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Berlin to apologize for genocide in Namibia a century ago

Germany’s recognition of systematic slaughter of tens of thousands of Herero tribespeople will not obligate reparations

Surviving Herero after an escape through the arid desert of Omaheke in German Southwest Africa (modern day Namibia), circa 1907 (Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin)
Surviving Herero after an escape through the arid desert of Omaheke in German Southwest Africa (modern day Namibia), circa 1907 (Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin)

BERLIN — Germany plans to apologize formally to Windhoek for the genocide of indigenous Namibians a century ago, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday, but added that the move would not carry any obligation of reparations.

“We are working towards a joint government declaration with the following elements: common discussions on the historical events and a German apology for the action in Namibia,” the spokeswoman, Sawsan Chebli, told reporters.

The joint declaration with the Namibian government can serve as a basis for a parliamentary resolution, she said, making the point that the step would not translate into legal repercussions for Germany.

“On the question of whether there could be reparations or legal consequences, there are none. The apology does not come with any consequences on how we deal with the history and portray it,” she said.

Edwin Black: In Germany’s extermination program for black Africans, a template for the Holocaust

Berlin ruled what was then called South-West Africa as a colony from 1884 to 1915.

Incensed by German settlers stealing their land and cattle and taking their women, the Herero people launched a revolt in January 1904, with warriors butchering 123 German civilians over several days. The Nama tribe joined the uprising in 1905.

Herero chained during the 1904 rebellion (Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin / Wikipedia)
Herero chained during the 1904 rebellion (Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin/Wikipedia)

The colonial rulers responded ruthlessly and General Lothar von Trotha signed a notorious extermination order against the Hereros.

Rounded up into prison camps, captured Namas and Hereros died from malnutrition and severe weather. Dozens were beheaded after their deaths and their skulls sent to German researchers in Berlin for “scientific” experiments.

Up to 80,000 Hereros lived in Namibia when the uprising began. Afterwards, only 15,000 were left.

Germany since 2011 has formally handed back dozens of the skulls.

But Berlin has repeatedly refused to pay reparations, saying that its hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in development aid since Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990 was “for the benefit of all Namibians.”

The speaker of the German parliament last July said the slaughter of indigenous Namibians a century ago constituted a “genocide” that stemmed from a “race war.”

Head of Herero prisoner used for medical experimentation by German colonialists. (Wikipedia)
Head of Herero prisoner used for medical experimentation by German colonialists. (Wikipedia)

Norbert Lammert, writing in a guest column for news weekly Die Zeit, said the Herero and Nama peoples had been systematically targeted for massacre by German imperial troops.

Since then, the government has also used the term, with Chebli on Wednesday also saying that “we have spoken of genocide for a long time.”

German lawmakers in June passed a resolution recognizing the World War I massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, drawing a furious rebuke from Turkey, which called it a “historic mistake.”

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