Astute historians may know about the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people in Namibia, but similar to how people learned about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, it is thanks to Raoul Peck that the world is witnessing victims of a horrific crime get restitution.
In Peck’s Exterminate All the Brutes, he examines the falsified and deadly happening involving the German Empire (pre-Adolf Hitler) and the Herero and Nama people of Namibia. Happening during the Scramble for Africa, German soldiers encroached upon lands in south West Africa and forcibly decimated between 24,000 and 100,000 people in the process. Those who survived were imprisoned in concentration camps, where the majority died of disease, abuse, and exhaustion. Peck noted that the genocide set a precedent in Germany that would later be followed by Nazi Germany’s establishment of death camps.
Now, Germany has agreed to pay Namibia $1.3 billion and officially recognized the Herero-Nama genocide at the start of the 20th century. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the amount with the gesture is one of reconciliation, “but not legally binding reparations.” Negotiations have been ongoing since 2015 with each attempt at a “heal the wounds” moment falling short until now. “Our aim was and is to find a joint path to genuine reconciliation in remembrance of the victims,” Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said in a statement. “That includes our naming the events of the German colonial era in today’s Namibia, and particularly the atrocities between 1904 and 1908, unsparingly and without euphemisms. We will now officially call these events what they were from today’s perspective: a genocide.”
More than a billion euros will go towards projects relating to land reform, rural infrastructure, water supply and professional training. However, victim groups have rejected the overall deal. Vekuii Rukoro, the Paramount Chief of the Herero people, former attorney general and member of parliament, told CNN that they were not part of the discussion with the German government. “Is this the kind of reparation that we are supposed to be excited about? This is just a public relations [stunt],” he said. “This is a sellout job by the Namibian government. The government has betrayed the cause of my people.”
While Rukoro said that the Herero and Nama victim groups expect monetary reparations, they are more required to be delivered in the form of a collective payment to the descendants of those killed and pushed off their land, instead of going to individual people. It is also worth noting that the text of this joint declaration calls the atrocities committed by German troops a “genocide,” but omits the words “reparations” or “compensation”—a move born out of fear that such language could set a legal precedent for similar claims from other nations. “When German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier comes to Namibia to render the apology we will embarrass him,” Chief Rukoro told local media, criticizing Germany and his own government for refusing to endorse the final wording of the declaration.
The announcement comes shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron publicly acknowledged France’s “overwhelming responsibility” in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and said only the survivors could give “the gift of forgiveness.” It remains to be seen if this will be the case with the Herero and Nama people, but chances are looking slim for that to occur.