Germany, Namibia and Reparations

What does reconciliation look like?

Photo Credit: Photo: Ruv

| January 12 2017,

04:13 am

"What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history." (The Case for Reparations, The Atlantic)

In the late 1800s, during the scramble for Africa, Germany illegitimately purchased land in the southwest region of Africa, known today as Namibia. As Germans began to displace natives, enslave them, steal their cattle, and inflict violence, revolts ensued and crackdowns befell just as hard. The Herero and Nama people of present-day Namibia bore the brunt of Western Terror in unimaginable ways.  


The Herero and Nama people fell into an all too familiar cycle of stolen land, robbed resources, cyclical predatory loaning and a skewed justice system. As German presence grew, an uprising was organized. In the Battle of Waterberg, the Herero people killed approximately 150 Germans. After this revolt against the German colonial rule, the Herero people were driven into the desert and left to die from starvation and dehydration. Following the Herero uprising, the Nama people also rebelled against the German colonial rule and faced the same fate. 

Thousands of Herero and Nama people who were not left to die in deserts were imprisoned in concentration camps, where many lost their lives to abuse and disease. At an infamous concentration camp named "Shark Island," victims of the genocide were subject to medical experimentation, forced labor, starvation, and sex slavery. 

Photo: Smithsonian Magazine

"About 80 percent of all Herero, who numbered as many as 100,000, are believed to have eventually died. Many perished after the battle of Waterberg: They were shot, hanged from trees or died in the desert, where the Germans sealed off watering holes and also prevented survivors from returning" (NYT). 

These horrific occurrences can be described as the earliest attempt at genocide in the 20th century, but are often left out of global historical narratives. The New York Times reports "throughout Namibia, monuments and cemeteries commemorating the German occupiers still outnumber those honoring the victims of genocide, a concrete reminder of the lasting imbalance of power." 

The Namibian fight for reparations has been long. In 2015, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the German colonial rule, a coalition of Namibian leaders presented Germany with a document titled "Genocide is Genocide," calling for the official acknowledgment of the terrors inflicted upon the Herero and Nama people.

Last year, in a severely outdated, landmark admission of guilt made by the German government, it stated that it would recognize the mass killings as genocide, and since then has been in talks with Namibia in attempts to reach a joint resolution. 

After being dismissed and disrespected, Namibians demands are now being quasi-met by those that oppressed them for years.

As of December 2016, according to Democracy Now! "Germany’s government has reached a breakthrough in negotiations with Namibia that could soon see reparations paid for a series of massacres in the southern African nation in the early 20th century... Under emerging details of the agreement, Germany won’t pay direct reparations to individuals, but will instead set up a foundation for youth exchanges and will pay for new infrastructure."

Similar to the intergenerational impacts that slavery has had on black Americans, colonialism and its detriment to Africa; has largely gone unacknowledged by the European nations that have profited and continue to profit from the depletion of African resources and people. 

Whether or not this "breakthrough" is the national reckoning that will lead to spiritual renewal that Coates speaks of, is to be debated and determined. What cannot be debated, however, is that European countries are, without any doubt, indebted to the African nations they colonized, and continue to colonize. Europe would not have half the wealth and economic stability it possesses today if it were not for the resources and labor it stole from the African nations. 

To assume that Germany has pure intentions in negotiating reparations is shortsighted, to give Germany a cookie, or a pat on the back for basic decency is a stretch. However, what is admirable, and what deserves to be acknowledged is the steadfast, relentless and unwavering dedication that Namibians have had in their long and sustained fight for reparations and ultimately, redemption for their ancestors.

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