LWF fraternity should rethink genocide apology

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The Evangelical Church in Germany, EKD, recently issued a public apology to Namibia for its role in the 1904-08 genocide – which for that matter was issued in Germany.

The essence, genuineness and consequence of the said apology, which has come to be known only through the media and through the media remain to be seen. Who its intended recipients are, apart from the known communities, also remains largely vague.

Besides the public apology in the media, it remains to be seen whether now that the church and its fraternity are in the country for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) assembly, as well as the commemoration of its 500th anniversary, intend and/or have given notice to officially offer such an apology and to whom and at what stage.

One is aware that some leaders of the affected communities have been seeking a platform at the said assembly, or with the leaders of the LWF, to expound on this matter, but to no avail.

Given this situation, one cannot but wonder about the genuineness of the said apology. Surely EKD, as it points out in a recent interview by Deutsche Welle’s Wolfgang Dick with its vice-president, Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber and reproduced by the New Era on Friday, April 28, has been in contact with its Namibian partners.

Needless to say, it must have been through these contacts fully apprised itself about especially the struggles of the affected communities to get atonement from the government of the Federal Republic of Germany for past injustices and atrocities culminating in the near total annihilation of these communities between 1904 and 1908 in what was then German South West Africa.

It suffices thus that should the church genuinely have been forthright and honest with its apology, it must have been cognizant of the fact that the very people who initiated the 2004 centenary commemoration of the genocide, the Ovaherero and Nama, the descendants of the victims of that very genocide, are still very much alive in Namibia today and are spearheading the awareness campaign on this sad and dark historical epoch in the history of Namibia and Germany.

The campaign, which in 2004 sparked the momentum that the affected communities have for close to 13 years been sustaining, with little help from the churches – if any – let alone EKD, while admitting that it was exactly the 2004 centenary commemoration of the genocide that spurred the church into action, leading to the purported apology today.

One would not wish to deny EKD’s ecumenical consciousness and conscience in offering the avowed apology, nor negate its right in doing so. But for such an apology to be of any consequence, it must not only be forthright and genuine, but must be seen to be such.

And the only way it can be seen to be genuine and forthright, and of any consequence, is if it is offered not only to the right people, the affected communities, but also in the right manner and in the right context. It cannot have been the right context for EKD to offer such an apology in passing, as it seemed to have done, in anticipation of congress of the Lutheran World Federation now on in the Namibian capital, Windhoek.

EKD, admittedly, has partners in Namibia and through these partners a better approach could have been formulated, entailing – if needs be – an audience with the leaders of the affected communities. Contextually, as EKD should and must be well aware, there have for some time been ongoing negotiations between the two governments on the very same issue of genocide and reparations.

Many an apology has been offered by many an instance, including high-ranking officials of the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, starting with the apology in 2004 of then German minister of economic cooperation and development Heide-Marie Wieczorek-Zeul during the centenary commemoration of the Battle of Waterberg at Okakarara.

Many an apology has since followed, the latest being the one by EKD. But can any of these apologies be said to have been of any consequence? My guess is as good as yours.

The apology of Wieczorek-Zeul in 2004 was followed by the Special Initiative, to which the German government, no doubt on the initiative of Wieczorek-Zeul, committed N$20 million over a period towards the affected communities. The impact of the Special Initiative on the affected communities remains to this day uncertain.

As the LWF meets in Windhoek this week, surely it has an opportunity to widely consult with the affected communities for an informed opinion and consequent action, including revisiting the apology that has been offered by EKD and reformulating it into a comprehensive one by its ecumenical fraternity.

The Namibian churches that form part of the LWF fraternity and are sister churches to the EKD, seem to have been ominously quiet on the purported apology. Strangely so, given that bulk of their members are descendants of the victims of the genocide at the turn of the 19th century.

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