This week Namibia joined the rest of the international community in observing two historic days, December 9, which is the Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, and December 10, which is internationally known as Human Rights Day, but which in Namibia has been known and observed variously either as Women’s Day, Swanu Day and/or Old Location Massacre Day.
In September the United Nations General Assembly established December 9 as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, December 9 being the anniversary of the adoption of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”).
The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about the Genocide Convention and its role in combating and preventing the crime of genocide, as defined in the convention, and to commemorate and honour its victims.
In adopting the resolution, without a vote, the 193-member Assembly reiterated the responsibility of each individual state to protect its populations from genocide, which entails the prevention of such a crime.
Needless to say the day is of much importance and relevance to the Namibian State. Namibia being a child of international solidarity, and especially of the United Nations, whose Security Council adopted that famous resolution in 1978, that eleven years after was to usher in Namibian independence through free and fair elections supervised by the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG).
But more relevant to December 9, is the fact that a section of the Namibian population were nearly wiped off the face of this earth through two extermination orders or decrees by the government of Imperial Germany. Orders that were carried out without impunity by her imperial military forces under the command of General Lothar von Trotha. These orders were on October 2, 1904 against the Ovaherero and a subsequent one on April 22, 1905 against the Nama. As a result of one of these extermination orders, about 80 percent of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu died, directly at the hands of Imperial Germany’s military personnel, or as a result of circumstances induced by such military actions against them.
Likewise about half of the population of the Nama succumbed from the same military onslaught against them and related circumstances. Today the descendants of the victims are feeling the effect of this colonial legacy. Hence their demand that the successor government to the government of Imperial Germany atone for its abominable colonial historical past against their forbearers. Thus the appointment by the two governments of “genocide” envoys in the personas of Dr Zed Ngavirue and Ambassador Ruprecht Polenz for Namibia and Germany respectively cannot be seen in any other context.
The precise mandates and briefs of the two envoys have as yet to become clearer but their appointment has been greeted with cautious optimism. Optimism in the sense that this is the first time both governments are seeming to act consequent to their historic responsibilities. The government of Germany for her historic colonial responsibility towards Namibia as a country, and upon the demands of Namibian citizens, especially the Ovaherero and Nama, who bore the brunt of Imperial Germany’s colonial excesses, ultimately culminating in their near annihilation as per the two extermination orders cited before.
Thus, on the occasion of the observance of December 9 this week, the direct descendants of the victims could not but take the lead in pausing to reflect on the importance and relevance of the day. But also to renew their vows that never shall they rest until Germany, in the spirit of camaraderie and humanity, and especially in the name of the good foundations that thus far have been laid in the bilateral engagements of the two sister countries, atone to past injustices and inhumanities inflicted upon their ancestors. Injustices and inhumanities whose heavy yoke they have been feeling over the years and continue to feel. That for the sake of reconciliation ultimately Germany, as it has been interpreted lately, would start to pay heed to their wailings and lamentations.
Therefore, on the occasion of the observance of December 9, the hopes and expectations of the direct descendants of the victims of genocide in Namibia could not but squarely be directed towards Dr Ngavirue and Ambassador Polenz. One must admit that their task is not enviable but given their integrity and wisdom, nothing is insurmountable for them, nor difficult and impossible in giving the direct descendants of the victims the requisite ear that they for long have been clamouring and craving for. In this regard it cannot but be reassuring to hear Ambassador Polenz’s readiness to render the affected communities the requisite ear. Surely his declared disposition to learn from the affected communities, as he has been quoted in the media lately, is laudable. As much, the descendants of the victims have since the appointment of Dr Ngavirue been waiting with alacrity for him to break his silence and share with them his perception and constructive and incisive disposition towards his assignment.
Ambassador Ngavirue’s assignment, as far as the genocide issue is concerned, in the final analysis, is not solely from the Namibian government, as much as the government is his appointing authority, but from the whole country. And needless to say, from the affected communities who inalienably own this issue and the process as much. No amount of alienation would and should wrestle the issue from them nor illegitimise them as the rightful owners. Thus as Namibians and the world over remembered this day, and all the holocausts the world over, from Armenia, the Jews, Rwanda and Namibia, surely this must and should continue to be the message.