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Namibia: official support for Herero reparation struggle; At last, the Namibian Parliament has unanimously adopted a motion calling for reparation negotiations with Germany over the genocide committed against the Herero, Nama and Damara people between 1904 and 1908. Uazuva Kaumbi reports from Windhoek.

It was a bright spring day, 19 September 2006 to be precise. The public gallery of the National Assembly was packed beyond capacity. On that historic day, the OvaHerero paramount chief, Kuaima Riruako, an MP and president of the National Unity Democratic Organisation (NUDO), graciously tabled a motion in the Namibian Parliament, dealing with the genocide perpetrated by Germany against the OvaHerero and other Namibian peoples from 1904 to 1908.


This motion was a first in many respects: It was the first time that the German colonial crimes against the Namibian people were ever discussed formally in Parliament. It was also the first time that a motion by an opposition member received such overwhelming support from the ruling party, and was ultimately adopted unanimously by the House. And it appears that it was the first time in Southern Africa (perhaps all of Africa) that such a motion was ever formally tabled, discussed and adopted by Parliament.

While talking about firsts, it needs to be noted here that the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in Namibia was the first genocide in the world to greet the dawn of the 20th century.

As Chief Riruako put it: "The first wholesale killing by the Germans during the 20th century was committed against the people of a country we now call Namibia. We are the survivors of the first genocide ever committed in Africa and the world."

Records show that the techniques used and the lessons learned in this horrendous mutilation of the human flesh and spirit, were later employed with chilling effect in succeeding genocides against the Jews and other peoples. In a way, Namibians, particularly the OvaHerero, were the guinea pigs of the murderous crusades that have left a terrible scar on the conscience of the human race.

The central piece of evidence confirming the genocidal intentions of Germany, is the infamous extermination order issued at Ozombu Zovindimba, on 2 October 1904 by General Lothar von Trotha. It reads as follows:

"I, the Great General of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people. Hereros are no longer German subjects. All Hereros must leave the land. If the people do not want this, then I will force them to do so with the Big Gun. Any Herero found within the German borders, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall no longer receive any women and children. I will drive them back to their people, or I will shoot them. This is my decision for the Herero people. "Signed by the Great General of the Mighty Kaiser Wilhelm II, 2 October 1904.

Ozombu Zovindimba is a hillock in the barren parts of eastern Namibia. This place contained waterholes that had been poisoned by the German soldiers in order to kill the fleeing men, women and children. The poison caused some skin irritations and wounds that led to the gruesome death of the victims. The name, Ozombu Zovindimba, means "waterholes that caused fatal skin diseases".

In the learned opinion of Dr Freddy Kustaa, a leading Namibian academic and respected reparations activist based in the USA, this "extermination order" is a god-sent piece of documentary evidence and will turn out to be the strongest weapon in the arsenal of the OvaHerero for their reparations fight.

According to Kustaa, this is one of the rare cases in history where the perpetrators purposefully set out in writing their intentions to commit genocide. Some legal eagles call it "incontrovertible evidence in favour of the primary litigants". Riruako confirmed this by stating that: "The OvaHerero were the only group singled out to be exterminated by an official legal order, the infamous extermination order."

Back to that bright spring day in Parliament, Chief Riruako scaled the heights of history when he meticulously delved into the horrific facts of the genocide and its consequences. He quoted the UN definition of genocide as: "The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, ethnic, political or cultural group, in whole or in part. "Thus, the extermination order and its implementation fall firmly within this definition.

The extermination order resulted not only in the extinction of the OvaHerero and other Namibian people, but also in their dispossession, displacement and inter-generational destruction.

According to Chief Riruako: "Some of us tend to think that only the dead are victims. When children lose parents, that loss is not only felt by the family and community, but also by the generations to come. When people are displaced, they lose their sense of security and belonging. They experience fear and anxiety and lose hope for the future. As a result, they are deprived of knowledge, goals and aspirations which could help them to build the future and wealth of their families and communities.

"We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us--people whose lives and accomplishments had been destroyed, whose wealth had been stolen, and who thus had nothing to stand on. They had nothing to leave as their legacy, and we as their heirs have less to build on for our children and the generations to come."

