Monday 19 March 2018

Germany to apologise to Namibia for 'genocide' of the Herero people

Angela Merkel: apology. Photo: Reuters
Angela Merkel: apology. Photo: Reuters

Justin Huggler

In a landmark admission of historical guilt, Germany is to recognise as genocide the massacre of 100,000 of the Herero people of Namibia by German troops between 1904 and 1908.

A spokesman for Angela Merkel's government said Germany would formally apologise to Namibia.

The systematic extermination of up to 100,000 Herero and some 10,000 of the Nama people by German colonial troops is widely regarded as the first genocide of the 20th century, and a precursor to the Holocaust.

Tens of thousands of Herero and Nama were driven into the Namibian desert to die of starvation and dehydration.

Others were sent to concentration camps where they died of disease and abuse.

Many victims were beheaded, and their skulls sent to Germany for scientific experiments.

But while Germany has been clear in its admission of guilt for the Holocaust, its response to the Herero genocide has been equivocal until now. A former minister first apologised for the killings more than a decade ago. Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul described the massacres as a "genocide" on a trip to Namibia as development minister in 2004, but her remarks were not adopted as government policy.

Foreign ministry guidelines started referring to the killings as a "genocide" a year ago, but only this week has the government confirmed in a written answer to a parliamentary question that this is now official policy.

"The federal government has been pursuing a dialogue with Namibia on this very painful history of the colonial era since 2012," Sawsan Chebli, a spokesman for the German foreign ministry, said on Wednesday.

"We seek a common policy statement on the following elements: a common language on the historical events and a German apology and its acceptance by Namibia."

But the government made clear it would not pay any reparations to Namibia and instead would contribute development aid.

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