By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
If you think Wednesday, 13 February 2008 went unnoticed in Namibia, you are grossly mistaken. Three Wednesdays after one another, to accentuate the importance of that particular Wednesday, a movement gathered at a local hospitality venue here to be part of that historic Wednesday.
Somehow history is in the remaking if one looks at those at the forefront of this movement, side by side and shoulder to shoulder. One is reminded in this regard of the historical letters of erstwhile traditional leaders like Samuel Maharero and Hendrik Witbooi at the height of the German colonial onslaught, appealing to their peers to join the resistance.
One may have thought the war is over. Not so in the eyes of Chief David Fredericks of the !Aman, Chief Riruako of the Ovaherero and Acting Captain Johannes Christian of the Bondelswarts. They form only but a few of the groundswell traditional opinions against the continued German indifference to its historical responsibility towards the people who suffered its colonial excesses.
“How can the war be over while the damages inflicted on the people of this country are to this day being felt?” patron of the Ovaherero Genocide Committee, Mitiri Muundjua, as he is affectionately known in community parlance, counter-asked a question from a reporter at this event.
But what was the occasion?
For the uninitiated on 13 February, the Australian government apologised to the Aborigines. What for?
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Austra-lians,” explained Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a motion put before the Australian parliament. The apology was directed in particular at tens of thousands of Aborigines who were forcibly taken from their families as children under assimilation policies then.
“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry,” the motion reads. “And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”
“Although Australia as a Continent is quite far away from Africa, and indeed from Namibia, what the Prime Minister of Australia, the Right Honourable Kevin Rudd said, is close to the issue we have with the German government, and as such, we have decided to make a comment,” reads a joint statement by the Ovaherero and Nama read by Ovarerero Chief Kuaima Riruako to a strong contingent of the descendants of Imperial Germany’s victims, the media, solidaritarians and sympathisers.
“The meritorious apology offered by the Prime Minister of Australia to the Aborigines should encourage and/or arouse the conscience of the German people and government to do the same to the Nama and Ovaherero people of our country, for the crime of genocide against them and reinforce it with commensurate reparation to them as victims,” reads the joint statement further.
One cannot but flash one’s memory back to 2004 on the occasion of the centenary commemoration of the genocide.
“And so in the words of the Lord’s Prayer that we share, I ask you to forgive us our trespasses,” the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development said at Okakarara then in what has since come to be presumed as an apology in certain quarters. Interestingly four years later, descendants of the afflicted are still begging for an apology. “Surreptitious behind-the-scene shuttling between Germany and Namibia, especially on the part of the German officials, won’t resolve the issues raised by the Nama and Ovaherero,” they say in an apparent disclaimer of the presumed German apology.
They call on the German government to rise to the occasion and to come to terms with its colonial past in Namibia, “apologize and compensate”. They further urge the Namibian government to ask the German government to emulate the Australian example and to apologise to the Ovaherero and Namas and to pay reparations.
The statement by the Ovaherero and Nama, they determine, is not an opportunistic one that will disappear with time but their quest for justice is a long-lasting struggle because as long as the effects of their affliction is felt, the struggle is not over. Not only that but also as long as the German apology remains as empty as it has been.
To a question as to what has been happening to the reparations court case which the Ovaherero instituted against the German Federal Government in the United States of America, Riruako said as long as they are currently engaging the German government, hence the focus is currently there.
Whether the case would continue depended on the German government but their patience may be running out sooner rather than later.
Member of Parliament, Ida Hoffman, said to a concern on the need to mobilise the mass of the Nama people, that in view of joint efforts with the Ovaherero, the collaboration is only gaining momentum now and that in due course the masses would be engaged. What about other ethnic groups?
Muundjua answered that the genocide issue has been on the circuit for sometime and it was time that other groups who may have been affected take an initiative and end their leave of absence from the campaign.
Riruako accentuated the naturalness of the Ovaherero and Nama spearheading the campaign based on the order for extermination issued against their people. Thus as it may have been everybody suffered as a result.