THE DISCONNECT OF MONEY AND LOSS OF HUMAN LIVES: THE 1904 HERERO AND NAMA NAMIBIAN GENOCIDE AGAINST THE GOOD MODERN GERMANS

By Chris Zumani Zimba

Herero-and-Nama-Skulls-2.jpgAfter having lived and studied there for close to three years and traveled extensively across the country, I must be keen to stress that most modern Germany citizens are among the best good and nice people you can ever meet or live with in life. To date, I treat Germany as my second home and would still go back and stay there for hundred reasons. Yes, there are these past terrible stories of Germany such as the Jewish holocaust of totalitarian Adolf Hitler or the notorious leader in Bismarck of the WW1. From my experience, I think this negative political past significantly influenced to shape a better and friendlier Germany with itself and the rest of the world.

On 29th August, 2018, the Germany government handed back to the Namibian government human remains of indigenous Herero and Nama people killed during a systematic genocide when leader of the Germany military in Windhoek, Mr Lothar von Trotha, issued an extermination order in October 1904. While it is believed that the genocide of these Namibians saw almost 100,000 local people dead in their resistance to German expropriation of their land and cattle, the colonial Germans justified it as a military defense to violent uprisings while some of the skulls and bones of the Herero and Nama were sent to Germany for now-discredited research to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans against black Africans. Apart from the Herero and Nama being forced into the desert, killed or put into concentration camps especially those who wanted to return to their land, it is thought that 75% of the Herero population and 50% of the Nama population died. Ironically, it has been widely noted that the descendants of the affected Herero and Nama people have never received an official apology from the German government despite demanding for it with monetary compensation.

But the Germany government has always stressed that ‘Germany has been providing development and humanitarian aid to many Namibians over the past decades and this should be treated as compensation enough’. In our view, this response is a moral and political mistake for five (5) main reasons: (1) there is no amount of foreign aid that can restore the loss of human lives and anguish among the affected Herero and Nama people; (2) each foreign aid package from any donor comes with its own conditions and this could be the case for the development aid Germany has been providing to Namibia; (3) the reparation package in question is supposed to specifically target the affected ethnic groups and families-the Herero and Nama people and not all Namibians; (4) The German aid to Namibians has been like any other aid the Berlin government is providing to poor states either in Africa or Asia; (5) the Germany government should have made it very clear to the Namibian government that the development aid they were providing was meant to compensate for the mass brutal killings of more than 100,000 Herero and Nama people during colonial rule.

On the other hand, it seems Namibia is more interested in the monetary and material reparations than mere words of apology from the Germany government. This is the moral challenge and puzzle around this topic between the two states. It means paying for the loss of each human life, land and cattle the Herero and Nama people lost to the Germany colonial conquest as well as consolation costs to the affected families. And while Germany has full financial capacity to pay the Namibians since it’s the largest economy in the Europe and now third globally, their fear remains that Namibia may demand astronomical figures because the estimated number of the Herero and Nama people who were brutally murdered by the Germans is too huge while the question of restoration of land and cattle to the local people is too both sensitive and divisive following the case of Zimbabwe or South Africa. Generally, this makes the good modern Germans to freeze especially that the crimes and sins in question were committed by ‘the past bad Germans’ and not them.

Should the modern good Germans be punished to pay for the sins of their past bad leaders or soldiers? Is there a specific amount of money that can restore the huge loss of human lives in colonial Namibia? Are the Germans being treated fairly today or Namibia is trying to take advantage of the sad historical past?  Are the Herero and Name people not fairly entitled to complain and be compensated for the brutal loss of their beloved ones, land and livestock? How should Berlin and Windhoek governments resolve and end this old diplomatic impasse involving the systematic killings and genocide of 100,000 Herero and Nama people by the Germans?  Whatever happens today, the Germany government must note that the Namibians will permanently remain firm on their reparation demands as the evidence of these assassinated Herero and Nama victims against the Berlin government is a heavy storm in Namibia as well as globally visible while the affected families do not cease to mourn their beloved ones.

Chris Zumani Zimba is a Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant

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