This morning the country is expecting the return from the Federal Republic of Germany of a Namibian delegation under the Minister of Basic Education, Arts and Culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa.
But can there be any single reason for hope and expectations on the return of the delegation that went to receive the remains of those who perished in the 1904-1908 genocidal wars of imperial Germany against a section of the Namibian population?
This, so that the spirits of those whose remains are being repatriated can continue to imbue those who have forever been championing such repatriation, and most importantly for Germany to atone to the injustices of its colonial predecessor regime of imperial Germany? Yes, perhaps only for those who have been keeping the torch burning can the delegation be welcomed home with anticipation.
But one has reservations and is circumspect if these remains would serve as evidence to of imperial Germany’s genocidal escapades in the then German South West Africa, today’s Namibia, against a section of the Namibian people, notably the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama.
Are the mortal remains repatriated in 2011 and 2014 not already necessary and sufficient evidence, one wonders. The first, and perhaps most historic repatriation, in 2011, was done under the auspices of ardent and unwavering reparations campaigner and fighter Kazenambo Kazenambo, then minister of youth and sport, and fathers of reparation, Dr Kuaima Riruako and Captain Dawid Frederick.
There and then one would have said yes such repatriation was necessary as evidence. But with hundreds of mortal remains and other cultural artefacts still outstanding, it is incomprehensible how the affected communities and the country at large can really be expected to continue to hold the repatriation talks above the substantive matter of acknowledging the genocide and instituting reparations, and at last seeing a closure to the subject.
One fears that if the repatriation of mortal remains becomes our preoccupation, as it seems to have been lately, without a commensurate consequent commitment, dedication and resolve to address the issue of repatriations, then the repatriation of the mortal remains will become an exercise in futility.
A forthright acknowledgement and apology by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany is long overdue. It is interesting to note that while the Namibian delegation was locked in a church to receive the remains, the civil society was protesting outside the church. They refused to be co-opted into Germany’s mechanisations. Their message was clear: No Reconciliation Without Justice!
This message is a sound note of caution. Because since 2011 with the first repatriation of the skulls, with all the requisite traditional pomp and fanfare, it is hard to say to what extent there has been significant progress towards a tangible resolution of the real issue. Let alone any visible pointer to what extent the repatriation in any tangible way has propelled and contributed towards a closure of the matter. Given this, one cannot but also deposit the latest repatriation in the same bank account, which has seemed a bottomless one.
Currently, the issue of reparations have been stuck in the stumbling blocks, even the negotiations between the two governments. Understandably they are to resume, but when?
Various traditional leaders were heard being upbeat about going to Germany this time around and engaging in sideline activities from the main official programme. One cannot but wait to hear and see the practical outcome thereof.
Interestingly, and perhaps not unexpectedly, few of the Namibian traditional leaders who went to receive the remains of their ancestors seem to put an urgency on the need for closure on this matter with some preoccupied with the ancillary matter of the repatriation of the mortal remains. The repatriation of human remains and cultural artefacts cannot be anything other more than just a distant attendant, and not necessarily a forerunner sine qua non to reparations. Nor can it by any imagination be a measurement and/or indication of Germany’s good faith with regard to the bigger and substantive issue of reparations.
That is why the victim communities, as much as the repatriation of the human remains and other artefacts may be an integral part of reparation, cannot not allow the dangling of human remains and/or cultural artefacts in the way of restorative justice.
Attendant to this as much, reparation cannot become a matter of convenience against and above the actual issue of reparations. On the latter, Germany has as yet to show any real resolve and good faith. And agreeing to pay for a delegation just to collect the rituals and escort the remains back home is not good faith in its entirety.