'The Herero issue will not stop'

Germany was under pressure on Tuesday night to apologise for an episode of its largely forgotten colonial past, the massacre of up to 60 000 Africans by its troops 100 years ago on Wednesday.

Descendants of the Herero tribe, in what is now Namibia, have demanded a formal apology for the atrocities committed under German colonial rule.

The Herero were killed after an uprising against German settlers in the then German South West Africa.

On August 11-12 1904 German troops shot thousands of Herero after trapping them on an arid plain.

The massacre at Waterberg, near the Namibian capital, Windhoek, was the most infamous episode in a campaign overshadowed by Germany’s even darker later history.

Although the Social Democrat government has said it “regretted” the killings, it has refused to apologise, prompting a furious response by Herero descendants.

About 200 members of the tribe have brought a case in the US for $4-billion (R24-billion) compensation.

“We want the Germans to say ‘we are sorry’,” Arnold Tjihuiko, spokesperson for the Herero commemoration committee, told Der Spiegel this week.

Germany had showed itself to be a “master of racism”, he said, and “lacked respect towards black people”.

It’s expression of regret was “not adequate”, he added.

The Herero are demanding $2-billion (R12-billion) in damages from the German government and a further $2-billion from German companies which allegedly profited from the German occupation of Namibia.

They include Deutsche Bank, the mining company Terex, formerly Orenstein-Koppel Co, and the shipping company Deutsche Afrika Linie, formerly Woermann Linie.

The suit was condemned last week by Germany’s ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing. It would “lead us nowhere”, he said. There were other ways of healing the wounds of the past between his government and the tribe, he added.

In an apparent sign of reconciliation, the German development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, is expected to arrive in Namibia later on Wednesday and will attend a commemorative ceremony at the weekend in the town of Okakarara in the Otjozondjupa region.

Her office refused to comment on her mission on Tuesday, leading to speculation that she was unlikely to apologise.

Thousands of Herero are expected to turn up at the event at the town’s war memorial.

Although Germany’s colonial exploits did not match those of its principal 19th-century rivals Britain and France, it joined the scramble for Africa under Otto von Bismarck and acquired German South West Africa in 1884.

Many Herero were relocated to make way for German farmers.
In January 1904 the chief of the tribe grew furious about German raids and the loss of land and cattle.

He ordered an attack and, over a few days, the Herero killed an estimated 150 German settlers.

The German colonial authorities responded brutally. Charged with putting down the revolt, General Lothar von Trotha ordered his troops to “annihilate the masses” and German soldiers went on to kill tens of thousands of Herero.

Their descendants describe the offensive as genocide and estimate that only 15 000 survivors escaped into the desert.

“They were outgunned. They didn’t have modern weapons,” said Paulette Reed-Anderson, director of the Centre for African Diaspora Research. “By 1906 their resistance was over. Most of the chiefs had been killed. Those who did survive fled to neighbouring Botswana. It’s not clear how many Herero died. This wasn’t interesting to the colonisers.”

Germany lost control of the colony in 1915, and compensated German farmers forced to flee Africa.

Some critics say that while Germany has been willing to atone for the Holocaust and other crimes committed under the Nazis, it has been more reluctant to apologise for its behaviour during this earlier colonial era.

Others point out that Germans died in the conflict as well—about 1 500 German soldiers died during the uprising, most of them from disease.

“We want an apology and Germany should start a serious dialogue with us,” Festus Muinjo, one of the panel examining the 1904 uprising, said last week. “The Herero issue will not stop, it will continue ad infinitum.”

To break the deadlock a German law professor, Manfred Hinz, has proposed the establishment of a reconciliation commission comprising leaders of the Herero people and Germany “to work out an appropriate form of apology and possible reparation and, hopefully, an out-of-court settlement”.

The German government acknowledged a “special responsibility” for Namibia in a parliamentary resolution in 1989.

Since then Berlin has sought to promote intensive and productive relations despite the difficult past.

Germany is Namibia’s largest donor country, and has provided aid for a number of development projects and culture programmes. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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