Forgive Us, Says Germany
By Petros Kuteeue
A TOP German government official on Saturday asked for forgiveness for the killing of thousands of Namibia's ethnic Hereros during the colonial era.
The tribe immediately invited Berlin for dialogue "to finish the unfinished business".
The interchange came at a ceremony at Hamakari marking the centenary of imperial Germany's brutal campaign to crush an uprising by the Herero people.
"We Germans accept our historical and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time. And so, in the words of the Lord's Prayer that we share, I ask you to forgive us our trespasses," Germany's Minister of Economic Co-operation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, said after some people in the audience shouted the word 'apology' at the end of her speech.
"Everything I said in my speech was an apology for crimes committed under German colonial rule," she added.
Herero Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako seemed taken aback by the Minister's remarks.
"I am not here to refuse your apology and admission of guilt. There must now be dialogue to finish the unfinished business," he told thousands of cheering supporters.
"I had a written speech but I could not read it because what was said here calmed me down... dialogue should happen right now to finish the business, lets sit together and look for means of solving this issue."
Wieczorek-Zeul, who became the first high-ranking official of the German government to attend ceremonies to commemorate the 1904 war, suggested that Germany's move to apologise was aimed at fostering reconciliation.
The former colonial power's purported apology drew a mixed reaction from the crowd who attended the weekend ceremony at Otjozondjupa Region's Hamakari - the scene of the last and decisive battle between the Herero and German colonial troops.
"Apology and then what... it's hanging in the air, how is German going to own up to it [the apology]," asked former deputy Foreign Minister Kaire Mbuende.
Mbuende feels that the German government should offer some form of redress for the injustices committed against individuals, the particular communities and to Namibia as a country.
Former Deputy Minister of Prisons and Correctional Services, Michaela Hübschle, a German-speaking Namibian, welcomed the apology as "very good and important" and supported Riruako's calls for dialogue between the German government and the descendants of the 1904 war victims.
"People should now come together, sit together and see how they can deal with this matter," she declared.
At the turn of the last century, about 65 000 of the 80 000-strong Herero tribespeople were massacred by German troops under General Lothar von Trotha.
It is seen by some as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Before Saturday's commemorations, the closest Germany had come to an apology had been an expression of "deep regret" for the killings which were inflicted on Namibians by its colonial soldiers.
Germany also avoids using the word genocide when referring to the 1904 events, but on Saturday its Minister came close to acknowledging that what happened to the Hereros was genocide when she said:"The atrocities committed at that time would today be termed genocide, and nowadays a General von Trotha would be prosecuted and convicted."
Berlin has also resisted campaigns for it to pay reparations for the 1904 massacre, arguing that it was living up to its historical responsibility by extending massive development aid to Namibia, apparently now totalling around 500 million euros since its former colony's independence in 1990.
The Hereros have filed a N$20 billion lawsuit in a US federal court against the German government and some German companies which, they say, benefited from slavery and exploitation under German rule of what is now Namibia.
The Hamakari ceremony, which was attended by about 10 000 Hereros from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, also saw a number of Hereros of German descent - whose mothers or grandmothers were apparently raped by German colonial soldiers - paraded before the visiting German minister.
Taken from www.allafrica.com