The unfolding debate regarding an agreement reached between Namibia and Germany over the colonial-era massacres of mainly the Nama and Ovaherero people has enjoyed prominent coverage in the mainstream media, and has been a major talking point on social media platforms.
Traditional leaders from the affected communities are, however, deeply divided on the agreement and declaration reached between the two countries, especially on the subject of paying reparations to local communities.
Some traditional leaders from affected communities roundly condemned the deal reached with Germany, and called it an “insult”. Others such as the chairperson of the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu and Nama Council Gerson Katjirua welcomed the development and the N$18 billion offer by Germany.
Germany, through its foreign affairs minister Heiko Maas, last week acknowledged it has caused “immeasurable suffering” to the Ovaherero and Nama during the genocide committed in the early part of the 20th century.
“Germany apologises and bows before the descendants of the victims. Today, more than 100 years later, Germany asks for forgiveness for the sins of their forefathers. It is not possible to undo what has been done. But the suffering, inhumanity and pain inflicted on the tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children by Germany during the war in what is today Namibia must not be forgotten. It must serve as a warning against racism and genocide,” reads a joint declaration of the two countries.
The gesture of recognition, as Maas puts it, has seen Berlin promising financial support worth N$18 billion over 30 years to aid projects in the country.
According to the joint declaration, projects will be implemented in the Erongo, Hardap, //Kharas, Khomas, Kunene, Omaheke and Otjozondjupa regions within the sectors of land reform and development, agriculture, rural livelihoods and natural resources, rural infrastructure, energy and water supply, as well as technical and vocational education and training. There is no doubt that the genocide debate is emotionally charged, and there is merit in affected communities speaking out about the lasting effects of Germany’s brutality, namely the land dispossession, the killings and the confiscation of livestock.
We agree that the loss of life can hardly be quantified in monetary terms, but how much more oppressive must it be for a perpetrator to decide how to quantify such loss of life? The lasting effect of the genocide on affected communities is glaring. But a conversation we have seemingly avoided is that Namibia prides itself on the role of traditional leaders.
We celebrate traditional leaders as custodians of culture and cultural values, while we also recognise their importance in social cohesion and nation building.
It is against this background that we feel the debate thus cannot be about whether their disgruntlement is valid, or whether their demands are irrational.
The best will be for the authorities to listen with an open mind and open heart.
There is a burden on government to still make affected communities feel that they are part and parcel of this project, despite strong opposition to what is currently being offered by Germany.