January 14, 2004

NAMIBIA: No German apology for the Hereros

Germany has ruled out any question of compensating the victims of 1904-07, as Namibians begin yearlong activities to mark the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities in the Herero-German War. Not only did the German Ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, reject the demand for reparations, but he also fell short of offering a formal apology for the genocide. "It would be not justified to compensate one specific ethnic group for their suffering during the colonial times, as this could reinforce ethnic tensions and thus undermine the policy of national reconciliation which we fully support," Ambassador Massing told a 1.000-strong rally to commemorate the beginning of armed conflict.

A century ago this month, Herero Paramount Chief Samuel Maharero ordered his people to take up arms against the Germans. 100 years later, his successor as Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako insisted at the open-air rally in Okahandja - also attended by Ovaherero from Botswana - that reparations would "not open old wounds". He called them an internationally accepted way of helping peoples who had suffered gross historical injuries. The Ovaherero people have already lodged a US$2 billion lawsuit in a US federal court for what the ethnic group claims was the enslavement and destruction caused by Germany during the early part of the 20th century. The case targets specific German companies - including Deutsche Bank, Terex Corporation and others - which the Ovaherero say conspired with imperial Germany to exterminate some 65.000 Ovaherero between 1904 and 1907. "Our claim is directed against the system that perpetrated untold atrocities against us ... It must only be seen as an effort to regain our dignity and help restore what was wrongfully taken away from us," Riruako told the Okahandja rally.

But the German Ambassador reiterated that his government was living up to its historical responsibilities by establishing a special relationship with Namibia, under which the country had received more than 500 million euro worth of development aid since Independence. "It is our commitment that the bilateral co-operation projects should reach all Namibians and not only be geared to one specific group or section," he stressed. Despite acknowledging his country's dark history in Namibia, the closest Massing came to an apology was when he said "there is a deep sympathy and understanding for the fate of the Herero people among the Germans". At a second ceremony, organised in Windhoek by an ecumenical committee, speakers called for unity and reconciliation with their former enemies. Deputy Prime Minister Hendrik Witbooi, emphasising the need for unity, stated that the legacies of the past continued to affect the daily lives of Namibians. According to the Deputy Prime Minister, Namibians - having attained their political freedom - must now mobilise themselves for the economic struggle.

In the meantime, German chancellor Schröder's African Safari has caused raised eyebrows as well, since Namibia will be a notable exclusion from his tour to the continent. As the German Ambassador to Namibia has announced - although "not 100 per cent certain" - Schröder is due to visit Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa during the "second half" of this year, adding that "Africa is a huge continent, it is difficult to cover all countries". (IRIN / The Namibia, Windhoek)

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