Genocide reparation clashes escalate
Tensions are rising among the OvaHerero community over government’s decision to negotiate directly for genocide reparations with Germany, without the involvement of the ethnic group’s leadership.
The move has divided the Herero community into two factions, with one led by former DTA leader Katuutire Kaura and the other led by OvaHerero Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukoro,
Kaura, who is now the special advisor to the Kunene Regional Governor Angelika Muharukua, is in support of state-to-state negotiations while Rukoro wants to negotiate directly with the German government.
The division between the two OvaHerero factions came to a head recently when Kaura was forced to flee a funeral wake, after he was accused of being a “sellout” for supporting government’s position.
The former DTA president is reported to have sought the protection of some elders, who had to shield him until he got to his vehicle, after he was threatened by some of the mourners.
In a separate incident, an unidentified man was physically assaulted for wearing a SWAPO scarf at a funeral in Aminuis, after the family of the deceased had requested that no party colours will be allowed, in order to avoid clashes.
The deceased is reported to have been a NUDO member who had later joined SWAPO.
Former Cabinet minister and SWAPO member Kazenambo Kazenambo said the clashes were a sad development for a young democracy like Namibia.
“It seems we are now involved in a phobia war, where everyone is fighting everything, and you don’t really get what is being fought, and who is fighting what, for what purpose,” he said about the tension currently characterising the OvaHerero community.
“We are observing a political manifestation of lack of political tolerance, rearing its ugly head here and there, and in the OvaHerero community in particular. One is worried when you hear about such occurrences within a particular community and the country in general. It’s worrying because these incidents are recurring.”
He said the democratic rights of individuals need to be respected and issues affecting the ethnic group need to be discussed through engagements.
“Democracy is grounded on debates, not a show of muscle. It’s about discussing ideas, tolerance and diverse options. We are building a culture of democracy and that is what we have to be committed to, and when we start applying other methods because of difference in opinion, it becomes worrying,” Kazenambo said.
“Such behaviour violates the constitution which guarantees one’s right to freedom of expression and association. It’s not healthy at all when we have people who are organising mobs in a thuggery manner to suppress other people’s freedoms. The trend is worrisome, as it negates the norms upon which this society is founded.”
In a thinly veiled attack, the firebrand former minister of youth, national service, sport and culture said political and traditional leaders had failed to handle the genocide issue, a situation which has resulted in the current intolerance among the Ovaherero community.
“Some among us in the leadership, when we want to get votes and play to the gallery - driven by our own egos and manoeuvring - we start misleading people in a very squalid manner; a very filthy manner, by resorting to tribalism, regionalism and all kinds of isms,” Kazenambo said.
“We fabricate stories, and mislead the public, even knowing they are not well-informed of their rights. We manipulate the people based on falsehoods, which cause tensions, in order to keep support in one form or the other.”
He said the current internal problems faced by the OvaHerero community could be resolved through taking into consideration the concerns of everyone affected by the genocide.
“We should grow beyond interpreting the idea in a manner that suits us individually, not collectively. What we need is to pick issues around the genocide and discuss them on their merits and frankly without fear or favour and falsehoods. What we need to do is listen to all voices, with respect and care,” he said.
“In the OvaHerero (community), there are many stakeholders and the issue is not the domain of anybody. Government has no right to address the genocide alone, and there is no traditional authority that determines the legacy of the genocide.”
“The late Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako pushed a motion in parliament which was passed without opposition.”
Kazenambo said the manner in which some OvaHerero leaders are handling the genocide issue, was a betrayal to the late Chief Riruako and other chiefs efforts.
“The issue is being downgraded and subjected to domestic OvaHerero power struggles .This is regrettable .This issue must not be sacrificed for cheap political scores,” he said.
The escalation of infighting among the Ovaherero community comes amid reports from Germany that the two governments were close to clinching a deal, a move which could face resistance from some quarters of the ethnic group, led by Chief Rukoro, which have demanded for compensation.
The Namibian genocide occurred in 1904 after the OvaHerero revolted against oppressive German colonial rule.
General Lothar von Trotha was sent to what was then colonial South-West Africa to put down the 1904 uprising, and according to historians, instructed his troops to wipe out the Nama and Ovaherero ethnic groups.
The OvaHerero people have sought reparations from Germany for years and in 2001 filed a US$4 billion lawsuit against the government and two German firms in the United States, but Germany dismissed the claim, saying international rules on the protection of combatants and civilians were not in existence at the time of the conflict.
Last year, the two governments agreed to appoint special envoys as the genocide engagement moved to a new level.
President Hage Geingob appointed Dr Zed Ngavirue as Namibia’s special envoy.
But Rukoro said recently that government was trying to hijack the genocide talks “now that the end is in sight”.
The former Attorney General said no one knew what was being negotiated by the German and Namibian governments, as everything was being kept under a cloak of secrecy.
He also accused government of disrespecting and violating principles and protocols governing the rights of victims of genocide.
Rukoro was responding at the time to a letter written by Namibia’s Ambassador to Germany, Andreas Guibeb, calling on German opposition parties to withdraw a Bundestag motion that Germany must apologise to Namibia and the OvaHerero and Nama people for the 1904-1908 genocide.