Descendants of the 1904-1908 genocide in Namibia have vowed to remain united against Germany in their pursuit of reparations for the colonial-era crime as a way to honour the legacy of the late Ovaherero Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro.
Rukoro, who died in the early morning hours of Friday from Covid-19 complications at the age of 66, consistently rejected Germany’s insistence on dealing bilaterally with the Namibian government instead of the affected ethnic groups.
Speaking on behalf of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association, Gaob Johannes Isaack described Rukoro as a great leader, who was crystally concise in the approach to the case of genocide.
“In the brief period of leadership at the helm of the Ovaherero nation, he garnered considerable fellowship around the Ovaherero royal crown, which is something admirable to all people who were engaging with him,” he said.
“I want to give the Ovaherero people and particularly the wife and the household of the fallen Ombara Otjitambi, the assurance of the continuation of the fight for justice for the Ovaherero and the Nama people.”
He also gave assurance to the Ovaherero community that the association will work with every progressive and resolute leader assigned by the traditional authority.
“To the Ovaherero and Nama nations wherever you find yourself, and to all people of the world, who have stood side by side with us during our determined fight for justice for an international crime against humanity committed against us, namely genocide, I want to remind you that now is the time that we must stand firm in our resolve to fight until the end of days. There is no turning back,” he said. Rukoro has been accorded a state funeral by President Hage Geingob. The head of state said Rukoro was a sentinel leader who predicated his life to the cause of justice for the Ovaherero people. “His death is a great loss at this watershed moment in our country’s history. I extend deepest sympathies to the bereaved wife, Mrs. Dinah Jorokee Rukoro, the children, the entire family, Ovaherero Traditional Authority, the Ovaherero people and the nation at large, on the loss of Ombara Otjitambi Rukoro,” Geingob said.
Political leaders also paid tribute to the former attorney general and one-time deputy minister of justice. Popular Democratic Movement leader McHenry Venaani fondly remembered the late Rukoro as a bold, forward and forthright leader, who was unwavering in his beliefs and ideals. Venaani said although the late Rukoro served in many capacities in government, however, it is truly his charge in seeking a respectable deal for the descendants of the genocide of 1904-1908 for which he will be best remembered.
“Paramount Chief Rukoro was uncompromising in this respect. A perspicacious leader, with adroit leadership abilities, Namibia has indeed lost a political stalwart, unrivalled businessman and above all, a voice of the Ovaherero people,” Venaani said. Landless People’s Movement (LPM) leader Bernadus Swartbooi said Rukoro will be remembered as a gallant son of the soil who, until his last breath, relentlessly and selflessly fought for the restitution of the descendants of victims of genocide. “His departure has left a huge void which will be hard to fill. A brave heart has stopped beating; a good soul has ascended to heaven. We are honoured and blessed to have known him for he was truly a blessing to all of us,” Swartbooi said. “However, let it be known that we shall never waver in our fight for reparation and restitution against the German Federal Government. We shall continue to intensify the fight with the knowledge that our people in Namibia and in the diaspora shall never accept Germany and Namibia’s bilateral agreements for development aid,” he added. The German and Namibian governments recently reached an agreement over the genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama, with a commitment to aid projects worth N$18 billion across the country over 30 years. This agreement was not well received by Rukoro and many from the affected communities. “When German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier comes to Namibia to render the apology we will embarrass him,” Swartbooi was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, political commentator Gerson Sindano said the passing of Rukoro will have a significant impact on the genocide negotiations. “The late paramount chief was very instrumental in taking the genocide negotiations head-on even in his advising role to the late Chief Kuaima Riruako,” he said. As such, Sindano added his death will most likely create a void in the ongoing negotiations with the Germans. However, he said, the Ovaherero will certainly find the replacement and continue with the fight for reparations. “The whole country will miss his wisdom and the boldness he brought to the negotiation table. It will be interesting to see who will take his position.”