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of an Apology:
Prof. Marcuse's UCSB Hist 133P course
About Sasha Romanowsky
I am a senior history major with a love for various historical time
periods and a specific interest in World War II. I have been interested
in the Holocaust since I was young, and my interest in the subject grew
after I visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in the eighth grade.
After taking a class on the Holocaust with Professor Marcuse last year,
my interest in German history grew even more.
Research Paper (back to top )
In 2004, Ministers from the German government traveled to Namibia to take part in the 100-year commemoration of the suppression of the Herero uprising. It took a century for the German government to publicly acknowledge what had happened in Germany’s Southwest African colony in the early 20th century. The atrocities of World War II, and the German violence towards the Jewish populations, are known throughout most of the world, yet the German attacks on the indigenous people of Southwest Africa during their colonial rule remain largely unknown. For years, especially after Namibians gained independence in 1990, descendants of the Herero people pressured the German government to apologize and give reparations for the suffering their people experienced as a result of the Herero genocide.
For years, demands for reparations, land redistribution and reconciliation fell on deaf ears. According to Dr. Friedrich Freddy Omo Kustaa, the German government frequently claimed, “compensation is unnecessary because they [Germany] already have a foreign aid package of recompense for Namibia” and “apologies open up old wounds.” As recently as 2004, a Namibian newspaper quoted Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing as saying, “Reparations to the Ovaherero would open up a Pandora’s box.” Nevertheless, on August 14, 2004, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul gave an apology for German behavior in the colony of Southwest Africa. The problem with this apology was that she never once said “sorry.”
The speech that Wieczorek-Zeul gave on the 100th anniversary of the Herero uprising was definitely monumental and significant, but it lacked real solidarity. In this paper, I focus on a critical analysis of the speech, and try to figure out what message the Minister actually gave. The speech itself is made up of five parts. The first section of the speech, “Acknowledging the atrocities of 1904,” provides a brief look at the events of those years. I have chosen a few crucial phrases from her speech to give a more extensive and inclusive look at the atrocities of 1904 and beyond. The following section, titled “Respect for the fight for freedom,” makes reference to the “brave men and women…who suffered.” The section mostly continues the themes from the previous section, with a slightly more thorough explanation of the reasons for the Herero uprising.
From the second section onward, the speech has a high level of ambiguity, and Wieczorek-Zeul lacks clarity in most of her historical references and promises for the future. Perhaps the most crucial part of the speech is the “Plea to forgive.” This portion of the speech is often referred to as the apology, although no explicit confession can be seen. I focus extensively on this section, unpacking the Minister’s words and looking into the dual meanings of some of her statements. Following this segment, I address the “Shared Vision of Freedom and Justice” section of the speech. In terms of “freedom and justice” I focus on the Hereros’ fight for these during the colonial period, with emphasis placed on the 1904 period, and the reaction that Germany had to these battles. The Minister ended her speech with a section about Germany’s “Commitment to Support and Assist.” As with the previous four sections, I critically assess the statements made, specifically in regard to the relationship between current day Namibia and Germany.
Before analyzing the speech, this paper puts the apology into a historical context. In order to do so, I give readers a detailed account of the German/Herero fighting and describe how that eventually led to genocide. Further, I give a brief look at Germany’s reaction to the genocide as it occurred in 1904. The issue of reparations will be discussed in terms of assessing the reasons for and against them, but I cannot delve deeper into the issue of whether or not they are deserved, because that is a separate issue, one that I am not qualified to answer. Instead, the main focus of the paper puts the speech into a historical continuum in order to answer why the “apology” came when it did, and explain the Namibian reactions that came as a result. Last, the paper looks to discover how successful Germany has been from 2004-2008 in living up to Minister Wieczorek-Zeul’s promises of “commitment and assistance.”
For the historical aspect of the paper, a series of books has been used to give an overview of what happened in Southwest Africa in the years of German colonialism. The primary books for this portion of the paper include: Southwest Africa 1880—1894: The Establishment of German Authority in Southwest Africa by J.H. Esterhuyse (1968), Southwest Africa under German Rule 1894—1914 by Helmut Bley (1971) Let us Die Fighting: The Struggle of the Herero and Nama Against German Imperialism 1884—1915 by Horst Drechsler (1981) and Namibia: The Violent Heritage by David Soggot (1986). These books, though older, provide a solid description of the German relations to the indigenous people of Southwest Africa when the Germans first settled. Moreover, almost every later book that includes a discussion of Namibia quotes these books, so they are still the core sources. Nevertheless, I have taken great care to make sure that I recognize what sort of biases the authors might have, seeing as how they are all from Western cultures, not from Africa.
