Swakopmund residents, especially members of the Ovaherero, Damara and Nama-speaking communities, with the support of local community activist, Laidlaw Peringanda, are lobbying for the removal of the Marine Denkmal monument which stands on the grounds of State House at the coastal town.
The aggrieved residents want the monument to be returned to Germany as soon as possible. Descendants of the survivors of the genocide of 1904-08 plan to host a peaceful march in Swakopmund on July 26 for the removal of the monument.
The monument was first unveiled on July 26, 1908 under the German colonial regime and has stood in its place for 107 years. It was proclaimed a national monument on January 2, 1969. It was designed by German sculptor, Albert Moritz Wolff in 1908.
New Era’s coastal reporter, Eveline de Klerk, spoke to Peringanda about the monument, and the rather sensitive issue that surround it.
Can you explain what ‘Operation Back to Germany’ is?
Operation Back to Germany was initiated by Namibians, not only Ovaherero and Damara/Nama-speaking people, with assistance by us as community activists to – in one voice – make our government understand that we do not want any monuments that remind us of atrocities committed against our forefathers.
Can you tell us what the Marine Denkmal represents to you?
I have been a resident for long in Swakopmund and through the years I have seen people, especially tourists, coming and taking pictures at the monument. And watching how excited they are when they do this made me realise that this monument is mocking Namibians.
It represents white (and/or German) supremacy and as long as it still stands Namibians will never get the true feeling of independence.
If you look closely at the monument you will notice the list of names of soldiers that took part in the atrocities against Namibians. It even displays the towns where these crimes were committed by the German soldiers.
Is there enough justification for the removal of the said monument?
Yes it should be removed, regardless of how many people request for it to be removed, one should look at what this sculpture represents. Besides, our Chief’s [late Riruako] bones were recently removed from the graveyard here in Swakopmund, just because a certain group of people requested it.
The horns were in the graveyard far from the public eye. Why should we put up with this monument in the centre of town? It mocks the pain and suffering Namibians had to undergo during German genocide and this humiliation cannot be allowed to continue after 25 years.
What impression do you think the government creates by keeping this monument after 25 years of independence?
I think government did not give sufficient attention at all in this regard, but now they have to listen to the people, as they represent the people. However, I also realised that Namibia and Germany have strong ties. I also know Germany has injected a lot of financial assistance into Namibia and this is one aspect that we cannot ignore.
Government is indeed looking at the issue from a different perspective, but still how can you allow the former white supremacists to have power over your people from his grave? Now that is unacceptable. I don’t want my children or any other Namibian child to be walk in the shadow of these atrocities after 25 years of independence.
If it so happens that the monument will be removed, how do you think this will affect the relationship between Namibia and Germany?
I admit that there will be undesirable consequences if we succeed in removing the monument. One of those will most probably be the relationship between the two countries, and funding of our country will be one of the areas that may be affected.
However, on the contrary, Germany is only returning what they have been taking from us during all these years. All in all, we don’t need them. There are international financial institutions that can assist us. In any case, Namibia is a rich country, we don’t need hand-outs.
Our government must just get its act together and with the current president I can assure you that Namibia will achieve more than we expect.
As you know this monument is a major tourist attraction at Swakopmund. Will the removal of the monument not affect our tourism industry, which could lead to further unemployment?
Yes, it’s an undeniable fact that Swakopmund is a tourist town and attracts thousands of tourist every year, but is that the only attraction we have? There is so much cultural diversity and many other activities that can attract tourists. These monuments simply attract tourists because they have a binding history with their countries and ancestors.
Despite the atrocities and genocide committed by the Kaizer’s army, should we also not acknowledge the positive contributions German people have made toward Namibia?
As I said before, we must also acknowledge the good. They did, and indeed, are still assisting Namibia. But if something reminds you of the ugly past one must rectify it. Where is the Berlin Wall? It is gone because it, represented the ugly and brutal past. We should also be allowed to remove whatever reminds us of the painful past of colonial conquest and genocide.
Who must we blame for the fact that these colonial monuments are still around?
The government, especially our incumbent government, who did nothing to restore Namibia by removing all these monuments that remind us every day of white supremacy. Because they did not do it, we are still being controlled by these foreigners who own thousands of hectares of our land.
Look at Swakopmund, we cannot deny the fact that this town is run by the whites and the Germans, while [black] Namibians are squashed to the back of places like Mondesa and the DRC settlement. These are things we cannot allow anymore.