Prime Minister Dr Hage G. Geingob’s parliamentary statement on the issue of genocide and reparations, and the rise of tribalism

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Hon. Speaker and esteemed members of the House.

Today, I would like to address the nation through you on two very important national issues: that of genocide and reparations, and the alarming rise of tribalism. 

Regarding the question of genocide and reparations, I would like to cool some tempers because this issue is sensitive and emotive. As political leaders we should not use it to try and score cheap political gains just because we are campaigning for the elections. 

I promised Hon. Kazenambo Kazenambo that I would make a statement to update this August House on where we are currently on this matter. When the late Chief Kuaima Riruako was advocating for reparations, may his soul rest in peace, the way he was handling the matter at first looked like a private thing.

That is why at first, I said to him, “Chief for this issue to be embraced by all of us, let us make it a national issue by taking it to parliament.” However, the chief initially thought that he could get recourse in the USA. But I told him also that he would not get any justice from the US courts, since those courts had no locus standi, or jurisdiction over what has happened in Namibia. In the end, my view was proven to be correct. 

This basic principle, I learnt from the 1966 ruling of the International Court of Justice which threw out Ethiopia and Liberia’s challenge to South African rule of then South West Africa, on the basis that Ethiopia and Liberia had no locus standi.  

As for the Chief’s attempt to get this matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it was a non-starter: Because only States who are members of its Statute or have accepted its jurisdiction can bring contentious cases before the ICJ, or international organizations such as the United Nations which submitted Namibia’s case in 1970. Therefore, the Chief’s submission in 1998 was rejected by the ICJ.  

Eventually the Chief took the advice to take the matter to parliament on September 19, 2006, and following constructive debates, on October 26, 2006, this August House unanimously adopted the motion to support demands for reparations as tabled by the Chief. Following this adoption, a parliament to parliament process started on the reparations.  

While, I was still a back-bencher, I accompanied the Hon. Speaker who was invited for a visit by his counterpart of the Bundestag, and while there, I attended the discussions on the reparations in the Bundestag. Some parliamentarians in the German Bundestag supported it but eventually the motion seeking a formal apology and consideration of restorative justice was defeated.

Against this background, we said let the Government take up this matter on a State to State basis, because international practice dictates that Non-State Actors such as individuals and groups cannot negotiate with State Actors and Governments. This is the main reason why President Hifikepunye Pohamba assumed responsibility at the highest State level, and decided to write a letter, whose contents, I was not privy to, to the Chancellor of Germany, Ms. Angela Merkel.

The President designated then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Utoni Nujoma to deliver the letter as his Special Envoy, but since the Germans claimed that they do not have the concept of Special Envoy the delivery was delayed. Eventually, when Hon. Netumbo became the Minister of Foreign Affairs, she was invited by the German government to discuss bilateral matters. The President, although we have so many bilateral issues with Germany based on our historical ties, told her not to discuss anything else except to hand over the letter. Being a seasoned diplomat she complied with the President’s directive.

After some time, the Chancellor replied to the President’s letter, upon which the President invited the concerned groups to Statehouse including myself on July 9, 2013, where he informed us on the response of Chancellor Merkel.  The President then announced the formation of a Cabinet Committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to guide Namibia’s negotiations on the issue of reparations. This Committee consisted of Hon. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Hon. Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Minister of Finance; Hon. Immanuel Ngatjizeko, Minister of Safety and Security; and Hon. Dr. Albert Kawana, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Attorney-General.

However, when the President announced that there would also be a technical committee in which the affected groups would be represented, I could see from the body language of some of the members that they were unhappy with being represented in a technical committee. Let me explain that the Cabinet Committee can only be composed of the members of Cabinet, therefore a technical committee was proposed to bring the expertise of the concerned groups onboard. The Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister was an indication of the level of importance to which Government had elevated this process to enable State to State negotiations.

Unfortunately, I received three letters from the concerned groups expressing a vote of no confidence in the committee and on my person, rejecting my chairpersonship, even though the President having recognized the importance of this matter appointed me to be the chairperson.

