Namibian communities demand return of land in dispute over German genocide legacy

Namibian communities demand return of land in dispute over German genocide legacy
Namibian communities demand return of land in dispute over German genocide legacy

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A drone view of the informal settlement where the descendants of the Herero victims live in Swakopmund, Namibia, February 27, 2024. — Reuters pic

WINDHOEK, March 7 — Namibian communities whose ancestors were massacred by German colonial forces and had their property seized more than a century ago are calling for fresh talks with Berlin to negotiate the return of ancestral land.

Germany agreed in May 2021 to fund projects worth €1.1 billion (RM5.6 billion) over 30 years to make up for the property seizures and killings by German colonial forces between 1904 and 1908, after the tribes rebelled against German rule.

Germany also apologised for its role in the slaughter, officially describing the massacre of some 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people as genocide for the first time.

But critics have said Germany should not have directed its apology to the Namibian state, which did not exist at the time of the genocide and had no mandate to speak to Germany on behalf of traditional Herero and Nama authorities.

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Mutjinde Katjiua, leader of a faction of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, said the exclusion of descendants of the affected communities from the talks deviated from a 2006 parliamentary resolution that stated negotiations should be between those communities and the perpetrator government.

The communities also argue that the issue of land ownership was not addressed in the 2021 joint declaration, noting that ancestral land taken by German forces has not be returned.

“What we have now is a bilateral agreement to fund development aid. It’s not even reparations and something to do with genocide,” Katjiua told Reuters. “Germany must come to the table, discuss with us, negotiate with Hereros and Namas, and together we agree on what is appropriate to repair the damage (caused).”

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“If nothing works out, the only thing that we can lay our hands on is the land because we know where that is, we know the names of the rivers, we know the names of the farms,” he added.

Germany, which lost all its colonial territories after World War One, was the third biggest colonial power after Britain and France. However, its colonial past was ignored for decades while historians and politicians focused more on the legacy of Nazi crimes, including the Holocaust.

The joint declaration was subject to ratification by the Namibian parliament but the process has been put on hold as the two governments discuss amending the document, said Harald Hecht, chairman of the Forum of German-speaking Namibians.

The proposed amendments include reducing the 30-year period in the agreement to five or 10 years, Hecht said.

“It (the joint declaration) is not the perfect model because the amount of compensation offered doesn’t amount to reparations, but there is at least an offer on the table,” Hecht said. “In the absence of anything else, I think we need to support it.”

The foreign ministry in Berlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ambassador Tonateni Intenge-Envula, chair of Namibia’s technical committee on genocide, said all affected parties were invited to join the negotiations.

“The Office of the Vice President deals with the issue. As far as I know that office is open and has had discussions with the affected community,” she told Reuters.

White people make up 5 per cent of Namibia’s population but control more than 70 per cent of prime agricultural land. — Reuters

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