Magazine article New African

Namibia: Cold Discourse upon Chronic Pain; There Are Still Some Lingering Questions about the Genocide in Namibia under German Rule. Vezera Kandetu Quotes the Current German Ambassador to Namibia as Having Said: "If Germany Were to Admit That It Was Genocide, Then the Case for Reparations Will Find Basis in Merit."

Magazine article New African

Namibia: Cold Discourse upon Chronic Pain; There Are Still Some Lingering Questions about the Genocide in Namibia under German Rule. Vezera Kandetu Quotes the Current German Ambassador to Namibia as Having Said: "If Germany Were to Admit That It Was Genocide, Then the Case for Reparations Will Find Basis in Merit."

Article excerpt

When Chief Kuaima Riruako first went to Washington DC, USA, to make the case for reparations to the Ovaherero, many of us laughed it off. It was pastime humour in the corridors of parliament. Linguists and casual historians implored neighbourhood bar patrons to ridicule the whole effort. But in time, the effort became the talk of the town; even legal experts and college lecturers contemplated using the reparation challenge as a case study.

As public debate intensified, the rhetoric of the German government became more antagonistic to Riruako's struggle. In the converse and, to the surprise of even his ardent supporters, the Chief's determination doubled and he used every platform at his disposal, ranging from church services, funeral gatherings to tombstone unveilings to garner support for the case.

In time, he touched many hearts and a movement was born out of largely Ovaherero youths, openly calling for reparations by Germany to the Ovaherero, who were nearly exterminated by German troops (circa 1904-1908).

By the start of 2004, a more organised initiative had emerged. This time it was a group dominated by some intellectuals from the Ovaherero community, who took it upon themselves to see to it that the year 2004 did not pass unnoticed.

They would dig events of the past, date by date, and make sure that they were commemorated with the honour and dignity they deserved. This group came to be known as the Coordinating Committee for the First Official Commemoration of the Ovaherero Genocide. Two things impelled me to conceive this article. One is the fact that the word "genocide" is suddenly shrouded in controversy by some academics and others. Second, the extent to which the same academics and others are at pains to drive a wedge between the Ovaherero, Nama and Damara on who was actually exterminated.

Genocide becomes an issue after the Ohamakari commemorations that took place on 14 August 2004 at Okakarara. And, lest we forget, the Ohamakari event was indeed the demonstration of national unity sparked by the Herero community's initiative.

The event commenced and concluded with the warmth of a nation united in song through the leaders who spoke in their respective capacities. The song was: Germany must own up to the responsibility of what that country did to Namibia and to Namibians. What I personally found moving was the number of people who descended on Ohamakari, representing a cross section of Namibian cultural and linguistic communities, religious leaders, traditional communities and the youth. It was particularly reassuring to see that a wide section of political leaders from a broad spectrum arrived in the highest of their profiles and patiently sat through the programme without demanding or expecting to be asked to say a word.

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As I mingled with the crowd on horse back and took a proverbial bird's eye view, the thought kept coming to my mind: What a wonderful foundation for any home!

Then came the first newsreels of the day through the print media, radio and television, mixed with negative commentaries on why the event only looked at the Ovaherero, why the Nama and the Damara were not made part of the programme, why they were left out of the event organised by the Ovaherero.

Dr Henning Melber of the Nordic Institute, based in Sweden, was quoted as having said that the Ovaherero wanted the world to believe that only they were killed by the German troops or targeted for extermination, when it was not true.

According to him, the Nama communities were much more destroyed by German troops. Perhaps the climax of Melber's statements is his assertion that, until the year 1900 there was nothing like an Ovaherero nation. There were only royal houses. Ovaherero identity, he maintained, emerged because the different royal houses shared victim status after the German-Ovaherero wars.

Note the juxtapositioning employed by Dr Melber: Ovaherero versus Nama and Damara, reminiscent of the colonial juxtapositioning: Ovaherero versus Ovambo versus Nama versus Damara et al. …

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