Berlin has for the first time officially referred to colonial-era crimes committed by German troops in then German South West Africa – present day Namibia – as genocide and has indicated Germany will apologise for the atrocities committed by its troops.
The daily Frankfurter Rundschau reported on Tuesday that the German government in an official document openly referred to the massacre of Herero and Nama people at the turn of the 20th century as genocide.
Namibia’s Special Envoy on the Genocide and Reparations Negotiations Dr Zed Ngavirue yesterday said they have not had any formal communications from the German side regarding the change in stance and terminology.
He said the motion tabled in the National Assembly did not talk about taking Germany for arbitration, but that does not prevent Namibia from doing so.
He said the Namibian government has opted to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue, but this does not mean the country does not have further legal recourse, if all else fails.
‘NO LEGAL CONSEQUENCES’
According to the Frankfurter Rundschau, the German government nevertheless insists that in a “historical-political” debate genocide can also be defined in a “non-legal” sense, suggesting that despite the change in terminology there would be no legal consequences for Germany.
The document released by the German government stressed, however, that the negotiations with the Namibian government are not focused on reparations or compensation – similar to that offered to victims of the Jewish Holocaust.
Bundestag president Norbert Lammert openly referred to Germany’s colonial crimes in Namibia as “genocide” in July 2015. He said the massacre of indigenous Namibians a century ago constituted “genocide” that stemmed from a “race war” and that the Ovaherero and Nama peoples had been systematically targeted for extermination.
Germany now plans to formally apologise to Windhoek for the genocide it committed a century ago, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday, but added the move would not carry any obligation of reparations.
“We are working towards a joint government declaration with the following elements: common discussions on the historical events and a German apology for the action in Namibia,” Sawsan Chebli told reporters.
The joint declaration with the Namibian government can serve as a basis for a parliamentary resolution, she said, adding, however, that the step would not translate into legal repercussions for Germany.
Berlin has repeatedly refused to pay reparations, saying that the hundreds of millions of euros in development aid it extends to its former colony was “for the benefit of all Namibians”.
“On the question of whether there could be reparations or legal consequences, there are none. The apology does not come with any consequences on how we deal with the history and portray it,” Chebli said.
Prior to the latest developments the Namibian Presidency released a statement on Monday, saying: “Contrary to what was agreed and also considered common courtesy in delicate matters, such as we are faced with, the German counterparts seem to have shared what appears to be their position on the negotiations through the media.
“The position specifically relates to Germany’s stance on the question of reparations and where Germany seems to insist on no reparations being payable…
“It is also clear that Germany insists on rushing the negotiations, because they face an impending election in their country in the near future and, therefore, it seems that we are held hostage to a deadline before the negotiations have even commenced.
“Namibia takes serious exception to this unwelcome approach to such delicate discussions and call on the representatives of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to show respect and extend common courtesy to their Namibian counterparts.”
Representatives of the descendants of the direct victims of the genocide also indicated yesterday that they would respond to the German position in the coming days.
German Ambassador to Namibia Christian Schlaga could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a spokesperson said he would respond to the latest developments today.
Berlin ruled what was then called South-West Africa as a colony from 1884 to 1915. Between 1904 and 1908 German soldiers drove thousands of Ovaherero into the desert, leading to the deaths of a disputed number, believed to be around 100 000 people.
– Additional reporting Nampa/AFP/DW