The majority of the other sources come from newspaper articles, online archives, and the German Embassy website. The newspaper articles come from two different Namibian papers, New Era and The Namibian. Articles from these papers provide information on how the Namibian people felt about Germany prior to 2004, and how they responded to the August speech. It also includes editorials and opinion articles that give readers a chance to see immediate reactions from people who were not part of the newspaper staff. The Germany Embassy website provides demographic information on the country of Namibia and also has some articles that address issues in foreign relations. The script of Minister Wieczorek-Zeul’s speech comes from the Embassy website, and is available in German and English. The text of the German-Namibian “Special Initiative,” a document outlining the financial aid programs that Germany participated in, serves as a crucial point of reference for assessing post-2004 relations. Finally, several documents written by members of the Ovaherero Genocide Association serve as examples of how descendants of the Herero victims feel towards Germany and the reparations issue.
Although many primary source documents exist from the colonial period, distance and language barriers prevent me from including them in my research. However, some documents, such as the “Extermination Order” from Gen. Lothar von Trotha, are referenced at length in the books I used as secondary sources. As such, I quote the well-known primary sources as I read them in translated secondary sources.
Acquisition of Southwest Africa
On December 4, 1899, nearly a decade after Germany acquired territory in current day Namibia, Rosa Luxemburg questioned the need for German colonies in her piece, “Brauchen Wir Kolonien?” [Does Germany need colonies?] It seems most likely that a main driving force for acquiring territories would be the desire to expand trade, yet Luxemburg strongly argued against this. Instead, she claimed that the German protectorates in Africa played “miniscule” roles compared to Germany’s other colonies throughout the world. What then, would motivate the Germans to claim Southwest Africa, a very arid area? Perhaps they were driven by the opportunity for military expansion, desired more water port entries into Africa, wanted to catch up with British expansionism, or maybe they simply wanted more land for Germans outside of Germany. Whatever the true motivations were, Southwest Africa officially became a colony on March 1, 1893 at the announcement of Chancellor von Caprivi.
For a colonizing power, Germany did not initially exert much effort in the Southwest Africa territory. No “war of conquest” came about, state involvement was minimal, and no large body of troops was sent. For these reasons, the transition of Southwest Africa into a German colony took place in a relatively peaceful and passive way. According to Horst Dreschler, the early period of colonization from 1884-1892 included continual struggles between the native tribes, Herero and Nama, but not between the tribes and the newly settled Germans. At this point, Germany had yet to gain a solid foothold in the area, and the native tribes could carry on their normal everyday lives, including their own internal battles between tribes.
German-African Relations Pre-1904
While the first few years of the German command over Southwest Africa witnessed a certain amount of passivity, this began to change once more Germans began to venture into the territory. Even before Germany came to possess the territory, German missionaries resided in the land and developed close relations with some of the tribes. In fact, German Lutheran missionaries educated Hendrik Witbooi, the leader of the Nama tribe that would later fight the Germans. As a result, the missionaries, and later the Germans became intertwined in tribal wars and rivalries. Importantly, the native tribes in the territory exhibited clear signs of developed civilizations. Too often Western societies falsely perceive Africa as a “dark continent” with little development before European settlement. According to J.H. Esterhuyse, Kamaherero, leader of the Herero tribe in 1876, asked the Cape Government (British) to, “Send someone to rule us, and be head of our country.” Without the original source this cannot be checked, yet this author is suspicious that this sentence may have been taken out of context, if not falsified. Regardless, since the Nama and Herero had set areas of land on which they lived, German desires to settle these lands would definitely cause conflicts.
Starting in 1893 conflict between the Herero and Nama tribes slowly began to involve Germans as well. In 1885, German chancellor Bismarck sent Dr. Heinrich Goering to establish peace with the natives in the form of “protection treaties.” Essentially these treaties offered German protection to one tribe against another rival tribe. The sincerity of these protection treaties comes into question when one looks at how many different treaties the Germans formed with various tribes. Surely they could not “protect” all of them in a just and righteous manner. After some time, even the tribes became aware of the crooked nature of the German protection treaties.
By the late 1890s, the German government had stepped up its involvement in Southwest Africa. Dr. Goering had called upon the government to establish a military presence to safeguard the business interests of the German Colonial Company for South West Africa. When Germany first obtained the land it was skeptical about spending a large sum of money in the seemingly barren land, but by 1889 the German government heeded Goering’s warning and Bismarck sent Captain Curt von Francois to protect the land. Sending an official to govern the area signaled the interest of the German government to protect what it considered German land. Unfortunately, von Francois proved an ineffective leader, and he failed to stop the native battles. Instead, the Herero and the Nama under Chief Hendrik Witbooi signed a peace treaty that aimed to halt tribal fighting in light of the new German threat.
