In recent years a debate has ensued about the German genocide in Namibia – and specifically who the real victims of that aggression, one of the worst in the 20th century, were.
It is a debate that, to a large extent, is sparked by what seems to be the clearest hint yet that modern-day Germany might agree to reparation demands by Namibians.
Originally, the Ovaherero and Nama communities, through established committees, have pushed for that agenda.
The two communities seem to have built a proverbial firewall around themselves and have at numerous platforms insisted that only they were affected by the wrath of Imperial Germany’s aggression. Any reparation payments should be used to the advancement of the two communities only, some members further argued.
In recent times, other tribes have staked a claim at being victims of German aggression too, an assertion that has been rebuffed in some quarters of the Ovaherero and Nama communities.
Proponents of an exclusive reparation deal for the Ovaherero and Nama say the campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment that the German Empire undertook in German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia) was targeted at Ovaherero and Nama people only.
The debate rages on – probably reaching proportions of tension such that recent media reports even suggested that some local tribes were flirting with the idea of demanding reparation from fellow Namibian tribes whom they accused of having killed their tribesmen at the turn of the century.
Other commentators, such as Metusalem Neib of little known Cross-Cultural Trust of Namibia (CCTN), suggest that confining German aggression to 1904-1908 as has been widely propagated is a serious omission and underrepresentation of the full extent of German atrocities in Namibia.
In a recent article in New Era, Neib accused scholars of having failed to acknowledge the alleged Bushman genocide of 1912 to 1915, for which he said there was ample evidence.
He wants parliament to review and declare the genocide as having occurred from 1884 to 1915, the entire period of German occupation of Namibia.
Professor Mburumba Kerina – a revered Namibian politician, academic and author – this year sensationally stated that confining the genocide victims to the Ovaherero and Nama is a misrepresentation of history.
International law recognises that only four victim groupings, namely ethnic, national, racial, and religious – according to the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide of 1948 – may qualify as victims in the crime of genocide.
Uruanaani Scara Matundu, a holder of a LLB degree from the University of Pretoria and a genocide scholar, argued recently in favour of the exclusionist approach, saying only the Ovaherero and Nama have a legitimate claim to reparation demands.
“A group or a tribe cannot just one day wake up and wish to have suffered a certain mishap on the basis that another tribe has all these years been crying for having been massacred and success is inevitable,” he wrote.
He believes it is opportunism for other tribes to claim they too suffered at the hands of the Germans – many years after Ovaherero and Nama had virtually been lone wolves in their demands for justice.
“The same Namibians that are being called upon today to think beyond petty tribal outlook and cast their eyes on the ‘bigger picture’, must also realise that the said unique opportunity did not just present itself on a silver platter,” Matundu argued.