Germany expresses 'regret' for Herero massacre

Germany’s ambassador to Namibia expressed his country’s “regret” on Sunday over the ruthless quelling of the Herero tribe uprising a century ago in which tens of thousands were slaughtered by German colonial troops.

The ambassador, Wolfgang Massing said that while history could not be undone, “we can give back to the victims and their descendants the dignity and honour of which they were robbed”.

“I also wish to express how deeply we regret this unfortunate past”, Massing said at a commemoration of the January 12, 1904 uprising in Okahandja, the Hereros’ erstwhile capital 70 kilometres north of the capital Windhoek.

His statement is the closest a German government representative has come to an apology—a demand repeatedly made by the Herero—for what historians have described as a genocide.

Germany ruled Namibia, then known as German South-West Africa, from 1880 until 1915.

About 600 people, mainly Herero, attended the commemoration of the Herero uprising, but government officials were conspicuously absent.

The German ambassador and the Herero Paramount Chief, Kuaima Riruako, laid a wreath at the graves of the Maharero chiefs before the function started.

Both Riruako and the leader of the opposition, Katuutire Kaura (a Herero), criticised the absence of President Sam Nujoma.

“The Herero people helped Sam Nujoma to slip across the border into Botswana for exile (during South West Africa’s independence struggle from apartheid South Africa),” the chief said.

“Now he is not here… that is telling us something.”

Chief Riruako called on Nujoma to facilitate negotiations with the German government on reparations.

Massing reiterated the stand of the German government, that development aid was for all Namibian citizens and not one specific ethnic group.

“For the same reasons it would be not justified to compensate one specific ethnic group for their suffering during the colonial times”, he said, but added that the German government was prepared to “support activities linked to the commemoration of 1904, including some specific projects, which will help to preserve your traditions and culture”.

The Herero chief defended his tribe’s reparations demands.

“The wounds of the past must be healed. Our reparation claim must only be seen as an effort to regain our dignity and help us restore what was wrongfully taken away from us,” he said.

“I once again invite the German government to accept the genocide of my people and engage in a dialogue with the Herero to iron out issues of mutual interest”.

The revolt began on January 12, 1904 with Herero warriors—incensed by German settlers stealing their land, cattle and women and lynching men—massacring about 200 German civilians over several days.

They spared missionaries on the explicit orders of chief Samuel Maharero. The Germans responded ruthlessly, defeating the Herero in a decisive battle at Waterberg, northwest of Windhoek, on August 11, 1904.

It was followed by a notorious “extermination order” of General Lothar von Trotha, and the Herero continued to be targeted until 1907.

“The Herero people must leave the country.
If they don’t I will force them with the ‘groot Rohr’ (big canon),” Von Trotha wrote.

“Within the German boundaries, every Herero with or without a gun, with or without livestock, will be shot dead ... These are my words to the Herero people,” said the general, who was under the direct command of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin.

Historians differ on the figures for the Herero and how many were killed. The figures for the total Herero population alive at the time range from 50 000 to 120 000. It is estimated that tens of thousands were butchered, with only some 15 000 surviving after the

campaign ended in 1907. Roughly two-thirds fled to eastern Namibia, dying of thirst in the waterless Omaheke area, hotly pursued by German soldiers.

Others fled to neighbouring colonies administered by other European nations.

The Herero have filed a lawsuit in the United States demanding reparations from the German government and companies which allegedly benefited from German rule.

Since 1990, Germany, Namibia’s largest donor, has pumped 500-million euros ($637-million) into the country. For 2003 and 2004, the figure is estimated at 23-million euros. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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