Verdict is clear, Steinmeier must rethink returning

Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

It was apparent as it emerged, seen and heard during a panel discussion recently, that there have and still are divergent views among and within the fraternity of the descendants of the survivors of the genocide of the Nama, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu, and even German-speaking Namibians, how the demand for restorative justice must eventually unfold and resolved.

Mbakumua Hengari, Chairperson of the Technical Committee of the Chiefs’ Assembly (CA) of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu traditional leaders; University of Namibia (Unam) lecturer and human rights lawyer, Dr John B. Nakuta; Harald Hecht, Chairperson of the Forum of German-speaking Namibians; and virtually Professor Henning Melber, dissected issues surrounding the unfinished business between the Ovaherero and Nama on the one side, and the German government on the other, pertaining to Imperial Germany’s colonial past, especially the brutal excesses of its colonial military forces in then German South West Africa, today’s Namibia, a colonial nom de guerre imposed by colonial Germany and allied colonial powers, on Namibia then. Atrocities and killings, which culminated in the genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama in the years 1904 to 1908. Hence their current demand for restorative justice, which started gaining momentum after independence, particularly following the centenary commemoration of the Ovaherero genocide in terms of the order issued against them and read to them by then Commander of Imperial Germany’s colonial military forces, General Lothar von Trotha, on a 100-metre high human-made surveillance sand hill post, probably built by Ovaherero war captives, at Ozombuzovindimba.

Ozombuzovindimba, a heritage site in the Otjinene Constituency of the Omaheke region today, has come to be known historically notoriously for the poisoned water holes from which many an Ovaherero succumbed as part of Germany’s colonial army and its regime’s policy of total annihilation of the Ovaherero. This is following the Battle of Ohamakari in August 1904.

The US-based Ovaherero People’s Memorial and Reconstruction Foundation, OPMRF, with a chapter in Namibia, organised and hosted the discussion panel. Presiding over it, Unomengi Kauapirura, a genocide descendant and former broadcast journalist, put it to the panelists to unravel this February message of German Federal President, Frank- Walter Steimeier, on the occasion of the memorial service for the late Namibian President, Dr Hage Gottfriedt Geingob. When Steinmeier particularly indicated that he and late Dr Geingob were about to sign and seal the 2021 Joint Declaration (JD). Purported by the two governments as the final settlement of the genocide and reparations demand of the Ovaherero and Nama and fellow indigenes. The overwhelming understanding of the panelists seemed that Steimeier’s message was just opportunistic at best. Inviting more questions than answers. The cardinal one being what could the two Presidents have agreed to that seems not to have been shared with the rest of the country, let alone the descendants. Raising doubts regarding transparency surrounding the negotiations between the two governments with respect to the demand for restorative justice, that has resulted in the Joint Declaration (JD).

While the panelists were also overwhelmingly in unison in their rejection of the JD as non-solution to genocide, a crime against humanity, especially in view of the fact that some indigenes were excluded and have been from the negotiations. In that not all against whom genocide was committed, have been part of the negotiations. But there was a lone dissenting voice, that the door still remains open for others to join. Rather than putting to waist close to ten years of negotiations. Regarding the mute and/or unvoiced demand and/or absent voices of some of those whose ancestors were equally nearly annihilated, notably the San, who were hunted down and killed in cold blood, there was and is an opinion that they are free to raise their voices and stake their claims. As opposed to those who have raised their voices already, being expected to speak on their behalf. Let alone allowing their seeming voicelessness negating the cause of others.

As famous reggae artist, Bob Marley, in the song, Who feels it (knows it), would sing, “every man thinketh his burden is the heaviest,” the Ovaherero and Nama are not speaking up about their genocide because they must but because they are and have been feeling the burden. And they continue to feel it. Their voicing this burden ala them does not by any means in the Namibian would- be democratic dispensation, negate the right of any of their fellows to unburden themselves. As descendant Jephta Nguherimo puts it, his great great grandmother was left under a tree to die and he is still looking for her grave. His narrative is not the only one as there are many including that of the San. Ala representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama, theirs’ lamentations are only theirs and nobody’s, and nobody should and must and can deny them. Concluding, the panelists could not but agree that Steimeiers’ was much ado about nothing. But where does it leave the matter. It is squarely in the hands of all descendants to galvanise their narratives into a collective. Something that the government ala the panelists has failed to do. In that for close to ten years that it has been engaged in negotiations with Germany, it has failed to put in place the necessary frameworks, which among others, would have given voice to the voiceless like the San. But to what intents and purposes? Refining the JD or discarding it altogether? Prevailing upon their Namibian government to take up their cause with the International Court of Justice (ICJ)? The two-hour discussion, which for that matter was left wanting due to the willful and deliberate absence of many a stakeholders, like the Namibian government, German embassy and other descendants, could expectedly not provide satisfactory answers to and for all. Making such discussions a continuous and constant imperative.

The discussion, also heralding the Kazenambo Kazenambo (KK) lecture series, needless to say, is a sine qua non. In view of the fact that the matter has presumably been “parked” by the government. Invited to the discussion but somehow excusing itself and its various technical apparatchiks on the matter. Likewise the German Embassy as well as other representatives of the descendants.

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