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Opinion - Genocide deal undermines century-old quest for justice

2021-10-01  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Genocide deal undermines century-old quest for justice
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I am Namibian-born educator currently living in the United States of America, and a descendant of direct victims of the Ovaherero and Nama genocide.

I invite you to step into my world to see from my perspective. For more than a century, we have been fighting. Imagine. Fighting continuously for almost 120 years. 

Fighting the Germans. Fighting extinction. Fighting for international recognition. Fighting our own government for acknowledgment of the genocide. 

Fighting helplessness when no one would listen. Fighting the Germans for acknowledgment of the genocide. Fighting bondage to our history. Fighting inside ourselves to understand that history. Constantly fighting for justice to break these chains. And today, fighting to stop yet another betrayal. If we lose this fight, tomorrow we’ll have an additional barrier to justice. 

Imagine. Aching for almost 120 years. We are exhausted. We are demoralised. We ache. Our bones ache; our minds ache; our hearts ache, and our souls ache. We ache. We ache from fighting. We ache from having our hopes dashed again and again. 120 years of fighting takes its toll. 

We ache for that salve of justice to not just soothe but heal the wounds that make us ache. This so-called agreement contains no justice and only sharpens our pain, and obstructs and prolongs our fight for restorative justice. 

Imagine... bondage for almost 120 years. We are trapped. Rather than living freely and breathe freely, we are trapped by injustice. We are trapped knowing we have no closure to the genocide that almost eliminated us. We are trapped with one foot entrenched in the pain of the past. Trapped, as our collective cry while piercing our own ears seems to be unheard by the Namibian government. 

Trapped because our fight for justice has been usurped by an agreement supposedly for us, but not by us – an agreement that fails to adhere to the most basic tenets of justice. 

Trapped because no matter how “well-intentioned” and immediate, we were absent in its creation. We have a saying, anything done without us is against us. That absence amplified because the agreement falls terribly short of what we need for closure. The agreement falls short on recognition, on meaningful apology and reparations. 

Trapped by a dread that the German and the Namibian governments will enjoy the façade of resolution that ironically creates yet another obstacle to justice – this one more formidable because our government is sanctioning it. 

Trapped by a foreboding feeling that these governments will prioritise the self-aggrandising absolution of placing their signatures on a fancy document that essentially authorises a century of struggle to be swept under a rug, even while the victims of the genocide unanimously warn that this agreement causes more harm than good. 

I strongly believe that rather than resolving our struggle, this document will serve to undermine our century-old quest for justice. Indeed, it will implicate those who approve it in the systemic denial of restorative justice for the genocide of the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama people and the killing of and atrocities against the San and Damara people. 

That is, by supporting this document, you are guilty of continuing the effort to dehumanise the very people you say you are representing. Strong words, I know, but what else does one call crafting an agreement without authentic representation of the victims? What right does the government have to bluster towards an agreement to which the victims of the genocide are uniformly opposed? It is dehumanising. It is self-serving. 

The Namibian government would better serve us by doing nothing. For then, it would not actively contribute to undermining our demands for justice. It would not actively participate in prolonging our fight and our pain. 

As things stand, I cannot shake the feeling of impending pain, a sense of doom for a seemingly inevitable outcome – an outcome that affects me, but in which I have no choice.

An outcome that is beyond personal, it is almost definitional – and yet, I have no voice. This letter is my attempt to reach you to make my voice heard – to once more amplify our cry for justice. 

What choices will we have if you choose to support an agreement that impedes our quest for justice by delivering the façade of resolution? I promise you that we will not step back; we will not falsely praise this sham of an agreement. We will continue to do what we have done for almost 120 years. We will fight. Yes, we will ache – and yes, we will continue to feel trapped, but we will not lose hope. 

My great-great-grandfather Rapote and great-great-grandmother Katjiukua were killed in 1904 during the genocide. 

He was killed fighting at Ohamakari. She, like many others, was pushed into the harsh desert, where she died. Their four daughters survived but did not escape the horrors of the genocide. 

They were enslaved in concentration camps – and upon release, raped by German men, including Victor Franke. Their cries ring in my ears, and I will not play deaf. I will not stop fighting. I am resolved that my children will know justice or will die fighting. 

Imagine. You recognise that the agreement is not a solution nor a steppingstone to a solution. You realise the agreement hurts the odds of attaining justice and creates new barriers to justice. You then choose to reject this call for political expediency to adopt a deeply flawed and dehumanising document – and instead, you join our call for justice. 

Imagine: you strongly oppose the resolution to stand with the victims of genocide. We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you. 

Imagine: you seek the empowered representation of the affected people; we will send descendants of genocide victims who currently reside in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, the United States, and beyond – who understand us and represent us. 

Imagine. Your stance in opposition to the sham agreement results in the opportunity for us to forge an authentic deal that delivers justice, an agreement where Germany offers an unequivocal recognition of the genocide. 

Germany renders a meaningful apology directly to the victims – in Otjiherero and Nama – to pave the road to forgiveness and healing, an agreement that also includes reparations commensurate with our suffering, reparations to redress the loss of life, land and property. We will remember your contribution. We will honour you. 

History will remember that when faced with a decision to continue to oppress a people who have been beaten down for 120 years or so, instead, hear their voices and fight for them; you chose the enlightened path. This will surely be a more arduous path due to political pressure, but you know it is the right path to justice. We, the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama people are counting on you! 

2021-10-01  Staff Reporter

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