events what they were from today’s perspective: a genocide,” Maas acknowledged.
Namibian parliament member Vekuii Rukoro stated: “The president of Germany isn’t welcome here as far as victim communities are concerned. He is persona non grata.”
Maas added, “The crimes of German colonial rule have long burdened relations with Namibia. There can be no closing of the book on the past. However, the recognition of guilt and our request for apology is an important step towards coming to terms with the crimes and shaping the future together.”
Herero and Nama leaders released a joint statement rejecting the offer, and on Friday they joined several protestors in Windhoek in opposition to the agreement. They deemed the deal as a “public relations coup because it did not include funding for reparations.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is scheduled to visit Namibia later this year to issue a formal apology before their parliament.
“He might as well stay in Germany. We’re not going to accept his apology as long as he doesn’t see us as human beings, as long as he doesn’t come down to our leaders and apologize,” explained Sima Luipert, descendant of Nama victims of the genocide who lives on a reservation in southern Namibia.
“Germany’s bilateral agreement with Namibia is nothing but a construct of a racist mindset on the part of Germany and neocolonial subservience on the part of Namibia,” Rukoro, the leader of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, and Gaob J. Isaack, head of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association said in the joint statement.
Negotiations between the two countries since 2015 have yielded attempts to “heal the wounds” of historic violence. The joint declaration describes the atrocities committed by German troops as “genocide” but omits the words “reparations” or “compensation” in order to avoid backlash and due to concerns of setting legal precedent for similar claims from other nations.