Captain von François not only failed to stop the battles, he launched his own campaign against the tribes, a clear deviation from the peaceful atmosphere that Germany sought. Naively thinking that he could easily defeat the Nama, von Francois launched a “surprise war,” in 1894, but he faced embarrassment and defeat at the hands of Chief Witbooi, an experienced military man. The military capabilities of the tribes should not be underestimated; by this time modern guns had circulated in the territory, which led to sophisticated forms of fighting. In 1894, the German government, unhappy with von Francois’ behavior and upset with his inability to quash the fighting, appointed Theodor Leutwein as his replacement. From this time forward, the relations between the Germans and the natives would take drastic steps away from peace and towards more prolonged and violent fighting.
Treaties and Land Issues: Ownership and Dispossession
Even in an arid landscape, with little opportunity for agricultural advancement, disputes over land dominated the relationships between the inhabitants of Southwest Africa. Prior to the German arrival, the Nama and the Herero had fought over land, and the coming of the Germans added another party to the land dispute. Unjust treaties that clearly favored the Germans over the Africans characterize the way in which Germany acquired the territory in Southwest Africa. For example, in August 1883, just a year before the Germans officially claimed the territory, Adolf Luderitz struck a land deal with the Bethanie people who resided in the southern area near the Cape Colony. In this deal, the Bethanie people agreed to sell “20 geographical miles” of land. The deceitful nature of this trade was evidenced by the fact that the Bethanie people did not know that a “geographical mile” was not equivalent to an “English mile,” in fact, it is six times larger. Through this kind of deceptive trading, the German colonizers obtained large amounts of land under seemingly legal pretenses. Ironically, the land purchased by Luderitz did not hold significant value at that time.
Despite the fraudulent nature of the majority of the land treaties in the 1880s, the treaties of the 1890s dealt instead with promises of protection. As mentioned previously, the Herero and the Nama tribes continually fought over several issues, including land ownership and cattle. Playing off of their vulnerabilities, the Germans aimed to create protection treaties with all the tribes in order to offer protection against other tribes. The catch with these deals was that they put “intolerable restrictions” on the tribes, which included limiting the right to wage war and the right to raid cattle. Without these two rights, the power of the tribes dwindled under the rising authority of the Germans. Most significantly, the ownership of cattle served as the chief form of private ownership for the Herero and Nama people. The issue of land and cattle ownership would arise again after the Herero/Nama uprising in 1904.
Uprising and Genocide 1904-1907
The events of 1904 resulted from a culmination of ten years worth of tensions between the Herero, Nama, and Germans, in addition to the longstanding fighting between the tribes prior to German intervention. Ironically, when Captain von Francois came to Southwest Africa in June 1889, the German government advised against fighting with the Africans, and specifically mentioned keeping peace with the Herero. By the time Leutwein replaced von Francois in 1894, the damage had been done—fighting with the Herero and Nama had begun. Whatever reservations the Herero and the Nama had towards the Germans were confirmed in the unprovoked war that von Francois launched. According to von Francois, “virtually everyone…was convinced that the Herero needed to be taught a lesson.” In order to teach this “lesson” German troops set out for Southwest Africa, despite the initial plan of a peaceful existence in the territory based on a small budget.
Against this backdrop, the Herero and Nama chiefs, Samuel Maherero and Hendrik Witbooi, finally joined forces against the Germans. Previously, the Herero had signed a protection treaty with the Germans, which allegedly protected them from the Nama, who did not sign any treaties. As von Francois’s violence towards the Herero continued, Witbooi instigated a peaceful negotiation with Maherero in order to join forces, and it finally became a reality in November 1892. The union of these two chiefs might have had a significant impact on the Germans, had things gone the way that Chief Maherero planned. [This paper was published on a UCSB website.]
By 1904, the displacement of tribal people, combined with the German seizure of cattle, finally led Samuel Maherero to launch an uprising against the German colonists. Due to their partnership established at the 1892 treaty, Maherero urged Witbooi to join the uprising by sending him a famous letter that stated,
This portion of the letter shows how passionately Maherero felt about fighting against what had turned into German oppression and exploitation of his people. Unfortunately, Witbooi did not receive the letter because Maherero’s messenger allegedly turned it over to Leutwein instead. This betrayal dealt Maherero a fateful blow. In the following months, Leutwein could not put down the revolt, and the Germans appointed General Lothar von Trotha to replace him and suppress the revolt.
