Genocide conundrum needs sober judgement

THE growing discontent and rejection of the genocide deal by various traditional and political groups calls for sober recourse in which responsible authorities must find ways to bridge the gap between what is on the table and what concerned groups are calling for.

Leader of the opposition McHenry Venaani added his voice to the recent ‘joint declaration’ of the Namibian and German governments on dealing with the 1904-08 genocide highlighting that it was not even worth the paper that it is written on and nothing more than aid.

Although the declaration marked the first time a former colonial power has officially offered an apology to another country for state sponsored mass crimes, Venaani’s sentiments resonate with many, particularly those that were directly affected by the genocide.

The general consensus is that the agreement which stipulates that Germany will pay N$18 billion for development projects in Namibia over the next 30 years is not good enough and this is a cause for concern because it ideally means that reconciliation over the genocide matter cannot be realised despite the apology.

What we need to realise is that reconciliation is a concept that falls under peace building discourses, which refer to processes that facilitate the establishment of durable peace in times of democratic transition or gross human rights violations.

This essentially means that affected groups must be able to acknowledge that the reparations match the atrocities in question. In this context, the record holds that the Germans sold the skulls of the people they had slain to research institutions overseas.

By 1908, the German colonial government had killed 80 percent of the Herero and 50 percent of the Nama populations in what is dubbed the first genocide of the 20th century. Furthermore, the Germans confined surviving Nama and Ovaherero to camps, where captives were worked brutally hard and subjected to medical experiments.

Some were sterilised; others were injected with arsenic and opium, or deliberately infected with smallpox, typhus and tuberculosis. An all-female camp was established for the purpose of sexual violence.

Today, many Nama and Ovaherero live on unproductive soil, barred from the land taken from their ancestors. Most are disenfranchised minorities within Namibia or spread across the diaspora.

But the negotiated compromise displays glaring shortcomings in being overly cautious to avoid any legal implications for Germany that may create a precedent. It also shows that the limited participation of representatives from the Namibian communities most affected by the genocide is hampering true reconciliation.

Under this pretext we advise that government must afford the communities whose forefathers experienced this brutality to seek relief for their painful memories of the past. If anything, the government has continued to cause enduring pain by periodically actively suppressing any such attempts.

It’s high time Namibia and its true friends heeded the call for collective healing through consensus democracy. This is more so because the devastating demographic and socio-economic consequences of genocide can never be compensated. Significantly improving the well-being of the descendants of the victims would be an important material aspect that warrants sober judgement.