Allow me to quote certain excerpts from the letters written by the concerned groups, “We find it unacceptable that the Namibian Government may usurp the right of affected peoples especially descendants of massacred and brutalized peoples to speak and act on their own behalf.” And again, “The setting up of a Committee to usurp the right of the affected peoples is a gross and intolerable infringement of their fundamental right.” Also that, “The whole issue of Genocide and reparation, in the final analysis, revolves around us and should therefore NOT be about us and yet without us. That would be unfair and a travesty of justice.” 

The groups further stated that “The government does not have a right to set up a committee and act on behalf of the Nama and Herero peoples, it may have an interest to facilitate the Demand for reparations but it must do it on the terms and conditions set down by the aggrieved peoples themselves,“ and many other similar sentiments.

The Cabinet Committee only had two meetings, of which the 1st one tried to establish the terms of reference; define various concepts such as genocide and reparations; and determine its modus operandi.  During the 2nd meeting, I had to break the news that the committee has been rejected by the concerned groups as a usurper of their mandate to directly negotiate for reparations.

Therefore, we went back to the President and informed him that the Cabinet Committee which he has appointed has been rejected by the concerned groups who want government to only facilitate  them with transport and money so that apparently they can travel to and from Germany and demonstrate in the streets to demand for reparations, but not in the formal manner organized by Government.  We advised the President that since some of the concerned groups are represented in Parliament, we rather refer this issue back to Parliament so that they can continue their work through parliament.

Our interest as Government is to have one united Namibia, to the degree that if any region is threatened the entire Namibia is also affected, and therefore we will rally behind that region. The same analogy would apply to the human body. If a person’s hands are injured the whole body would be affected.  

The scripture in 1 Corinthians 12:12-18, is instructive of the unity of Namibia, and I quote, “For indeed the body is not one part but many. If the foot says, I am not a hand, so I am not part of the body, that does not make it stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If it were all hearing, how could it smell?…. So the eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you, or the head to the feet, I don’t need you.” 

It is true that we are composed of different ethnic groups which make up one country and that we need each other, as the above cited biblical quote indicates.

We should desist from tribal utterances and promoting tribal groups at the expense of our national identity as Namibians. It is true that the extermination order specifically referred only to the two groups of Herero and Nama speaking Namibians, but does that mean that only members from those two groups were killed? Recently the OvamMbanderu were added as part of the genocide groups yet they are not mentioned in the extermination order. 

Recently the skulls repatriated from Germany revealed that also other groups such as the Ndongas and Damaras were also victims, and in the future we may discover from the skulls that other Namibian ethnic groups were also killed.

Let me by way of an example talk about the other massacres such as the terrible incident of Cassinga which I have witnessed. About 99% of the people who sacrificed their lives at Cassinga were Oshivambo speaking, but we in SWAPO don’t say they were Oshivambo, instead we say, these were Namibians. Similarly in Oshitotwa many people who died were Zambezians and Kavangos, but in all these instances we say the heroes and heroines who were massacred, were Namibians. That is the language we must use as we are busy building a nation. The people killed during the genocide are Namibians, and in the independent Republic of Namibia, Namibians have elected the Government as their representative to represent every Namibian. As the late Nathaniel Maxuilili, may his soul rest in peace, used to say even the snakes under the stones are our concern as Government, and therefore we are also responsible for their safety and well-being.

In conclusion on the reparations issue, I repeat, let us not use this matter, to whip up emotions of the descendants just for political gain and leverage. As an elected government by the people of this beautiful country, wherever there is a Namibian problem or interest, the Government of Namibia will be there to address such issues. Government will be there to negotiate with the German State to bring this matter to an end, unless of course we want to make this an election issue.

Hon, Speaker, fellow members of the House.

Coming to the issue of tribalism, there is a storm brewing on the horizon in this beautiful land of ours. Having fought a bitter battle against the pervasiveness of colonialism and racial oppression, we are slowly witnessing the emergence of tribalism in some quarters of our society.

