The government’s political paralysis in genocide debate

The government’s political paralysis in genocide debate

A lot of commotion preoccupied the minds of politicians leading up to the centenary commemoration of the Herero/Nama genocide, which happened during 1904-08, during which time an estimated 100 000 Herero and 10 000 Nama died at the hands of German colonialists.

Of course this unease was already a precursor, as it relates to the handling of the genocide debate in a manner that will espouse the spirit of and in principle, the policy of national reconciliation. A policy, which evidently today appears to create more suspicion amongst multiple actors, in spite of indoctrination, depending of course the interests each represents.

This mistrust is demonstrated vividly when observing mainstream media these days, including social media, which in itself consolidates the basis of this dilemma. The purpose of this analysis thus is to situate the political paralysis of the government of the Republic of Namibia vis-à-vis the Herero/Nama genocide as a point of departure for the justly due reparations of the parties concerned.

To want to argue that these two are mutually exclusive would be tantamount to entombing this reality. It was Nigel Eltringham and Pam Maclean, who in the book ‘Remembering Genocide’, placed it before us that “The Namibian government, by contrast, kept a demonstratively low-profile. No government-sponsored public events or other initiatives were organised to commemorate the occasion (and by doing so flag the commitment to honour the primary resistance as part of early nation-building.”

It is now 2016 and nothing much has changed regarding this status quo. Recent engagements between officials of the two countries have done little to break this stalemate, but rather fuels public outrage and as a result runs the risk of a vote of no-confidence against those piloting it. A conundrum where various parties – not limited to political parties per se, but individuals – particularly of tribal origin of both the Nama and Herero peoples, came out to express strong disappointment in the way government has been handling this process from the get-go.

This discontent was made worse when German officials, namely German Ambassador to Namibia Christian Schlaga, was quoted in the media saying: “Germany will not pay any money in reparation, but would rather increase its funding of Namibian projects.”

Two fundamental questions then come to mind in the face of a notable leadership vacuum in this matter: should government remain as the leading partner in these consultations, notwithstanding the leadership inefficiency demonstrated thus far? And if not, what are the alternatives for the affected peoples to make their case heard in their quest to seek just compensation for the committed genocide against their people?

To help answer the latter questions, seeing that reliance on the former wanes, perhaps it would prove worthwhile to consult and learn from one other significant historical atrocity committed by Germany and the subsequent Reparations Agreement that ensued: the Jewish Holocaust.

The Holocaust (also called Ha-Shoah in Hebrew, known colloquially in Israel and abroad as YomHaShoah, meaning Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day) refers to the period from January 30, 1933 – when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany – to May 8, 1945 when the war in Europe officially ended.

During this time, Jews in Europe were subjected to progressively harsher persecution that ultimately led to the murder of an estimated 6 000 000 Jews (1.5 million of these being children) and the destruction of 5 000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of all world Jewry.

The Israeli government made a claim for compensation and reimbursement in 1951, subsequent to which the Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany was signed on September 10, 1952, and entered in force on March 27, 1953. According to the Agreement, West Germany was to pay Israel for the costs of “resettling so great a number of uprooted and destitute Jewish refugees” after the war and to compensate individual Jews via the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany for losses in Jewish livelihood and property resulting from Nazi persecution and genocide.

So why the impasse with the absolute recognition of the Herero/Nama genocide? In 1985, the United Nations’ Whitaker Report classified the massacres as an attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of South-West Africa and, therefore, one of the earliest cases of genocide in the 20th century.

The lethargic attitude of governments on both sides of the coin to deal with this matter decisively speaks volumes, not to mention the tedious timeline to conclude this historical quandary compared to that of the Holocaust. Tiptoeing in the name of political correctness or “policy of national reconciliation” is a ticking time bomb, if recent events are not worrying enough.

According to an online journal, The Holocaust: An Introductory History, the Herero and Nama Genocide was a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment that the German Empire undertook in German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia) against the Herero and Nama people, considered one of the first genocides of the 20th century, which took place between 1904 and 1907 – on the other hand the Jews, who were victims of Germany’s deliberate and systematic attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe, a plan Hitler called the “Final Solution” (Endlosung).

As a footnote, it’s worth noting the similarities and determination with which these extermination orders were executed. “Extermination” of the Herero and Nama people and to “annihilate” the entire Jewish population of Europe, both terms are synonymous with the term ‘extinction’.

The onus rests upon the government of the Republic of Namibia, on behalf of the Nama and Herero peoples and Namibia in general, to demonstrate testicular fortitude in the face of Germany disowning their historical dues with regards to just compensation and reimbursement for the atrocities committed by their forefathers.

It’s now time to recognise that Germany’s developmental aid cannot continue keeping a country and its people hostage, who are extending a hand to put to rest such ugly past in a dignified and respectful manner.

* Benedick M Louw is a youth activist from the //Kharas Region and third generation descendent of the victims of the Nama Genocide of 1905. You can follow him on twitter@benedicklouw.

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