Germany and Namibia have come to an understanding after more than five years of contentious negotiations over the crimes committed by the German colonial power against the native Herero and Nama people in its former colony between 1904 and 1908. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has apologized for the atrocities on behalf of his government in a statement on Friday, May 28, asking for forgiveness for the “crimes of German colonial rule” which were formally acknowledged as a genocide.
“Our aim was and is to find a common path toward true reconciliation in memory of the victims. One part of that is that we name what happened during the German colonization of what today is Namibia, and especially the atrocities in the period between 1904 and 1908, unsparingly and without extenuation,” said Maas in his statement. “We will now officially call these events what they are from today’s perspective: genocide.”
Germany will pay $1.3 billion to Namibia for reconstruction and development projects in the country as a “gesture of recognition of the immeasurable suffering that was inflicted on the victims,” said Maas in a move toward reconciliation more than 100 years after the events. During that time, when the country was known as German South West Africa, colonial forces violently killed upwards of 80,000 members of the Herero and Nama indigenous peoples when they revolted against colonial land seizures. German soldiers shot some people outright, while others were driven into the desert without food or water. Thousands were beaten, starved and worked to death in concentration camps in the Kalahari Desert.
While German and Namibian negotiators say that members of the Herero and Nama communities were included in the reconciliation process, leaders of the victim groups have rejected the outcome, citing concerns that the money will not make it to descendants of those who perished. Paramount Chief of Herero people Vekuii Rukoro said that victim groups expect monetary reparations to be “in the form of a collective payment to the descendants of those killed and pushed off their land during the genocide,” many of whom live in poverty in crowded settlements on the margins of Namibian society. According to Herero Genocide Foundation member Esther Muinjangue, one problem associated with the agreement is that the development projects “won’t benefit Hereros and Namas whose ancestors fled the genocide to Botswana and South Africa.”
Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign ministry said that the projects associated with the genocide recognition will focus on issues of concern for those areas inhabited by the Herero and Nama, including land reform, agriculture, rural infrastructure, water supply and job creation.
“The crimes of German colonial rule have long burdened relations with Namibia. There can be no closing of the book on the past,” said Maas. “However, the recognition of guilt and our request for apology is an important step towards coming to terms with the crimes and shaping the future together,” he concluded.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will make an official request for forgiveness in a ceremony in the Namibian parliament, according to German media.