General von Trotha replaced Leutwein because of his military prestige and his hard-line approach to war, both of which contributed to the horribly brutal outcome of the Herero uprising. Shortly after coming to Southwest Africa, von Trotha placed the territory under martial law on June 11, 1904, giving him even more power. By the time von Trotha arrived and took over, the Herero had already retreated to Waterberg after several intense battles against Leutwein’s forces. At this point, von Trotha probably could have ended the fighting quickly and efficiently, with minimal bloodshed. Instead, he chose a path that led to what became a bloody and torturous annihilation against the Herero people. Most famously, on October 2, 1904 von Trotha issued his “extermination note” which denied all rights to the Herero, labeled them all as outcasts, and denied protection even to women and children. It remains unclear whether this order came from von Trotha himself, or whether it was passed to him from a superior official in Germany. Regardless, what happened to the Herero people as a result cannot be ignored.
No doubt the actions of the Herero against the Germans were violent, but nothing justified the reaction from von Trotha that led to the deaths of thousands of Herero. By the time that von Trotha issued his extermination order, the Herero had for the most part retreated to Waterberg, where the Herero met their horrible fate. General von Trotha and his troops surrounded the Herero from all sides except one; the one side they left unmanned led the Herero people straight into the Omaheke desert. In the desert, thousands of people died of starvation and dehydration, and some of those who did reach water died of poisoning, as the Germans had poisoned several water wells. Most likely the Herero would have surrendered rather than face their death, but they did not have this choice. Von Trotha issued the extermination order after the Waterberg fighting in which the Germans had already clearly won. Those who did survive faced life in prisoner of war camps such as the one located on Shark Island. In the camps, prisoners were forced into hard labor and all abuses towards them went virtually uncontested.
By the end of the fighting the Germans had decimated the Herero population. Furthermore, the Nama suffered serious losses as well, including the death of Chief Witbooi in 1905. Altogether, an estimated 80% of the Herero population had been killed and approximately 50% of the Nama. In addition to the massive loss of lives, a significant portion of Herero and Nama cattle had been killed or seized as well. To punish the Herero and the Nama for uprising, the German colonial government forbade them from owning land and cattle, the two main pillars of their crushed civilization. According to Helmet Bley, at this time the Germans successfully turned Southwest Africa into a German colony. The Germans took complete control of the area and turned it into a tightly controlled colony. Interestingly, on November 11, 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II praised the Germans’ behavior in the colony stating, “I warmly thank the troops…who defended our territories with heroic courage.”
 The combination of land misappropriation, property dispossession, and serious human rights abuses formed the foundation for the Herero people’s calls for reparations in the century that followed.
Namibian requests leading up to 2004
For years, the Herero request for reparations had gone unnoticed. At the very least, the Herero people felt they deserved an apology for the German atrocities in 1904. In early 2004, Arnold Tjihuiko, chairman of the Herero Committee for memorial festivities put it simply when he stated, “We want the Germans to say ‘we’re sorry!’” Some, like South African Professor of Law Shadrack Gutto felt that admitting guilt did not “logically mean you have to pay…an apology acknowledges wrongdoing even if you don’t pay a cent.” Still other felt that monetary compensations were not only deserved, they were necessary to make up for the German brutality and the takeover of Herero land.
In the fourteen years between Namibian independence in 1990, and the century commemoration of the genocide, the issue of reparations was an ever-present issue. In 2001, using the Alien Tort Claims Act, a group of Herero brought a lawsuit demanding two billion dollars in damages against the German Imperial Government, Deutsch Bank, and Woermann Line whom they accused of participating in the genocide and crimes against humanity. This lawsuit served as a point of contention with the German government who refused to move forward until the Herero Peoples’ Reparation Corporation dropped the pending lawsuit. Unfortunately, the Herero did not have the support of the Namibian government in this demand for reparations, most likely because at this point, the two governments enjoyed a friendly relationship, and the lawsuit would only complicate things. As such, the demands for reparations came primarily from the lower levels of society, not the state or national levels of government.
Despite the setbacks, several groups of people such as the Herero Peoples’ Reparation Corporation and the Ovaherero Genocide Association continued to pressure the German and Namibian governments to act. Festus Muinjo, a Namibian, stated, “The Herero issue will not stop, it will continue ad infinitum.” Namibians continually pushed for “resolution, restitution, and reconciliation” to make up for not only the loss of life, but the loss of property as well. As of 2004, German descendants owned and controlled approximately 65% of the arable commercial land in Namibia. To put that percentage in perspective, one should realize that only 6% of the population is white. Furthermore, though Namibia has been independent from Germany for almost 90 years, German companies make up a significant portion of the companies operating in Namibia. Due to this unequal distribution of agricultural and monetary wealth, it is no wonder that the Herero continually fought for compensation.
German reasons against reparations
Naturally, the German government was not receptive to the Herero requests for monetary compensation and land redistribution. First, the events that the Herero requested compensation for happened 100 years ago, making it extremely difficult to apply modern day legal arguments to the issue. In 2004 the German Ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, claimed that the pending law suit "will lead nowhere … we should move forward together and find projects to … heal the wounds." Massing’s statement reflected the larger overall argument of the German government, that reparations would not only be implausible, the German government “simply did not see the need for specific financial compensation.”
