Indigenous Namibians furious over German reparations 'insult'

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Indigenous Namibians lashed out Friday at Germany for refusing to pay reparations for the genocide of their people a century ago, calling it a "phenomenal" insult to victims' descendents.

Germany has been in negotiations with its former colony Namibia over a joint declaration on the massacre of the Nama and Herero people in 1904 and 1905 which would include an apology for the mass killings.

But Berlin has repeatedly refused to pay reparations. It argues that hundreds of millions of euros it has contributed to development aid since Namibia's independence from South Africa in 1990 was for the benefit of all Namibians.

Leaders of both Namibian indigenous groups said they would not accept any apology not backed by reparations..

This is because it "would seriously constitute a phenomenal insult to the intelligence not only of the Namibians and the descendents of the victim communities but to Africans in general," said Vekuii Rukoro, the paramount chief of the Herero people.

"It would represent the most insensitive political statement ever to have been made by an aggressor nation to the victims of its genocide," he added.

Germany had not only apologised to the Jews for the Holocaust, but had also paid reparations, Rukoro said.

"Because we have a different skin colour, the German government is saying to us: it's only an apology and that's it," he said, adding that the "rest will be cheque-book diplomacy through our government, which will be given development assistance, and then we must shut up."

"Guess what? The Hereros and Namas of Namibia, victims of genocide, we will not ever, in another 100 years to come, accept that," he stressed.

- 'Futile exercise' -

Berlin ruled what was then called South-West Africa as a colony from 1884 to 1915.

Incensed by German settlers stealing their land and cattle and taking their women, the Herero people launched a revolt in January 1904 with warriors killing 123 German civilians over several days. The Nama tribe joined the uprising in 1905.

The colonial rulers responded ruthlessly and General Lothar von Trotha signed a notorious extermination order against the Hereros.

Rounded up in prison camps, captured Namas and Hereros died from malnutrition and severe weather. Dozens were beheaded after their deaths and their skulls sent to German researchers in Berlin for "scientific" experiments.

Up to 80,000 Hereros lived in Namibia when the uprising began. Afterwards, only 15,000 were left.

Parliament Speaker Norbert Lammert, writing in a guest column for news weekly Die Zeit, said the Herero and Nama peoples had been systematically targeted for massacre by German imperial troops.

Since then, the government has also used the term genocide to describe the killings.

The Nama and Herero leaders also demanded a seat at the negotiating table between Windhoek and Berlin, saying they had so far not been privy to the talks that directly concern their people.

Moses Kooper, the Nama people's traditional chief, said: "We want to be part and parcel, as affected communities, in these negotiations, otherwise it will be a futile exercise."

Esther Muinjangue, who heads the Herero Genocide Committee, said that until representatives of the indigenous people are represented, the talks should be halted.

"We don't know what is being discussed at all... Where are we in the process?" she said. "That's why it's a failure and that's why they should stop."