Germany returns human remains from Namibia genocide

The German government on Wednesday handed over human remains of the Herero and Nama people from present-day Namibia that had been stored in hospitals, museums and universities for decades. The remains, acquired for racially-tinged scientific experiments, are tied to Germany’s brutal colonial legacy in the southwest African nation.

Between 1904 and 1908, German imperial soldiers massacred thousands from both groups in what has been called the “first genocide of the 20th century.”

While the German government has recognised the slaughter of the Herero and Nama groups as a genocide, parliament has not followed suit.

‘They must apologise’

While Germany has returned human remains on prior occasions to Namibia, the country has grappled with how to deal with remembrance of the killings, as well as artifacts acquired through colonial domination.

Vekuii Rukoro, a Namibian lawyer, politician and Herero representative, had strong words for the German government at Wednesday’s ceremony in Berlin.


“Genocide. That’s what we call it back home. That what German opposition MPs are calling it, that’s what the German public is calling it, that is what the world opinion is calling it. The only people — who after five years of painstaking negotiations — are unable to come to the same conclusion and agreement are the German and the Namibian government. Something is wrong with our two governments.”

Other officials agreed. “We are all united in one thing: We are all demanding that Germany must accept that it committed genocide in one country,” said Manase Zeraek, a traditional representative. “We are in agreement that they must apologise and that they must pay reparations.”

No ‘legal obligation’ to pay

Berlin has also refused to pay reparations. “The German government considers that the use of the term ‘genocide’ does not entail any legal obligation to reparations but rather political and moral obligations to heal the wounds. We’re sticking to that position,” Ruprecht Polenz, the German negotiator in the Namibia talks, told the media two years ago.

Germany argues that hundreds of millions of euros in development aid since it gained in independence in 1990 was “for the benefit of all Namibians.”

“We must ensure that after we’ve reached agreements on damages, recognition and an apology, there’s a future in which the German and Namibian nations join hands and move forward,” said Namibian Culture Minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa in Berlin.

‘Colonial heritage’

Michelle Müntefering, a junior minister for international cultural policies in the German Foreign Ministry, said Berlin still has “a lot of catching up in coming to terms with our colonial heritage.”

“We want help to heal the wounds from the atrocities committed by German at the time,” said Müntefering. Germany and Namibia are currently in talks to determine how to move forward.

Members of both ethnic groups have filed a class action lawsuit in the US, demanding Germany pay reparations for the massacre. But Berlin is trying to have the case thrown out of court, citing state immunity from prosecution.

“The present generations in Germany did not commit the crimes of genocide against my ancestors, the Herero and Nama, however the present and future generations of Germany ought to acknowledge the fact that the genocide was committed in the name of Germany,” Hanse-Himarwa said. “The apology for this genocide would make hat history our collective history and our collective story.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Deutsche Welle 1
Guest Author

Related stories

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

Tax the super rich and raise inflation to cut state debt, inequality and poverty

The richest 10% of South Africans own over 85% of all private wealth and a once-off 25% tax would reduce government debt by more than half. Imagine what a five-year wealth tax could do

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — that may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast.

The challenges of delivering a Covid-19 vaccine in Africa requires a new approach

It is imperative that we train healthcare workers and participate in continent-wide collaboration

Trump win will abort health care

Threats of funding cuts has caused a reduction in reproductive and sexual health services

Reframing women in Namibia’s early history of photography

Women photographers, and black African women photographers in particular, are largely absent from early histories of the medium. This is slowly changing
Advertising

Subscribers only

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

More top stories

ATM withdrawal halts no-confidence vote against the president

The party wants the court to rule on the secret ballot issue first, with the case set to be heard in early February

Ruling deals crushing blow to zero-hours contracts

Ferrero factory workers have won the first battle in what might become one of South Africa’s next wars on casual and precarious work

Eusebius McKaiser: Mpofu, Gordhan caught in the crosshairs

The lawyer failed to make his Indian racist argument and the politician refused to admit he had no direct evidence

Corruption forces health shake-up in Gauteng

Dr Thembi Mokgethi appointed as new health MEC as premier seeks to stop Covid-19 malfeasance
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…