In response to the requests for monetary compensation, the German government denied the need for compensation based on the amount of development aid that they have provided to Namibia over the years. In a letter to the New Era editor published on August 19, 2004, Ambassador Massing explicitly stated, “for the German government, the Government of Namibia is the only partner for any negotiations with regard to development assistance.” Not only did Germany take an opposition stance against reparations, it refused to have open dialogue with anybody except Namibian government officials, an unfortunate event for the Herero given the government’s previous lack of support. Overall, the German government remained adamantly opposed to repaying the Herero people. Two German political parties, the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, claimed that reparations would negatively affect German citizens and cost them billions in tax dollars. Furthermore, the fact that Namibia already received approximately US $14 million a year from Germany deterred many German officials from wanting to give reparations to the Herero.
The “Big Change:” 2004 Apology
On August 16, 2004, amidst a plethora of memorial celebrations and cultural events commemorating the Herero and Nama ancestry, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul gave her celebrated “apology” speech. Although there had been open dialogue between the two governments, this speech and the presumed apology came as quite a shock for Namibian citizens. During the speech, a member of the crowd allegedly yelled “apology!” in order to get the Minister to actually say the word, although whether or not Wieczorek-Zeul responded is unknown. What was most shocking about the apology was the fact that it came in the midst of the reparations debate and the pending 2001 lawsuit. Unfortunately, as monumental as this speech appeared, for many Herero and Nama descendants, it was not enough.
A look into the ambiguous and noncommittal nature of the speech makes one question the sincerity of the statements made by Wieczorek-Zeul. According to feminist writer Julia Penelope, “Language forces us to perceive the world as man presents it to us.” This quote, and other linguistic research by Penelope in her book Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Likes of the Father’s Tongues, allows one to critically examine rhetoric that politicians use in speeches, documents, and other important declarations. An in-depth analysis of rhetoric is essential to understand Wieczorek-Zeul’s speech, especially in reference to what Penelope calls “missing” or “passive” agents. Penelope calls these omissions, “dummy it” meaning that the listener has to interpret what the speaker said since the speaker suppressed important information. In the case of the apology speech, Wieczorek-Zeul frequently made passive claims in order to admit atrocities, without concretely taking ownership of the crimes.
Acknowledging the Atrocities of 1904
The first section of the speech began with the Minister admitting that she was “painfully aware of the atrocities committed” by the Germans in Southwest Africa, and she then referenced the Herero revolt and the subsequent “war of extermination” instigated by General von Trotha. She further referenced how the survivors of the battle of Waterberg “were forced” into the desert, and “were interned” in camps. Although Wieczorek-Zeul mentioned these events, her lack of detail and her use of the passive voice in the presentation of events leave one somewhat in the dark about the extent of the brutality that the Germans carried out against the natives. She made no specific mention of the death figures of these camps, in which Germans forced over eight thousand captives to perform harsh labor building German railway lines. Nor did she comment on the fact that after the German parliament rescinded the extermination order, the concentration camps continued and were not abolished until 1908 The speech made no mention of the fact that the “hard labor” continued after the uprising and after the concentration camps closed.
The frequent use of passive voice in the Minister’s speech allowed her to admit atrocities without actually saying that Germans committed them. By using passive voice with no “active agent” (i.e.: someone doing the work) the sentence put the focus on the victim. For example, the sentence “the survivors were forced into the Omaheke desert” lacks a clear indication of who forced them into the desert, and as a result, the focus is on what happened the victims (Herero/Nama), not who inflicted this upon them (Germans). The speech gave the perceived notion of a true acceptance of what happened in 1904, but in reality its passive voice deceived listeners into thinking this.
Respect for the fight for freedom
The second portion of the speech addresses the Herero and Nama people who fought against the Germans and suggests that the Minister had great pride in her political party for standing up for what happened to the Herero/Nama people. Immediately after commending the Herero/Nama fighters, Wieczorek-Zeul shifted her focus to the SPD, her own political party, and commended August Bebel, then chairman of the party, for condemning the oppression and honoring the fight for liberation. True, Bebel did question the behavior of Germans in Southwest Africa, yet there is a difference between questioning something, and actively trying to stop it from continuing. Furthermore, to say that Bebel “respected the fight for freedom” is somewhat of an exaggeration. The SPD did oppose colonial policy, yet when given the chance in 1904, the party did not oppose sending reinforcements to put down the uprising.
