Negotiation is not dictation

16 July 2016

The German government’s pronouncements on official apologies for the genocide against the Herero and Nama people of Namibia are welcome.

Follow-up clauses to these pronouncements ruling out reparations or acceptance of legal claims for damages are not.

In any professional, serious diplomatic negotiations, the end position of each side fuels the agenda. Sincere negotiations start off by sharing the positions and points of view within the meeting atmosphere, so that each party knows exactly what the other’s priorities are.

It is inappropriate in a weighted negotiation to hear public announcements by one side, unequivocally pre-empting the other, by declaring what they will not do and dictating the timeline.

We believe that this has happened in the current Namibian/German genocide negotiations because the Namibian government is not sincere about claiming reparations for specifically affected communities.

It seems as if government is trying to divert the discussion about the German genocide against the Herero and Nama people to a wider issue of all in Namibia who suffered in any way under colonialism and apartheid.

The genocide negotiation issue is directed, recorded, documented, and specific. It cannot be lumped in with other claims and concerns about injustices to Namibians from other times and places - they each need to develop their own platforms for recompense.

This diluting of the genocide call can be seen as a signal that our government may not be sincere about reparations as the just solution to this situation.

The German Ambassador to Namibia Christian Schlaga was quoted in the press saying Germany will not pay any money in reparation, but would increase its funding of Namibian projects.

This outburst was accompanied by announcements from the German special envoy for the German-Namibian dialogue, Ruprecht Polenz, regarding the need to speed up the negotiation process.

Both statements are remarkable in their cavalier nod to the highly sensitive nature of the 1904 and 1908 genocides perpetrated by the Germans and the need for reparations for those acts of inhumanity.

We believe such intemperate comments from experienced diplomats can only happen if the Namibian government has indicated a position against reparations to which the German government is reacting.

We believe the Germans have low regard for the issue of reparations because the Namibian government has indicated its low regard for the same.

Imagine that a horrible crime has been perpetrated upon someone in a family. And yet, the family pressures the victim of that crime to remain silent, ‘for the good of the family.’ That is not justice for that victim.

That victim’s right to full justice is inalienable; that person has the right to seek redress for the crime committed against them, regardless of what is or is not good for the rest of the family.

The issue at hand with reparations is not development projects, but justice for a crime committed against the Herero and Nama people. Whether or not the claim for reparations impacts the rest of Namibia is immaterial to the justice required for the crimes committed.

Too much emphasis on how the reparations would be dispensed and which individuals will get what is diversionary. The justice of reparations from Germany to affected communities should be the focus.

Reparations must include reclamation of land lost by those who were forced off it. The descendants of people who were stripped of their land, their cattle and their lives during the documented extermination order of the German colonial occupiers must be returned to their land and compensation for their cattle lost, must be a part of the package.

The land, with whole tracts still in the hands of absentee German landlords, must be returned as a part of reparations. Those who were pushed off their regular places all those decades ago, were forced to live on the margins of life, existing on arid plots in low rainfall regions far distant from their original more lush and fertile home areas. Some still reside in Botswana and parts of South Africa as hereditary victims of the genocidal Germans of 1904-1908.

We are concerned that the Chief genocide reparations negotiator for Namibia, Ambassador Zed Ngavirue, while a notable diplomat and honourable man, may not be up to the task at hand.

We read summary documents of the ongoing negotiations that speak of, “…sub-human legal-socioeconomic position accorded to indigenous Namibians, e.g., carrying of passes, work contracts…” (Point #6) and we are surprised. During the genocide of 1904-1908, there were no ‘passes’ or ‘work contracts.’

This wording makes us concerned that the items for discussion in the negotiations may mix different colonial issues and times. This negotiation is about genocide and land stolen from the victims, it is not about the brutality of apartheid.

In our view, Ambassador Ngavirue is responsible for the wording and disposition of documents emanating from the discussions. If the documents are not prepared properly, it can indicate that other aspects are not on target.

The Chief Namibian negotiator must be accountable for correctly articulating the issues at stake. If he cannot do this, he must not continue in that role.

Those affected by the German genocide must have justice, all other considerations are secondary. Reparations must be made. The time for closing the chapter on the German genocide in Namibia is now; the issue will not go away.




The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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