Expectations, hype suspended as disunity continues to hamper reparations campaign

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
August 2015

As a contingent of traditional leaders led by Ovaherero Paramount Chief, Vekuii Rukoro, Ovaherero Paramount Chief Karikondua Nguvauva, Chief of the Kambazembi Traditional Royal Authority, Sam Kambazembi, Chief of the Maharero Royal Traditional Authority, and Daniel Fredericks, son of the !Aman Chief, Dawid Frederick, was preparing to fly back home from London, the homefront, in anticipation of their return, was a kaleidoscope of the colours green, red and white, as well as the rainbow colours, trademark of the Nama traditional gear. 

In particular, the various Windhoek commandos of the three traditional flags, Green, Red and White, were not only a bustle of activities with the traditional fires burning every night, but some how a mysterious bug seemed to have bitten the various adherents of the three flags awaiting the return of their leaders with alacrity and great expectations. The various leaders were in Berlin, the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, and in London, the capital of England. Rukoro led a delegation to Berlin to join and render the necessary support for the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Alliance in handing over a petition on genocide to the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, on July 7. The Chairperson of the Technical Committee on Nama Genocide, Ida Hoffman, as well as the Chairperson of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu Genocide Foundation (OGF), Utjiua Muinjangue were also present at the delegation. 

In Berlin, the group was part of, and witness to the handing over of the petition. Albeit, disappointingly but not unexpected, the German President was a no- show. The petition is to this effect: “On July 9th 2015, the 100th anniversary of the end of German colonial rule in present day Namibia, we demand from the German president, the German parliament and the German government: 

- to officially recognize the genocide against the OvaHerero and Nama – an action which is long overdue; 

- to formally ask the descendants of the victims of genocide for forgiveness; 

- to commit to identifying and returning all of the human remains deported from Namibia and other German colonies to Germany; and 

- to declare Germany’s unconditional willingness to participate in an open dialogue with the descendants of the victims, as well as with the Namibian government concerning measures, which can be taken to achieve reconciliation.” 

Following engagements in Berlin, included public talks on matters related to Imperial Germany’s colonial history in the Deutsch Sudwest Afrika, as Namibia was known as then. The Berlin entourage proceeded to London to join others, Nguvauva and Maharero and company, to attend the ceremonial reading of the Blue Book. The Blue Book is a catalogue of Imperial Germany’s colonial excesses, including the genocide of the Namibian people. But most importantly, the trip to London was a chance to consult with international barristers and lawyers, as well experts in war crimes. In this latter regards, perhaps the hype at home engulfing the return of the traditional leaders was understandable. 

To many people of these communities, for whom the issue of genocide and reparation seems to have been dragging on for centuries, the recent trip by their leaders seemed to represent a groundbreaking moment. For years there had been no sign of conclusion in the face of the obvious intransigence of the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, combined and boosted by the seeming indifference, if not diplomatic cautiousness by the Namibian government. The trip also seemed to have brought the various traditional leaders, and their respective genocide committees, closer together. This act alone seemed to have instilled a great sense of expectation among the tribesmen and women at home, especially news that once back home, the delegations would have a joint media conference. Not to mention news of Gauck recognising imperial Germany’s excesses in colonial Namibia as genocide. This was followed shortly by a similar recognition by the spokesperson of the German Foreign Office, Martin Schaefer, albeit in ambiguous terms as has been the case with many pronouncements by many German officials. 

Many voices joined the euphoric echoing on the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Omurari Wondjivisiro Ombaranga, the NBC’s Otjiherero Language Radio Service, for a convergence in Windhoek to give the returning traditional leaders a heroes-heroines welcome. The engulfing atmosphere was akin to an euphoria one must have thought was befitting the eventual granting of reparation by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany. But the communities were only pregnant with expectations and hopes that eventually a light would flicker at the end of the tunnel representing a solution to the genocide and reparation issue. 

The lawyers the group consulted in London advised them to speak with one voice. The first leaders to return, in this spirit of the seemingly newfound oneness, would not go ahead with the media conference until the return of fellows, including Rukoro, who missed their flight from London. He and others were to arrive on Monday, July 13 which is why the joint media conference was rescheduled. 

It appeared that even divine priests of the Ovaherero had been infected by the air of unity blowing since the meeting in London. While ritualising the return of Rukoro and Kambazembi on Monday, July 13 at Eharui enroute to Windhoek from the Hosea Kutako International Airport, they summoned the ancestors, appealing to them for the seeming wind of togetherness blowing over the descendants of the victims of genocide as reparations began to become a reality. But came the hour of the media conference that Monday, the other half of the delegation, led by Maharero, was conspicuous in their absence. For Mbakumua Murangi, the Director of Ceremonies of the media conference at the Red Flag commando, the absent Rukoro and Kambazembi would only be explained by absent members. 

A separate media conference was scheduled at the UN Plaza later the same day. And so much for the expected rapprochement, much against the advice of the lawyers in London and the hopes and expectations of the people. What this means for the future of genocide and reparation cause, remains to be seen. But this pretence at much illusive unity is not the first. A flash back to 2011 with the return of the first consignment of skulls points to a similar scenario of a short-lived unity. Unity only seems fertile in the cosiness of foreign soil, ironically Germany and London, and once back to the homeland it remains barren as the latest events have proven once again. 

As the saying goes when two elephants are fighting, it is only the grass that suffers. In this regard, the people were dealt a heavy blow because they had high expectations. Ultimately, it is the common cause of united that suffered and has been suffering the most.