Unpacking the genocide debate
In light of a recent congress in Berlin attended by Nama and Ovaherero people over the German government-sanctioned genocide on Namibian soil in 1904-08, New Era’s chief political reporter, Elvis Muraranganda, sat down with the chairperson of the Ovaherero and Nama Genocide Committee, Utjiua Muinjangue, to find out what transpired in Berlin.
You just returned from a congress in Berlin on the 1904 genocide? Why was the congress held in Berlin?
Why not Berlin? Berlin is an important city when it comes to African history. You know the Berlin Conference of 1884/5 when they decided how to divide Africa, as if they were cutting a cake. So Berlin for us was important to reflect on the genocide and to re-affirm our right to champion the demand for reparation.
The particular congress was entitled ‘Restorative Justice after Genocide’. Can you elaborate on the essence, meaning and relevance of this title?
You could not have a better theme than this one for a congress of that nature. From a human-moral point of view, after damaging property of someone you repair that damage. The German Schutztruppe caused a lot of damage to the Ovaherero and Nama. They robbed them of their cattle, land, and dignity, raped our women and girls, hanged them (women were hanged naked), poisoned drinking water, and so on. After they nearly annihilated the Nama and Ovaherero through the distinct Extermination Orders the Germans caused damage, which includes psychological, social, economical and physical and hence they should and must restore that.
What were the aims and objectives of this congress?
There were basically four main objectives, which are to reflect on the past struggle for restorative justice for the Ovaherero and Nama genocide and to evaluate recent developments and the present situation in Germany and Namibia with regard to the exclusion of Ovaherero and Nama from the genocide negotiations. It was also to affirm the right of the Ovaherero and Nama communities to be directly involved in negotiating a comprehensive solution, including recognition of the genocides, a sincere apology and just reparations for the genocides. Another objective was to chart a course for transnational actions to secure restorative justice and the repatriation of all Ovaherero and Nama human remains [that were] shipped to Germany.
And what were the goals thereof?
The aim of the congress was to bring together, in solidarity and common purpose, black, white and African people in Germany with descendants of the victims of the Ovaherero and Nama genocides from all over the world, including Africa, Europe and America.
Did the congress achieve its goals? Can you substantiate in what way?
Yes, the congress achieved its goals. It took place and was well attended by 52 delegates from Namibia, one person from Canada, five from the USA and four from the UK. We made resolutions to be handed over to both the Namibian and German governments. In general, the local Germans in Germany are uninformed about the history of 1904/08 and this was a good opportunity to educate them and raise awareness. It is important for them to understand this, because they are the taxpayers in Germany. We marched in the streets of Berlin to enhance awareness and also to express our objection to what the two governments are busy with. We had an opportunity too to meet with the Green Party MP Özcan Mutlu and Uwe Kekeritz. This was good for us to inform them about our position, not to mention the media briefing with Niema Movassat from De Linke. Yes, so overall it was worth going to Berlin, our position is heard. We enjoyed good media coverage on SABC and Bot. TV even broadcast our events.
With regard to the exclusion of Ovaherero and Nama representatives from the genocide negotiations, can you elaborate what exclusion means?
Exclusion from what? It was good that this was one of the congress objectives. In fact, no talks about the Ovaherero and Nama genocide have started, what we hear is of bilateral talks between two governments. The German government does not even have a position on our genocide and demand for reparation – so what are the current discussions based on? We do not know, perhaps you from the media might know. Allow me to be categorical with the reference to the “exclusion” of the Ovaherero and Nama from the so-called genocide negotiations. We need to put this notion of “exclusion” in its proper perspective. Because at no point ever have the Ovaherero and Nama considered themselves excluded from the ongoing genocide negotiations between our Namibian government and its counterpart of the Federal Republic of Germany. Because we are made to understand that the ongoing talks are “about massacres and German investment in Namibia”. We in the progressive genocide and reparation movement have always been on record calling for a trialogue among us. This should include the Ovaherero and Nama people, with our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, as direct victims of the genocide, the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, as successor to the Imperial German government, and last but not the least, our Namibian government, especially, as a facilitator between the perpetrator [and descendants of the victims]. Such trialogue has never been hatched, nor has it taken place. Thus, the Ovaherero and Nama cannot be said to be excluded, because what is going on currently are purely bilateral negotiations between two sovereign states. All I’m saying is that when the government of the Federal Republic of Germany one day awakens from its slumber, illusion and self-delusion on the issue of genocide and reparations, we are always ready to talk to them. The German government knows very well who are the legitimate direct descendants of the victims of genocide and where to find us. We remain ever open to a real trialogue!
What is the way forward after the recent Berlin congress?
As far as we are concerned, the model is there and it should make things easier for the German government. In the case of the Jews they were represented by 23 groups from all over the world, who sat with the German government and the State of Israel. So what makes our case different? Is it because we are black and Africans?
What do you hope to achieve with the resolutions of the congress them?
For the German government to smell the coffee, seek an audience with our traditional chiefs from the Nama and Ovaherero communities and level the ground for trialogue. Sign a Memorandum of Understanding and start with negotiations. I can assure you that whatever is happening now and concluded by December, as we hear, what would make it different from the special initiative? You can call it development aid, Reconciliation Fund, or whatever. It will not bring amicable solutions to our demand for reparations. It remains aluta continua (the struggle continues) for us.