NEWS 2005



Hereros wait in vain for reparations

IRIN - 21.07.2005 - For over 20 years descendants of the Herero, wearing traditional dress ironically modelled on German military uniforms of the early 20th century, have gathered in Botswana each July to pay homage to thousands of their people killed in neighbouring Namibia after an uprising against German settlers.

It is estimated that up to 65,000 Hereros or 75 percent of the population died when German forces under Lieutenant-General Lothar von Trotha tried to quell the rebellion. Historical evidence has revealed that others were forced into the desert to die of thirst and starvation, while settlers seized land and cattle.

Many who remained were rounded up and sent to labour camps, where they often succumbed to starvation or disease. Some escaped to Tsau in northwestern Botswana, where their descendants still live.

In recent years the group has called on Germany to formally apologise for this episode in its largely forgotten colonial past and pay reparations.

The annual commemoration last weekend also marked four-and-a-half years since the Herero People's Reparation Corporation filed a US $4 billion claim in an American federal court against Germany and several companies for what they allege was the enslavement and genocidal destruction of the Herero people between 1904 and 1907.

A date for the court hearing has yet to be set.

"The wounds of the past must be healed. Our reparation claim must ... be seen as an effort to regain our dignity and help us restore what was wrongfully taken away from us," said Waripi Kazeire Raurau, a Herero community activist.

Any compensation would be distributed among all ethnic Herero, not only those in Namibia.

In 2004 Germany, Namibia's main source of development aid, asked for "forgiveness" for the pogrom, but ruled out paying compensation.

During a visit to Okakarara village, some 280 km northeast of the capital, Windhoek, near where Herero resistance was finally crushed, German Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said: "I am painfully aware of the atrocities committed ... We Germans accept our historical and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time.

Last year Germany's ambassador to Botswana, Hans-Dietrich von Bothmer, said history could not "be undone", but "we can give back to the victims and their descendants the dignity and honour of which they were robbed".

While von Bothmer did not offer any compensation, he was clear that Germany was keen to mend fences with the Herero, who number around 120,000 in Namibia and about 70,000 in Botswana.

Noting that Germany had given Namibia 500-million in aid since 1990 to benefit all Namibians, von Bothmer said "it could not be justified to compensate one specific group".

Mathew Buteh, a sociologist based in northwestern Botswana, commented that the atrocities had happened too long ago and the Herero suit had a limited chance of success because international conventions against genocide were not agreed upon until decades after the incident.

Herero cultural activist Justice Munyu dismissed this argument as "an insult to human intelligence and a blatantly racist remark", and pointed out that Germany had compensated the Jewish people after the holocaust.

The Geneva Convention covering the protection of civilians in time of war and the treatment of prisoners of war was adopted after the end of the Second World War in 1949 and came into force the following year.