Cry the noble cause for reparations

Cry the noble cause for reparations

“The Germans must be laughing at us – Mubita”, screamed a headline in the recently launched weekend edition of the New Era newspaper, the flagship publication of the New Era Publication Corporation (NEPC) last Saturday.

The focus of the article was, the apparent “various tribes’ fight for genocide recognition”. If more indigenous Namibians are increasingly staking their historical claims for the pains and suffering German imperial forces inflicted upon them during the colonial period, one cannot see what laughing matter that can be to the Germans?

If more indigenous people are adding their voices to the clarion call for successive German governments to own up to their historical responsibilities towards the descendants of the victim of their colonial excesses, which culminated in the slaughter and butchering of thousands of their ancestors, whether doing so morally and/or politically, one cannot understand what a laughing matter this should be or can be?

But other than the SOS the article seemed to be sending lest we make ourselves laughing stock in the eyes of the Germans, one sees little substantive contribution to the debate on genocide and reparation.

Interestingly, the content of the article seems to be still caught in the debate that is more than 20 years old, back to the days when the voices of the Namibian people for successive German governments to admit and take responsibilities for the genocidal acts by Imperial Germany became vociferous.

Although the German government in Berlin has as yet to publicly admit and own up to its responsibility, a lot has been happening despite – even within the reparation movement itself. Not to mention the fact that after years of dilly-dallying the Namibian government seems to eventually take an active role, although still an undefined one, at least in the eyes of the affected communities, who initiated and have been spearheading the campaign for Germany to own up to its historical, moral and political responsibilities, as far the genocide against their ancestors is concerned and to ultimately atone for such.

This notwithstanding, there’s no denying that as far as the affected communities are concerned, they are far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Not while many of them, if not the majority, still remain on the fringes of the shenanigans between the Namibian and German governments in the name of the campaign for genocide and reparations. This is the matter that today should enjoy the attention of every well-meaning and patriotic Namibians, affected as direct descendants of the victims of the genocide.

Namibia’s Special Envoy on Genocide Negotiations, Dr Zed Ngavirue, has lately been on record that the Namibian government’s submission, and one has to emphasise Namibian government’s submission, as opposed to the submission of the affected communities, albeit by their government on their behalf, is ready.

His German counterpart, Ruprecht Polenz, would have received this submission last month, but this was not to be. It is not difficult to see why not. Because the affected communities, or the legitimate majority of them, have been alienated from their own cause by their own government. This is the pertinent issue today. Not who has been exterminated or who has not been! Not what is genocide! Not whether there was genocide in Namibia during the German colonial era or not!

As far as the reparation movement is concerned, these matters have for the last 20 years, or more, been debated within the reparation movement and there’s no way that this movement is not clear and/or cannot be clear on any substantive aspect of the genocide committed against their ancestors, and vicariously against them.

It is only a pity that some indigenous voices, that should be part and parcel of the reparation movement, are belatedly raising issues that have been well debated and articulated in the early years of the movement. It is regrettable that when these matters were being debated during the early years of mobilisation and agitation for the good and legitimate cause of genocide and reparation, some, due to their self belief in their political correctness, chose to remain on the fence, if not completely mute and dumb on the matter. Only to come in belatedly and over-zealously, worse by trying to derail – if not altogether stop – the reparation train now.

There’s a malicious and deliberate campaign of misinformation and disinformation that this matter is a tribal matter of specifically the Ovaherero and Nama. What was wrong for the leaders of the two cultural groups to have raised with the German government their unfinished businesses with it, as direct descendants of the victims of genocide perpetrated by the armed forces of Imperial Germany against their ancestors?

And it is not as if this campaign has been clandestine, as the sovereign government of Namibia has been well aware of the cry in the wilderness of a section of its population. Yet, all these years the government has been ominously silent, indifferent and disinterested in this matter, to say the least. If one has to reflect on the historic centenary commemoration in Okakarara in 2004, the Namibian government was represented by president-elect Hifikepunye Pohamba, then Minister of Lands and Resettlement.

