On the Spot: Whither the reparations debate

On the Spot: Whither the reparations debate

New Era’s Kuzeeko Tjitemisa yesterday sat down Namibia’s Special Envoy on Genocide and Reparation, Dr Zed Ngavirue, to discuss issues related to atrocities committed by colonial Germany against Namibians and the current debate regarding reparation demands.

You recently returned from Germany where you met, among others, your German counterpart, Dr Ruprecht Polenz. What was the nature and purpose of your visit to Germany?

The simple matter was of course to familiarise myself with the conditions in Germany, because as you know Dr Polenz, my counterpart, was here in the country last year and did the same thing, so it was important that I reciprocate and also visit Germany and study the situation on that side.



German Ambassador Christian Schlaga last week made reference to the development of a framework for the negotiations? Could you elaborate what is envisaged by this framework?

 Basically what we put to my counterpart while there was the fact that, as you know, we have a technical committee commissioned by Cabinet on this issue and that technical committee has been preparing a document, which ordinarily has to be approved by the political committee of cabinet and I suppose also by Cabinet and President Hage Geingob, which we will then put on the table for negotiations when Dr Polenz is here in June.

Your appointment and that of your German counterpart seems never to have been clear as to what your limits and parameters are in view of the fact Namibia’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Honourable Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, and her German counterpart, Dr DuriFrank-Walter Steinmeier, have been engaged in discussions. Have you been fully briefed about these discussions? What have they been about precisely and do you think they laid the necessary foundation that you and Ambassador Polenz can build on?

 Well, basically what I do know is that it is not the Ministry of International Relations and its counterpart, but it was the President who met his counterpart to simply convey the decision taken by parliament. As you know parliament gave a mandate to our government to start a dialogue with the Federal Republic of Germany and what I can say, is that it was on the basis of this intervention on the side of our government that the government of Germany eventually agreed to discuss the issue and that in itself is an important milestone.

 And what exactly is this foundation?

 It is the foundation to enable the two governments to come to the negotiation table.

 There have been suspicions that the parameters have already been drawn, in which you and Ambassador Polenz have to operate. How would you be able to allay this suspicion?

 The most important thing for the nation to understand is that parties that are working on an issue like this have to agree how they will go about it. And I have already stated that because we are the ones who have a case, a case that will be put to them before June, before my counterpart’s visit in June, for them to analyse our position. By then he would have probably discussed our case with his own government on how to approach or how to respond to our case. And in June when he comes we will then begin with the negotiations properly. Mind you, we have held them back as we want our case documented and put to them in writing.

Ambassador Schlaga made reference to “possibilities of a common assessment of the events”. What do you understand by this and to what extent is such common assessment broad-based to include the views of all affected, especially the affected Namibian communities?

 Basically, common assessments simply refer to the fact that – as I have told you – we would have to put a document to them and they will assess it and respond. But with regard to the point of the affected communities, our own government has taken that into account and, therefore, decided to invite members of the affected communities to send representatives to a technical committee that has been formulating our mandate. So even in this mission when I went to Germany there was a member representing the affected communities, who was chosen by the community themselves.

Who was that?

 Ueriuka Tjikuua

But Tjikuua is from one genocide group. How about the members of the other group?

 Yes, we also gave the same offer to the group led by Utjiua Muinjangue, but due to reasons known only to them they refused the offer. So, the whole process does involve the government also taking into account the wishes of the communities and that communication does not only take place at the technical committee level that you know. There is also a forum of chiefs, which meets periodically with Vice President Nicky Iyambo, who is the chairperson of our political committee.

In the same vein Ambassador Schlaga made reference to “a focus on the aspect of a formal apology and the issue of redress, particularly the possibility of any kind of special support”. Are you on the same wavelength in this regard and can you elaborate on this?

 Well, let me but it this way, the one thing everybody knows by now is that what we are asking for and what we have put to the government of Germany entails acknowledgement of genocide and we expect them to give us an apology, to be followed reparation. But take note, that Germans use different terms when they talk. When they talk of reparation they use words such as redress, healing wounds, and so on… but that’s another matter. What is important is that there is an agreement that these are the pillars of our negotiations.

To what extent may “special support” ala the German ambassador, in your understanding and interpretation, be consonant with the demand of the affected communities for reparations?

 No, that is the subject of negotiations. I mean we will spell out what reparations we expect of them so by the time negotiations start we know whether we’re on the same page or not in terms of what we want. The negotiations – when it starts – will tell us whether they accede to our demands or not.

The incumbent German government seems to be in haste about this matter, with the German ambassador hinting at the conclusion of negotiations on genocide and reparations by the end of this year. What is your take on this? Is such a apparent haste likely to do justice to the issue?

 Now, basically in fact all of us, including you as an analyst, and our nation as a whole have got to now try and find out whether or not there is real haste on the side of the German government. All I know is that the president of Federal Republic of Germany has accepted genocide, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has spoken similar words. We also know that next year there will be an election in Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure, because of having agreed to accept refugees in Germany. We don’t know if they will come to power or not, so we know they themselves have that [issue], but whether there are any other reasons, that is something that you and I cannot tell. We ourselves have got to assess our own situation, whether we want to have this prolonged and whether it will be in our benefit or not.

 The apparent exclusion of the descendants of the victims of genocide from the discussions between the two governments hitherto seems to be a lingering issue. How do you and your counterpart wish to deal with this vexed question?

 Exclusion is a rather unfair term to use, because we have representatives of the affected communities in our recent trip. Also the Vice President has accepted the forum of the number of chiefs of the affected communities who are being briefed as the negotiations proceed. What you should be aware of is that there were also members of the affected communities that wanted to negotiate almost parallel with the two envoys and this is what has not been acceded to, so that is not exclusion by the government… After our communities through the late Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako asked our government to take up the issue the German government said OK. Now we agreed to negotiate and we have appointed a special envoy – and you must appoint a special envoy to start the dialogue. This is the position that was offered. Now I don’t know whether from your side you expected that government should have said “Talk to our people, we will not accept the two envoys,” or what is it you referred to as exclusion.

 Your appointment also did not seem to evoke much optimism, especially among descendants of the victims that you may adequately represent, accommodate, let alone hear their voice on the matter. How do you intend to allay these concerns?

 In what way? This is where I can say that sometimes one can have a lot of assumptions… let me show you, this is the letter by Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro congratulating me on my appointment as a special envoy. The President of Nudo, who came from the affected community, also congratulated me, and many others. Who are the people you say are not optimistic about my appointment?

 

 

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