Plea to forgive
What many Namibians refer to as the “alleged apology” appeared in the “Plea to Forgive” section of the speech. This section, the longest section of the speech, is arguably the most important. First, the Minister started by claiming, “the atrocities committed at that time would today be termed genocide—and nowadays a General von Trotha would be prosecuted and convicted.” According to Article II section (a) of the Geneva Genocide Convention of December 9, 1948, genocide is defined as, “killing members of a group” and under section (c) “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Based on this United Nations definition, the Minister was correct in stating that the acts in Southwest Africa were genocide. In the words of Herero chief Clemens Kapuuo, “there is little difference between the extermination order of General von Trotha and the extermination of the Jews by Adolf Hitler.” The question to consider is whether or not von Trotha issued the extermination order on his own, or if the German government endorsed and/or encouraged it. If the comparison to Hitler’s extermination of the Jews is accurate, then one can say that the German government, not just von Trotha, is in fact guilty. In fact, von Trotha’s descendants visited Namibia in 2004 and gave a statement that corroborated this, insisting that von Trotha had acted on the orders of the German state.
In the second controversial statement in this portion of the speech, Wieczorek-Zeul made reference to the Christian Lord’s Prayer, and pleaded with the Namibians to “forgive [us] our trespasses.” Though this reference to the Lord’s Prayer makes sense considering Namibia’s large Lutheran population, the fact that the early missionaries played a prominent and controversial role in the early history of the period makes this a risky statement to make. Moreover, a member of the Ovaherero Genocide Association noted in early 2004,
Finally, whether the Minister intentionally chose those words or not, the statement “forgive us our trespasses” includes a dual meaning in reference to moral offenses, and actual trespassing on an individual’s land, which the Germans did extensively in the colonial period. The Herero, as a result of German colonialism, lost their land, its natural wealth, and other forms of properties. In addition to the sheer loss of life, this loss of property also made up a large portion of the reason why the Herero/Nama people demand financial compensation. It should be noted as well, that despite the arid climate and lack of arable land, Namibia’s natural resources include: diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, lead, tungsten, zinc, and many other minerals that are highly valuable in today’s society. Clearly, the land that the Germans seized from the natives has great worth. According to the German Embassy website, Germany feels that Namibia offers a secure place for investment, especially in the mineral sector. Yet the German government still refuses to allow a redistribution of land to provide disadvantaged Herero with their own land.
Shared vision of freedom and justice
The second to last section of the speech, which addresses freedom and justice, ties in to the land issue and the plea to forgive, and makes one wonder what “freedom and justice” the Minister actually meant to refer to. In a bold statement, the Minister declared that Germany foresaw a “vision that you and we share of a more just, peaceful and humane world” that “rejects the overcoming chauvinist power politics.” Still, like the previous parts of the speech, this too lacked specificity. How could Wieczorek-Zeul claim to “reject power politics” when her own German Ambassador Wolfgang Massing refused to talk with any non-governmental representatives? Furthermore, the German Embassy itself recognizes that only inhabitants of European descent and a “new” black middle class can maintain a European standard of living in Namibia. Again, how does this represent justice? Sadly, the damage done by the German colonial government still has lasting effects on the natives.
Committed to support and assist
Minister Wieczorek-Zeul ended the commemoration speech by making reference to Germany’s commitment to support and assist Namibia. However, only a very small portion of this section even addressed Namibia. The first paragraph outlined Germany’s achievements in becoming a “multicultural” country and “a committed member of the United Nations.” These German achievements do virtually nothing for the Namibian people. Rather than specifically addressing how Germany exhibits “commitment” to Namibia, the Minister continued using highly ambiguous language. She spoke of a “special historic responsibility towards Namibia,” and that Germany wishes “to continue our close partnership at all levels.” The problem here lies in the fact that the Namibians, specifically the Herero, demand “reparations and reconciliation,” which does not necessarily require a “close partnership” between the countries—it requires monetary compensation in their eyes. In closing, the Minister made a point to affirm Germany’s dedication to helping with Namibian “challenges of development” and “land reform” in particular. Again, one can see no solid explanation of how Germany will undertake this task, like other statements, it appears like an empty promise.
Beach house in Namibia
area of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital.
German actions post 2004
In 2006, Germany and Namibia joined together in a “Financial Cooperation between the Governments of Namibia and Germany: Special Initiative” which sought to bring development aid to areas with “historic ties” to Germany. Sadly for the Herero/Nama people, the Special Initiative explicitly states that the Germans did not enter into the negotiation to serve as reparation, and furthermore, “all land requisition and resettlement projects must be excluded from funding.” These guidelines are nothing short of a slap in the face to the Herero/Nama people. After the outwardly historic apology speech by the Minister, this Special Initiative retracted from the promises the Minister laid out. This proves that the vagueness and ambiguities of the 2004 speech provided no concrete promises to the Herero/Nama people, and instead served as a politically motivated statement.
