Germany Apologized for a Genocide. It’s Nowhere Near EnoughBreaking News
tags: genocide, African history, German history, Herero War
Mr. Hambira is an artist and the chair of the Namibia Institute for Democracy. Ms. Gleckman-Krut is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan who writes about violence, gender and the state.
More than a century ago, Germany carried out a systematic massacre. From 1904 to 1908, in what is now Namibia, the German colonial government killed about 80,000 Herero and Nama people.
In May, 113 years later, Germany at last acknowledged this massacre as genocidal. “In light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility,” said Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, “we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness.” With this request for forgiveness came a “gesture” of $1.35 billion, to be spent on reconstruction and development projects and health care and training programs over 30 years.
The Namibian government accepted. But many Nama and Herero feel it is nowhere near enough. Nandiuasora Mazeingo, chair of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation, called the agreement “an insult.” After all, the sum is comparable to German development aid to Namibia over the past 30 years — and the negotiations largely excluded Herero and Nama people. More than a century after the massacre, Germany’s apology falls far short.
One of us, Mr. Hambira, is a descendant of Herero survivors, while members of Ms. Gleckman-Krut’s Jewish family were killed in the Holocaust. We have a personal sense of the devastation Germany has wrought. To begin to atone for its Namibian genocide, it must negotiate directly with descendants of survivors — and commit to wide-ranging reparations.
Toward the end of the 19th century, German leaders sought what would soon be called “Lebensraum,” a “living space” outside their industrializing and overpopulated homeland. The Berlin Conference in 1884, where European colonizers divided up the African continent, provided an opportunity: Germany officially claimed the regions, which it called German South West Africa, where roughly 80,000 Herero and 20,000 Nama people lived.
Nama and Herero leaders such as Hendrik Witbooi and Samuel Maharero marshaled their people’s resistance to the colonizers. In 1903, a full-fledged revolt broke out.
Brought in to quash the rebellion, Gen. Lothar von Trotha won a decisive battle at Hamakari in August 1904. Then, in October, he issued an extermination order. Authorized by Berlin, German troops used machine guns, rifles, cannons and bayonets to massacre unarmed women, children and men. Families were forced to flee into the scorching Omaheke desert, where troops cornered them and poisoned their water holes. Soldiers killed parents in front of their children.