Therefore, when genocide has been perpetrated, the next logical step is to fight for reparations, and in this regard Chief Riruako did not mince his words:

"Reparation is the act of repairing a wrong or an injury to a person or nation," he told Parliament. "We all understand the principle of reparation. If you break something that belongs to someone else, you must repair it. If you steal something, you give it back ... Reparation seeks to identify and redress wrongdoings so that the countries and people who suffered will enjoy full freedom to continue their own development on more equal terms.


"I have highlighted these two issues, and the underlying themes that we emphasise are accountability for the atrocities, respect and self-respect for the survivors, reclaiming our memories, narrating our stories, and reclaiming what is ours. That is what reparation is all about."

The choral unanimity in the Namibian Parliament was overwhelming and solemn, causing tears to flow down many a cheek. Irrespective of party politics, the Honourables rose in fervent support of the motion.

The message was crystal clear, and on the final day of the parliamentary debate (26 October 2006) when the motion was unanimously adopted, Chief Riruako argued that all the contributions to date had revolved around the following issues:

* "That what happened to our people during 1904-1908 as a result of General von Trotha's extermination order was a brutal act of genocide sanctioned by the German government of the day."

* "That our people are entitled to demand the payment of reparations from the German government."

* "That the Namibian government should be an interested party in any discussion between its nationals and the German government on the issue of reparations."

* "That dialogue should commence amongst the German and Namibian governments and the representatives of the affected parties, to try and resolve this matter amicably and thereby strengthen and solidify the existing excellent relations between the two countries.

Chief Riruako revived NUDO in 2003, when he broke away from the opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA). NUDO was originally formed in 1964 by the late, great, Chief Hosea Komombumbi Katjikururume Kutako who himself was a veteran of the 1904-08 war. It was Kutako's tireless efforts in the form of letters and envoys to the United Nations in the 1940s and 1950s that ultimately led to Namibia's independence on 21 March 1990.

The genocide and reparations debate in Namibia has come a long way. In this regard, Chief Riruako has at times been regarded by his detractors, especially the Germans, as a nuisance and a rebel without a cause.

How could he stir the hornet's nest when Germany has such excellent cordial relations with Namibia? Shouldn't he let sleeping dogs lie? Are the millions of Deutschemarks (now euros) which Germany "pumps" into Namibia annually as bilateral aid, not good enough? In any event, why is it only the OvaHerero who should moan when other Namibians also suffered from the German atrocities? And will this demand for reparations not militate against the policy of national reconciliation?

Although he appears to be pushing an ostensibly pro-Herero agenda, based on the literal wording of the extermination order, Chief Riruako nevertheless acknowledges the atrocities inflicted on other Namibians.

"However, we acknowledge that other groups such as the Damaras and Namas were heavily affected by the German colonialism," he said in Parliament. "I am now presenting this motion to this august house for discussion, debate and for your patriotic support."

Chief Riruako had already lodged a court case against the Germans in Washington DC, USA, and he plans to lodge another one early next year right in the German capital, Berlin. Thus, this motion in the Namibian Parliament is regarded by him as part of the trajectory of actions designed to keep the genocide/reparations matter hot within the radar of the consciousness of the people of Namibia and the rest of the world.

The unanimous adoption of this parliamentary motion has changed the perceptions of many reparations activists about the Namibian government. Before then, the government appeared to have been lulled into a deep sleep on this issue by the German bilateral aid streaming into its coffers. In a way, the government did not want to be seen to be rocking the boat.

However, with this motion, the ruling SWAPO party, and by extension the government, have earned themselves some kudos and a respectable seat at the head of the negotiating table for reparations. SWAPO can now reclaim the moral leadership that it had virtually lost as a result of the indifference and inaction that many considered as tantamount to complicity with the Germans.

The challenge is now for all the Namibian people to formulate well-thoughtout and structured proposals that will serve as talking points when the formal negotiations with the Germans commence. There is sufficient historical information about how other reparation claims were paid out, and these could serve as templates.
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Title Annotation:Feature
Author:Kaumbi, Uazuva
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Previous Article:Stealing a nation, Part 2.
Next Article:Rwanda: the road to recovery.

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