Despite the large amount of money Germany has given to Namibia, the Herero/Nama people largely remain unsatisfied. In 2005, when Germany pledged to give $160 million for a “reconciliation program,” several members of the Ovaherero Genocide Association protested what they saw as a “complete lack of respect” and a “disappointment.” Not only did the government fail to consult the Herero/Nama people, these people felt that the amount proposed by Germany was “a criminal insult and grossly insensitive.” Minister Wieczorek-Zeul claimed in 2004 that she was in Namibia to listen to the people, but just one year later, Herero and Nama people still did not have a say in what was going on between Germany and Namibia. From the beginning, the victims have demanded to have a part in the discussions with Germany, and they have been ignored in this request.
Why not us?
To the present day, Germany continually cites the large amount of developmental aid when questioned about Herero/Nama reparations. The amount of money Germany has given to Namibia should not be underestimated nor discredited, but in light of the Herero/Nama demands it does not suffice. According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, no country in Africa receives more aid than Namibia. The amount of aid has been estimated somewhere around $620 million, although that money has been given to the government, not any Herero/Nama people specifically for reparations. Since 65% of the land is owned by white, European descendants, most money that Germany gives to Namibia will go back into the hands of the wealthy landowners, not the disenfranchised populations.
The question of reparations remains a difficult one to answer, and it would be futile to try and decide whether or not Germany owes the Herero/Nama people reparations. Nevertheless, one must look at other formal apologies across history in order to realize why the Herero people so diligently push for reparations. On August 10, 1988 United States President Ronald Reagan and the US Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that issued an apology to the Japanese Americans whom the United States interned during World War II.  In this Act, the US government unequivocally issued not only an apology, but also a promise for reparations to Japanese-Americans who suffered as a result of internment. More recently, on February 13, 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave an apology on behalf of the government to the aborigines of Australia. In this speech, Rudd specifically used the word “apology” several times, and made reference to explicit things that the government apologizes for. These examples leave the Herero wondering, “why not us?”
While the governments of Germany and Namibia continue to enjoy a friendly relationship, the issues of genocide, reparations, and recognition still haunt the Herero and Nama populations today. The apology speech given in 2004 came at a time when the German government and Namibian government were on friendly terms, and had certain political implications, rather than fully apologetic ones. As such, the German government was able to give an apology speech to the Herero people, without actually following up with anything concrete. The development aide that Germany gives to Namibia most likely flows back into the hands of those who need it least—the landowners. The Herero continue to be underrepresented, as they make up only 7% of the population of Namibia today,  and the Herero still have not received any form of compensation for the genocide or misappropriation of land. Reparations for descendants of the genocide victims may never come, and justice may never be served for what happened, but that does not mean they should discontinue fighting.
Notes (back to top )
 Friedrich Freddy Omo Kustaa. “Germany’s Genocide in Namibia: The Case of the Herero and Nama People 1904—1907” Ovaherero Genocide Association USA. ovahererogenocideassociationusa.org/images/Documentpdfs/HereroGenocideBibliography.pdf .
 Ibid, 7.
 Kuvee Kangueehi. “Forget Reparations, Says Massing.” NewEra.com.August 18, 2004. www.newera.com/na/artice.php?db=oldarchive&articles (Accessed April 25, 2009).
 Wieczorek-Zeul, Heidemarie“Speech
at the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the suppression of the
Herero uprising, Okakarara, Namibia, 14 August 2004,” Trans Mattias Hanson.
Germany, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Windhoek. http://www.windhuk.diplo.de/Vertretung/windhuk/en/03/Bilaterale__Beziehungen/
 Luxemburg, Rosa. “Brauchen Wir Kolonien?” Leipziger Volkszeitung, December 4, 1899. Translated from http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_doclist.cfm?sub_id=129§ion_id=11
 Bley, Helmut. South-West Africa under German rule, 1894-1914. (Northwestern University Press, 1971). Pg. 3.
 Ibid, 3.
 Dreschler, 6
 Bley, pg. xxiv.
 Esterhuyse, J.H. South West Africa, 1880-1894: The establishment of German authority in South West Africa. (C. Struik, 1968). Pg. 17.
 This is an approximate date, used by Dreschler and a few others to signify the year that relations changed in the area.
 Soggot, David. Namibia the Violent Heritage, (Rex Collins, 1986). Pg.3.
 Ibid, 3.
 Ibid, 4.
 Bley, 3.
 Ibid, 4.
 It would be interesting and worth investigating to see who supplied the tribesmen with modern weapons, but that is not necessarily pertinent to this particular paper.
 Bley, 5.
 Drescher, 23.
 Ibid, 23.
 Bley, 6.
 Dreschler 18.
 Dreshler, 42.