It was even during his tenure that the National Assembly adopted in 2006 the historic motion on genocide and reparation. Dating back to 2004 and since the issue of genocide and reparation has been on the political agenda, to say the least, but one has been hearing little or none of the voices of the other affected communities.

This is despite the fact that most of the traditional authorities of some of these affected communities have been duly recognised entities of the Namibian sub-national political landscape  to have brought and made their voices loud and clear on the issue of genocide, and reparations, as legitimate representative of their people as affected communities. But this has not been the case.

Yet, it seems ‘wrong and tribalist’ for the leaders of the Ovaherero and Nama to have done so. One of the front leaders, if not the vanguard of the genocide and reparation movement, was the late Paramount Chief of the Ovaharero, Dr Kuaima Riruako. He had been categorical and there’s little evidence of him ever exclusively appropriating this matter to himself,  let alone to the Ovaherero.

Even within the sub-sections of Ovaherero themselves it has been debated and resolved at that level, to the effect that Imperial Germany’s reference to the Ovaherero cultural grouping was all-encompassing of all its different sub-strata, Ovahimba, Ovaherero, Ovahakaona, Ovazemba, yu name them.

“The order of von Trotha did not discriminate between Ovaherero, Ovambanderu, Ovahimba, Ovatjimba, Ovazemba, Ovakwandu, Ovahakaona, etc. All Otjiherero-speaking were subjected to this order and as a result suffered,” Riruako was quoted in a New Era 2003 article in Otjiherero during the launch of the Ovaherero Genocide Committee, forerunner to today’s Ovaherero-Ovambanderu Genocide Foundation (OGF).

“I give notice that on Thursday September 14th 2006 I shall move that this assembly discuss the genocide committee against our people during 1904-1908. I further request this August House to support the demand for reparation from the German government as well as those private companies who have benefitted from the demise of our people,” reads the notice of motion by late Riruako. The notice is talking about “our people” and not about Ovaherero and Nama.

  1. “Although the Ovaherero alone started the war against the Germans, where others wavered and refused, I admit and accept that the consequence(s) of this war definitely affected other Namibians,” Riruako is further quoted as having said back in 2006 during the debate on the said motion. “That what happened to our people during the 1904 to 1908 as a result of General Von Trotha’s Extermination Orders was a brutal act of genocide sanctioned by the German government of the day.
  2. That our people are entitled to demand the payment of reparations from the German Government.

iii. That the Namibian government should be an interested party in any discussions between its nationals and the German Government on the issue of reparations.

  1. That a dialogue be convened between, on the on hand, the German government and on the other, the Namibian government and representatives of the affected parties to try and resolve this matter amicably, thereby strengthening and solidifying the existing excellent relationship between the two countries (Germany and Namibia).”

This is how the eventual resolution adopted by the National Assembly in 2006 reads. There’s no reference to a specific cultural group. Surely this must have been the spirit all these years – only for the Johnnies-come-lately to try their own ill-intended interpretations.

The article referred to in question is not an isolated one, but symptomatic of many such pedestrian pseudo-intellectual and scholarly writings, which have been competing for space in the media, locally and internationally. This chorus is definitely belated, as the focus now has shifted completely from the normative, to what Germany must and should do to own up to its historical, moral and political responsibilities.

Thus, the affected communities must at this juncture rally together and every voice of the affected communities is important in its legitimate right, lest the German government find an excuse. Every voice cannot be a laughing matter to the Germans, as some would like us to believe.

So, mindful of the famous political novel by celebrated South African writer Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country, one cannot but also decry some of the plethora of writings on genocide and say Cry, the Noble Reparations Cause, to rally each and every one behind this legitimate cause, which belongs to each and every one of us.

* Issued by the Mobilisation and Information Committee of the Reparation Movement

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