Duop Chak Wuol said the following about tribalism, “I think, tribalism is a mental prison…and pride of identity coupled with arrogance is one of the leading factors that limit one’s ability to abandon it.” 

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Therefore as he said, we are proud to be what we are when we are in trouble. You often hear people saying, “I” when things are going well but when things are going bad, they resort saying “We Damaras” or “We Hereros”. This is what caused trouble in Rwanda when some groups felt left out. That is why I always say that “No Namibian should feel left out.” It is therefore disappointing to note that we are returning to the dichotomy of majority and minority. Northerners and Southerners. Easterners and Westerners.

I was brought up in a Christian and multi-ethnic environment. The owner of the farm was Mr. Harold Payne who was a German and the rest of us included Herero, Oshivambo, Vambundu and Damara. This environment provided the proper setting in molding my beliefs as well as my stance against racism, tribalism and ethnicity. This is the environment that produced Hage, the one who came. Geingob, the big one.

In those days, Germans who owned the farms in the area in which I grew up spoke fluent Damara and Herero. The farm on which I stayed had two names Otjikururume being the Herero name and //Kharases being the Damara. This is common in Namibia as most towns in Central Namibia have those characteristics.

When I began partaking in SWAPO activities in April 19, 1960, I had not yet joined SWAPO officially. My decision not to join SWAPO officially at that time was due to the fact that I felt that SWANU and SWAPO should unite. Unfortunately the two parties were perceived to be based on tribal affiliation with SWANU being perceived as for the Ovaherero and SWAPO being perceived as for the Owambos. Since I am a Damara, I did not know which of the two parties I should join. However, things improved later on when SWANU and SWAPO signed a “joint agreement” drafted by Professor Mburumba Kerina and the late Advocate Fanuel Jariretundu Kozonguizi which was published in the Contact Newspaper. This led to both parties enhancing their level of cooperation. Once I saw this, I decided to join SWAPO in 1962.     

I did not join SWAPO to become a Minister or to get benefits. Given the milieu during that time, joining SWAPO was joining trouble. As a Namibian, when I decided to join the SWAPO Party more than 50 years ago it was not because I was part of a majority or minority group. When we used to participate in meetings at the late Levi Mwashekele’s House we used to do so as Namibians and there was no attention paid to what tribe an individual was from. It is for this reason I am still very close to his children like Rosalia Sibiya Mwashekele.

I joined SWAPO out of a conviction and a desire to participate in the liberation of our country and all our people. My experiences with the SWAPO Party has made me the person I am today. Firstly my experience at home makes me a Namibian, my experiences in Africa makes me a Pan Africanist while my experiences on other continents makes me an internationalist.

Let us also not forget that many Namibians lost their lives having decided to rise up and oppose the Odendaal Plan which sought to divide us in Homelands, by rejecting it with the contempt it deserves. Let us not betray their sacrifice: for, we say that their blood waters our freedom.    

Recently, we have read some disturbing statements written by youth leaders which can only be described as tribal and divisive. These comments were apparently brought about as a consequence to statements that were made by the Governor of the Hardap Region, Hon. Katrina Hanse-Himarwa who had been accused of making negative statements about the four O regions in the north of our country after having said “Don’t touch us, an injury to one is an injury to all.” She informed me that these statements were made during a SWAPO Party Regional Committee meeting in the presence of the SWAPO Party Regional Coordinator. The statement was not made in reference to any particular group of people. However, this prompted some leaders of the SWAPO Party Youth League to foment the uprising of the majority Oshiwambo against the minority who they claim are ramping up attacks on the Oshiwambo people and I quote, “Fortunately, the group that is being attacked, Aawambo, has not yet mobilized to defend themselves collectively given the collective attack”. Was this a collective attack or a figment of the imagination of the author? I equate this to what Reverend Wright did in the USA which prompted President Obama to state the following. And I quote, “As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.”  

