Speak a Different Language

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

WEDNESDAY saw yet another historical epoch. People writing and re-writing their history. Has it not been for their initiative and boldness, the day, like many other important historic days, would normally have passed by without anyone blinking an eye.

Of course, to the greatest pleasure of some, notably the German Embassy here in Windhoek, Federal Government and its array of historians-cum-history twisters. That is why such efforts where the indigenous people are driving their own history are commendable.

On Wednesday the Nama and Ovaherero marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the enslavement of their people in concentration camps. As may be expected, a section of the Namibian people that is intrinsically linked to this historic epoch was conspicuous by its absence. Yes, anything related to the Namibian people and their history as far as it relates to German occupation of Namibia and its resultant genocide of the indigenes in the 1904-8 wars of resistance, and eventually the concentration camps in which many languished due to the unbearable conditions, is an antithesis to Germany and anything German.

When we so often commemorate the sufferings and eventual deaths of the victims of Imperial Germany’s excesses, we rarely cast our reflections on an equally important aspect of their bravery and sacrifices. I am talking about the concentration camps in which many survivors of the war of resistance were rounded up to serve as an important reservoir of cheap labour. Hence the relevance of the theme of the 100th anniversary of the closure of these concentration camps.

Both the private and public sectors relied on this pool of cheap labour.

Notable among the private sector that amply benefited from this pool is Woermann Brock, the very same supermarket chain still soldiering on in an independent Namibia as if it does not have any past colonial connections as far as the enslavement of our people is concerned. Not only did the market chain benefit from these concentration camps in terms of cheap labour, but it kept and ran its own concentration camp from which it sourced its cheap labour. Today, this chain is a sprawling chain market venture. One wonders to what extent its owners today are aware of this important contribution of concentration camps’ detainees?

However, this is the context and reality of concentration camps of Colonial German South West Africa, as Namibia was then colonially referred to. The wealth that Woermann Brock represents today was amassed and built through the toil, sweat, energy and even blood and eventually the lives of the survivors of German genocide against the Namibian people. Equally, the infrastructure that colonial Germany bequeathed South Africa that was entrusted trusteeship of the territory by the League of Nations was built with their sweat and lives. Hence commemorations surrounding the wars of resistance against German colonialism are more than just sentimental.

They have built this country and invested the most precious thing anyone can invest in a company, the self, and even one’s life. So to speak they paid the highest price. That is why at this juncture, 100 years or so after, one finds the arrogance of the German Federal government to talk to descendants of the survivors hard to come by. Not only has the Federal German government been reluctant to acknowledge its historical responsibility in this regard but its attitude and responses has at times been absurd if not blatantly belittling of the dreams and hopes for reconciliation that the indigenes have been harbouring and communicating to the German authority.

In this regard little seems to have moved since the so-called apology extended by the German Minister for Development and Economic Cooperation, Heide-Marie Wieczorek-Zeul during the centenary commemoration of wars of resistance. Whispers have been floating in the air that the German Federal government is holding something in its fist, I don’t know whether the right or left hand. I am sure the leaders of the reparation movement have for long been dealing with this matter and are fully aware of the chicaneries of the German Federal government to dance to its bluffs.

On this occasion that the indigenes are commemorating the end of days of enslavement, they must also take stock of the continued recalcitrance by the German Federal government. Not only that but it is also time that the movement moves into an upper gear and starts to speak a different language that the German Federal government and its agent may well understand. It is sad that the German Federal government by its conduct seems to be forcing the movement that has hitherto been patient and flexible into another unfortunate direction. But if that is the language that the German Federal government wants the reparation movement to speak, and to play the game by Germany’s own unilateral rules, other than rules agreed to by both parties at a roundtable, let it be.

There is no illusion among the reparation movement adherents that the struggle for reparation is a long and a hard one. As for the commemoration’s theme, generations after generations of the descendants of the survivors shall forever light the torch of reparation so that the souls of their predecessors shall one day be redeemed.

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