[A-List] Germany: Namibia, apologies and reparations
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Aug 25 02:55:59 MDT 2004
Minister apologizes to Namibian tribes
'Forgive us our trespasses,' German asks
By Kristina Merkner
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Weekly, August 20 2004
Several thousand visitors to the Namibian town of Okakarara could hardly
believe what they heard on Sunday. German Development Minister Heidemarie
Wieczorek-Zeul therefore actually had to step up to the microphone again to
confirm that she had made an apology.
"In the sense of our shared Lord's Prayer, I ask you to forgive us our
trespasses," she said.
She was referring to a dark chapter in the country's brief colonial history:
the defeat of the Herero tribe's uprising against the German occupiers on
Aug. 11, 1904. An estimated 80,000 people from the Herero, Nama and Damara
tribes were killed, most of them shot or driven into the desert, where they
died of thirst or hunger.
Wieczorek-Zeul traveled to the former colony German South West Africa last
week, 100 years after the colonial war that was waged between 1904 and 1908,
to open a small center on German colonial crimes and to lay the foundation
stone for a monument of Samuel Mahareros, the leader of the uprising.
She became the first government official to issue the official apology that
the African tribes and human rights organizations had demanded for so long.
The German government had always declined to issue an official apology,
which it said could serve as the basis for the settlement of ?3.14 billion
($3.88 billion) in compensation claims. Such claims have been pending before
U.S. courts since 2001.
But Wieczorek-Zeul's apology and speech to the Hereros seem to have paid off
for the German government. "The atrocities at that time were what one would
call genocide today," she said in the address.
The chief of Namibia's Herero tribe, Kuaima Riruako, accepted the apology
and promised that the compensation claims would no longer be pursued. "It's
now time to forgive and accept each other as human beings," Riruako said on
In the future, a "reconciliation committee" will promote a dialog between
the descendants of the victims and perpetrators. Wieczorek-Zeul emphasized
that Germany's colonial guilt continued to be a "lasting obligation" and
that the country would continue to support Namibia, which already receives
the largest share of German aid among all African countries. Since 1990,
Germany has supported Namibia with ?500 million, about 60 percent of
Namibia's total foreign aid.
For a long time, the German government was reluctant to even recognize the
Herero issue. During an official visit to Namibia in 1995, then-Chancellor
Helmut Kohl refused to meet with Herero representatives or comment on the
matter. When Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer refused to officially
apologize during a visit to the Namibian capital of Windhoek in 2003,
Namibia's foreign minister, Theo-Ben Gurirab, said: "Germany has apologized
for crimes committed against Israel, Russia and Poland because this was
about whites. We are blacks, and if apologizing is a problem because of
that, it would be racism."
The change came as a result of Wieczorek-Zeul's concerns about the issue,
ministry spokeswoman Barbara Wieland said. But Wieczorek-Zeul also made
clear in a meeting with Herero and Nama representatives that the
government's stance on compensation issues had not changed and that the
apology would not serve as a basis for such claims, Wieland told F.A.Z.
Weekly on Tuesday.
Law experts had shown no understanding for the government's hesitation to
apologize, saying that an official apology would not count as a proof of
guilt in court.
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