Whither reparations claim? This is not the first time this columnist is posing this question. Many a time yours truly has been compelled to ask this question, having been tracking the reparations negotiations and observing how and which direction they have been moving. A few months down the line this question has by no means dissipated, nor can the affected communities really feel comfortable with the rationalities often offered by those who purportedly have been seized with the matter. One may have given those who may have been seized with the matter, whether by their own design, or by the will of the people, whosoever these people may be, the benefit of the doubt that the matter may have been on the right track, but listening to the Omurari wOndjivisiro Ombaranga, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation’s (NBC) Otjiherero Language Service this Tuesday morning, one cannot but seriously continue to question whether reparations negotiations may not only be in the right hands but on the right course as well, and even the content thereof currently as per the ongoing negotiations.
Some eminent personalities featured on the said programme, and to say the least hearing some of them, one could not be imbued with the necessary confidence and trust that those negotiating on behalf of the broader victims are indeed on the right track.
One may be more inclined to think that this matter urgently needs serious reflection, both in terms of content and approach. Having been closely following this issue, as a matter of serious principle, one cannot and could not have been but perturbed, disillusioned and disappointed by the simplicity with which some of those who are supposed to spearhead this delicate and complex matter, seemed to reduce it. One is particularly unnerved and concerned by the insinuation that the matter is the domain of a selected few. The Namibian government, and the traditional leaders representing one or the other shade of our traditional fabric, does it mean if one does not belong to neither, or an affiliate and subscribe to neither, or does not sit in the courts of neither committees or the government negotiating structures, whatever level, then she/he does not have any role whatsoever from his/her vantage point, be it professional or any other capacity? There are professionals in our society, archivists, lawyers, journalists, historians, economists, actuaries, oracles, traditionalists, accountants, etc., at large.
Besides the current players in the ongoing negotiations, and those close to the various genocide committees, there are Namibians out there who certainly have a keen interest, and for some a vested one as descendants of the victims. It is not only sad that because they do not belong to any said structures seized with the matter they are denied an opportunity for their expert input and wisdom into the negotiations, or non-negotiations for that matter. But it is perilous, and all the signs are that their being denied such an opportunity to give a completely different perspective from the conventionally assumed ones is bound to ground the current negotiations, if not altogether torpedo the noble cause of reparations.
Granted that credit must go to all the genocide committees that this matter has reached this level that it has reached thus far. This level, lest one is misinterpreted, is not the one that has been toted with a solution in sight. No! This is not the level a bona fide descendant of the victims has in mind and should have in mind. The level being referred to in this instance is that today, 13 years after the centenary commemoration of genocide when the matter started to gain real momentum, the Namibian and German governments have now logged into negotiations. This is today a far cry from the initial positions in 2004, and many years thereafter. In recent years high-ranking officials of the German government have been for the first time categorical that the doings of Imperial Germany in the periods 1896 to 1908, are indeed genocide! There’s hardly any media house worth its salt and name that has not written about the issue. Media houses can only today ignore the issue at their own peril. This applies to both the local and international media. Yes, there’s no way the campaign for reparations must have reached this level by itself without the efforts of foremost the various genocide committees, and of course international solidarity. But these committees cannot abrogate such instrumentalities to themselves and say they are the ones who solely have been consequential in bringing the issue to this level.
There are and have been many invisibles and unknowns very much part of this campaign. Yes there may be johnnies-come-lately but unknown to some of us who consider to have been there from day one, they may have been doing much more than us who consider ourselves the early committed birds. But the journey is a long and hard one and there’s no way the campaign can be the domain of those who want to claim sole monopoly over it, even the sole right of voicing it. Neither the Namibian government nor the genocide committees. There’s hardly a sole of an Omuherero, Omumbanderu and Nama who has in one way or the other not been affected by the genocidal acts of Imperial Germany between 1896 and 1908. Hence neither the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu nor Nama, and in the least the government and its special envoy, can and should claim monopoly over the matter or should demand that the only contribution to this cause is and can be only through the government or genocide committee structures. Everyone, wherever and whenever, has every right to champion this cause! Period! And one important caveat – neither the Namibian government nor the genocide committees possess the technical expertise that this matter seriously demands. Hence the need for them to open up to well-meaning experts, some of them who may be bona fide descendants of the victims!