‘Reconciliation cannot have price tag’
By Magreth Nunuhe
Windhoek – Reconciliation cannot have a price tag, nor be linked to certain expiration dates if people talk about crimes against humanity, as it takes long and also costs much, Heiner Naumann, resident representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), has said.
Naumann was speaking at the recent launch of the historical novel titled “The Weeping Graves of Our Ancestors”, authored by local academic Dr Rukee Tjingaete, where he reflected on FES’ perspective on the reconciliation process between Namibia’s historic relationship with Germany.
Germany has a special bilateral relationship with Namibia because of a shared past, where the south-western African country was colonised by the German Empire in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
While Germany regards that relationship as special and is Namibia’s biggest donor in development aid by far since independence in 1990, descendants of the Nama and Ovaherero people, whose ancestors died in violent manslaughter by German troops during the 1904-1908 war of extermination, are far from reconciling with Germany and have vowed to continue fighting for restoration and reparation.
This has led to the appointment of special envoys on both sides to the on-going negotiations between Germany and Namibia on the issue of reparation and genocide.
“How can one know how long a (reconciliation) process takes and how much it will cost?” asked Naumann.
Reflecting on how Germany reconciled with its neighbours in Europe after World War II, the FES representative said all the processes had something in common.
“Reconciliation processes between Germany and Israel, Germany and France, Germany and Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia were initiated or supported either by the head of state or head of government with their whole authorities on both sides. Negotiations did not take very long – in no case longer than one year,” he pointed out.
He added that in none of these processes did they find discussions centred around a final point or certain amount (of money) being relevant.
“That is the principle that has guided the reconciliation process between Germany and France, Germany and Israel, Germany and Poland – the same process that was started 50-70 years ago and is still running and supported by the governments,” he said.
Naumann, however, emphasised the importance of the whole society taking part in the reconciliation process, quoting from the former German chancellor Willy Brandt, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany from 1969 to 1974, who once said that “international relations are by far too important to leave them to governments alone”.
He explained that this meant that it takes a whole society, including civil society, private organisations and individuals to achieve reconciliation “and in my personal opinion, it is high time that the German civil society as well as the Namibian civil society accept their responsibility”.
“I am deeply convinced that the overwhelming majority of the German population today condemns the crimes of the German Empire and supports reconciliation. The majority in the German parliament want to apologise as soon as possible on the genocide and the crimes committed. Therefore, please give us Germans a chance to show you that we have learned. We are aware of the history and we want to show that we have learned. It was a painful learning process and not everybody joined,” said Naumann.
He said that the Germany of today was not the Germany of a 150 years or 100 years ago and added that there were so many aspects that could be looked in pursuit of reconciliation, such as supporting partnerships between Namibian and German schools, research organisations, churches and political organisations.
Naumann is of the opinion that no real reconciliation could be achieved before both parties sat together to analyse what happened those years.
Taking an example of Rwanda in eastern Africa, he said, that the German Federal State established more than 250 school partnerships with that country and the same objective could be emulated to have each Namibian school partner with Germany in order to foster the reconciliation process.
Naumann praised the novel “Weeping Graves of our Ancestors”, saying that books like that were required to keep memories alive.
“We need more books and projects of that type; we need more scientific documentation on what happened. Indirectly we mark the current negotiations between Germany and Namibia,” he added.
“Weeping Graves of our Ancestors” highlights the issue of dispossession of property and how that affected communities that were direct victims of German genocidal war.
Dr Zed Ngavirue, special envoy to the on-going negotiations between Germany and Namibia, also threw his weight behind the subject of reparation and reconciliation between the two countries, saying that Germans have ultimately decided to agree that they cannot continue to sweep this issue under the carpet.
“They are willing to do something positive and some of the things they are mentioning, you cannot go against them,” he said.
He, however, added sternly that it was not a matter of sitting in Berlin and proposing what must be done as it was not a one-sided offer, but a matter of understanding what the needs were and that the needs must be relevant to the damages.
“We want a reconciliation based relationship confronting damage done to our society.
It is only when Germany realises that there is no dodging this issue that we can have a strong foundation of reconciliation,” said Ngavirue.
“If Germany does the right thing today, they will secure a moral victory – if they agree that they have to pay reparations according to a prescription given by the United Nations – it has to be adequate, effective and not the superficial so-called special initiative, only then can we have German reconciliation,” he added.