 Ibid, 44.
 Ibid, 55.
 Report on the Natives of SWA and their treatment by Germans” in Soggot, pg. 8. Actual letter not in my possession.
 Ibid, 8.
 Ibid, 9.
 Hull, Isabel. Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany. (Cornell University Press, 2006). Pg.25.
 Ibid, 27.
 Bridgman, Job. The Revolt of the Hereros.(University Of California Press, 1981). Pg.122
 Ibid, 127.
 Ibid, 151.
 Gewald, 62.
 Soggot, 11.
 Bridgman, 151.
 Gewald, 63.
 The Kaiser on Southwest Africa: Reichstag Speech by Wilhelm II” (November 28, 1905). Trans. Adam Blauhut. In Die Reden Kaiser Wilhelms II [The Speeches of Kaiser Wilhelm II], edited by Johannes Penzler. 4 vols. Leipzig, n.d., volume 3, p. 289. http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=788.
 A Painful Reminder of German Colonialism” dw-world.de.August 11, 2004. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,1294643,00.html (accessed April 25, 2009).
 Utaara Hoveka. “Academic Urges Germany to Apologize” newera.com. July 30, 2005. Newera.com.na/article.php?db=old archives. (Accessed April 25, 2009).
 Herero V Deutsche Afrika-Linien GMBLT & Company. 01cv1868. (2004).
 ”Germany Urges Herero to Drop Lawsuit.” Dw-world.de. April 25, 2009. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,1287663,00.html (accessed April 25, 2009).
 Katuuo, Kustaa, Kamatuka, and Orondi, “Address to the German Government” Ovaherero Genocide Association USA. http://ovahererogenocideassociationusa.org/documents.html .
 Unam to Host Biggest Genocide Conference Yet.” Newera.com. August 11, 2004. Newera.com.na/article.php?db=oldarchives. (Accessed April 26, 2009).
 ”Germany Urges Herero to Drop Lawsuit” August 5, 2004.
 Wozny, Peter. “Remembering the Herero Rebellion.” dw-world.de. January 11, 2004. http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,1084266,00.html . (Accessed April 25, 2009).
 Massing, Wolfgang. “Massing now Shocked and Puzzled.” Newera.com. August 19, 2004. Newera.com.na/article.php?db=oldarchives. (Accessed April 25, 2009).
 See appendix A for full text of speech in German and appendix B for an English translation.
 Penelope, Julia. “The Agents Within” in Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies of the Fathers' Tongues (New York: Pergamon Press, 1990.) pg. 138.
 Ibid, 144.
 ”Speech at the Commemorations of the 100th Anniversary of the Suppression of the Herero.” Pg. 1.
 Ibid 2.
 Dreschler, 207.
 Gewald, Jan-Bard. “Imperial Germany and the Herero of Southern Africa: Genocide and the Quest for Recompense” in Adam Jones, Genocide, War Crimes and the West: History and Complicity.(Zed Books, 2004). Pg. 62.
 Penelope, 49
 Speech at the Commemorations of the 100th Anniversary of the Suppression of the Herero Uprising” 1.
 Bley, 57.
 Speech, 3.
 Gewald, 69.
 Hamata, Max. “Von Trotha Family Backs Herero Compensation.” Newera.com. September 9, 2004. Newera.com.na/article.php?db=oldarchives. (Accessed April 25, 2009). This should be taken with a grain of salt though, considering that the statement came from the von Trotha family. Obviously they would not want to admit that the extermination was solely von Trotha’s doing.
 “Speech at the Commemorations of the 100th Anniversary of the Suppression of the Herero uprising” 2.
 Address to the German Government” 4.
 “Speech at the Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Suppression of the Herero” 3.
 The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Namibia: Situation and Cooperation.” http://www.bmz.de/en/countries/partnercountries/namibia .
 “Speech at the Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Suppression of the Herero Uprising” 4.
 Ibid, 4.
 Address to the German Government” Ovaherero Genocide Association USA.
 Speech, 5.
 Statement by the Herero Genocide Committee in the USA in Response to Germany’s Proposed 160 Million Payment over a period of 10 years for the reconciliation program.” Namibian.com. May 23, 2005. www.namibian.com.na/news/full-story/archives/2005 . (Accessed May 3, 2009). [searched July 1, 2009, found only: "German offer lacks respect: US group], June 15, 2005: http://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?id=28&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=16383&no_cache=1.
 The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Namibia: Situation and Cooperation.” http://www.bmz.de/en/countries/partnercountries/namibia .
 United States Congress. Civil Liberties Act of 1988. August 10, 1988. http://www.civics-online.org/library/formatted/texts/civilact1988.html . (Accessed April 29, 2009).
 The CIA Factbook. “Namibia.” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/wa.html . