Traditional leaders and political actors have come out guns blazing, expressing dissatisfaction with President Hage Geingob over his recent utterances on the genocide issue.
First, during a public lecture in France recently, Geingob allegedly said apartheid was “worse” than genocide that obliterated at least 120 000 Nama and Ovaherero people.
Geingob’s most recent utterance which appears to be the final straw was in an interview with France24 over the weekend, where he sounded as though the genocide issue has reached a dead-end.
One of the paramount chiefs, academic Hoze Riruako and fellow chiefs under the Okandjoze Chiefs Assembly, condemned the President’s stance on the matter, saying it was high time for Geingob to take a firm position and defend it.
“If the latest unbelievable pronouncements are anything to go by, all indications are there that indeed his heavy schedule, given his age, is taking a heavy toll on him. More than anything, it is self-explanatory and self-evident that either Geingob and his government - which is also our government as bona fide Namibian citizens, whether anybody would like to think otherwise or would wish otherwise - do not believe in the genocide committed against our forebears by imperial Germany.
We cannot have any expectation from the recent meeting between the president and the German chancellor, especially pertaining to the issue of genocide in terms of acknowledgement, apology and reparations,” said the chiefs in their heavily worded statement issued yesterday.
“It is now left to both the head of State and the Swapo-led government to clarify and come clean on the said pronouncements. If he [Geingob] is ever to redeem himself, especially in the eyes of the descendants and restore their trust in the President and our government, he must state his principled position,” the traditional leaders demanded.
After having discussed a raft of issues ranging from governance, the impact of climate change and the role of the African Union in the ongoing political upheavals on the continent with France24, Geingob was asked about the unresolved genocide issue.
The presenter wanted to know how far negotiations are with Germany.
“Next step, I don’t know! I’m waiting for my term to end,” Geingob responded in the brief interview, which was shared by State House employees on the Presidency’s official media WhatsApp platform.
Efforts to get clarity on what Geingob meant from his spokesperson Alfredo Hengari were futile.
“You have asked the President that question before and he has responded to it (sic). The President discussed the outstanding matters on genocide reparations with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz a week ago,” was all Hengari could say yesterday.
In the France24 interview, however, Geingob said some consensus has been reached.
“We forced the Germans to agree that there was a genocide, and they reluctantly agreed. They were afraid that there would perhaps be repercussions from elsewhere if they agreed that it was genocide, as others might also come out and demand as well. But they have now agreed to the crimes they committed and we have also said they must apologise, which they have agreed to do. We are waiting; maybe they will send their highest person to come and apologise in our Parliament. So, we have achieved the most important things,” Geingob said.
Pressed further on reparations and the inclusion of affected communities, Geingob said: “They [Germans] offered an amount that we have disputed and some people feel that the money offered [€1.1 billion or N$18 billion] is too less but I have also said that there is no amount of money that one can equate to a human life. I have said let’s use whatever money that will come to develop areas where the affected people come from, but there are also people talking a lot around here who want to use the cash to go do their political campaigns and so forth.”
About seven years ago, both governments entered into a marathon negotiation about a formal German apology for the colonial-era killings of tens of thousands of the Herero and Nama people in what was once Germany South-West Africa. Historians describe it as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Negotiators agreed on a draft agreement in May 2021, but neither government has yet signed.
Right from the start, the document drew loud criticism from politicians and some descendants of the victims, who demanded fresh talks.
His answer has irked traditional leaders and political commentators, with many saying the President’s response was ill-timed and totally undermines public confidence.
The Namibian government’s present position on the draft Joint Declaration is also unclear. Angry Herero and Nama have in recent months taken to the streets to demand justice and transparency.
A parliamentary debate about the agreement in September 2021 was also accompanied by loud protests, with the mood inside the chamber equally emotional. Angry opposition members blasted the outcome of the negotiations, with even some MPs from the ruling party voicing concern. So far, the government has not put the agreement to a vote in the National Assembly.
Venting his dissatisfaction on Geingob’s apartheid and genocide comparison, Rally for Democracy and Progress leader Mike Kavekotora said: “What prompted Swapo, Hage Geingob to make a comparison between apartheid and genocide? What are the similarities between the two?
“Why is he not comparing apples to apples and say the Swapo dungeons were worse than apartheid? These two events are more comparable than insulting the descendants of the German atrocity. We are informed that even he himself was a candidate of the dungeons and could relate his first-hand experience to enlighten the nation.”
Kavekotora continued: “Those Ovaherero and Namas under the myth that the Swapo government and its president are uniquely qualified to negotiate on their behalf in good faith must wake up and smell the rot. We, the affected communities, must simply support efforts made to petition the United Nations on the genocide issue. Swapo is compromised and is dancing to resolutions taken as far back as 1989 by the German Bundestag.”
Reacting to the same, Landless People’s Movement leader Bernadus Swartbooi said: “It’s very interesting that the President of the Republic of Namibia says that apartheid was worse than genocide. Where did 120 000 die during apartheid? Where? That is a degree of arrogance unheard of. He thinks that the little fight [apartheid] that he was involved in, because he was involved, is so superior from a philosophical and human rights historic point of view, that he has the audacity to say no, ‘that one [genocide] was small, just 120 000 people died’. ‘Here, this one [apartheid] was bigger. Precisely because of what?
“If they even tell us today that 10 000 PLAN fighters died, I’ll ask, where are their graves? So you want to compare death versus death and whose death is more valuable?” a clearly irritated Swartbooi said at a press conference recently.
Official opposition leader McHenry Venaani was not impressed either.
“By international standards, genocide is considered the apex of human rights abuses, distinguished by the specific intent to obliterate the existence of an entire community based on their nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion. For President Geingob to minimise the catastrophic impact of the Herero and Nama genocide, which resulted in the death of over 80% of the Ovaherero and 50% of the Nama people, by comparing it to another era of significant suffering, is not only historically inaccurate but morally indefensible… The insensitivity of these comments is made all the more glaring when one considers that they were made on an international platform. It is highly inappropriate for a head of state to make divisive remarks that not only open old wounds but also risk stigmatizing the communities that still bear the scars of these historical atrocities. This is not an issue of academic comparison, but one that requires a nuanced understanding and the highest level of diplomatic tact,” Venaani said.
Caption: Genocide vs apartheid… President Hage Geingob.
Photo: Namibian Presidency