It is important at this juncture for me to talk about the “fallacy of composition” which is committed when a conclusion is drawn about a whole based on the features of its constituents, without providing any plausible justification for what is being inferred. As Namibians we should guard against fallacious reasoning. Case in point, when referring to an individual who hails from Omusati and has done something bad, don’t jump to conclusions and talk of an Omusati Clique. If someone from the Okwanyama tribe offends you, don’t refer to “Kwanyama Clique”. The same goes for referring to people as Kwangaras etc, etc. If by Kwangara you mean Hage Geingob then refer to Hage Geingob. If you want to refer to Hage Geingob don’t say “these Damaras”. 

What I have deduced from these statements is that they are being made by frustrated and divisive newcomers who masquerade as comrades and loyal party cadres. We won the struggle for our independence because all of us as Namibians hailing from all ethnic and tribal groups stood up against colonial oppression. That is the majority that won the struggle and that will be the majority that will win the elections. How then do we suddenly fall apart into majority and minority splinter groups?

Fellow members of the House,

The statements that are being made by some of our citizens through print and social media are irresponsible and we should guard against tribal incitement. This is unacceptable, and unpardonable. We fought against racism, apartheid and Bantustan tribalism. Starting from the removal from the Old Location to Katutura. We also came close to having the former Owamboland being declared as a Bantustan and only the fact that Chief Elifas perished in a motor vehicle accident on his way to sign the agreement with the South African Administration prevented this from happening. When the oppressors did not reason, we reached a stage beyond reason and resorted to armed struggle and many Namibians, Cubans and Africans sacrificed their lives for our cause, and therefore their blood truly waters our freedom. Can we really today allow the resurgence of tribalism through the backdoor?

The truth of the matter is that the people making these statements reek of desperation and form part of a small group of divisive individuals who failed to achieve victory through political structures and have resorted to making careless statements in the hope of inciting tribal divisions and unrest. We fought and won against the evil of colonialism. The evil of divide and conquer. How then do we replace that with the new evil of tribalism?

There are also those citizens who are saying that it is now our time to eat because others have eaten before. I have one message for you. If I were to be elected President as the SWAPO Party candidate, you won’t eat with me. The country will eat but no tribe whether majority or minority will eat alone. If some think that is the way things have been done before then they should remain with their thoughts. And if that is how things are done then it is wrong and two wrongs don’t make a right and we will correct these wrongs.

Let me reiterate what I have said before. Nation building is similar to building a house. Firstly, you clear an area on which you build a foundation. You then lay the bricks and use mortar to ensure that the bricks are kept in place. Finally you plaster the wall and it is important to let it dry before you paint the house. The same is true for building the Namibian house. We cleared the area with United Nations supervised elections. After which we drafted the constitution as our foundation. The bricks of our house are the different ethnic groups (Mwafe, Ngandjela, Musubiya, Mbalantu, Mayei, Mubukushu, Gciriku, Kwanyama, Shambyu, Mbunja, Kwangali, Ndonga, Kwambi, Nkolonkhadi, Damara, Nama, Tswana, Herero, Topnaar, San, German, Afrikaans, English, Portuguese, etc.) and the mortar is the various laws passed in parliament to hold us together. Sometimes there are bricks that get out of place which are the naughty people and you use the leveler, which are our laws, to even them out through use of disciplinary actions. Sometimes you may run out of money to complete the building of the house but you stay united as family and keep the faith until you finish the house. 

Thereafter you paint the “Namibian House” with national colours – Red, Blue, Green, Yellow and White – so that you can no longer see the individual bricks which are the various tribes. Thus you have a Namibia which consists of different ethnic groups.  Thus you have molded one Namibia, one nation. It is still a work in progress.  Nation building is a process and not a once-off event. 

Fela Durotoye said the following about Nation Building, “A nation is not defined by its borders or the boundaries of its land mass Rather, a nation is defined by adverse people who have been unified by a cause and a value system and who are committed to a vision for the type of society they wish to live in and give to the future generations to come.”  

I know all of you when you travel out of Namibia you cannot wait to rush back home. Let us disagree in this house but not destroy each other. We are all brothers and sisters despite our political and cultural differences. Namibia is all we have as a country. Let’s keep the Namibian House peaceful and safe for the current and future generations. 

God bless Namibia.

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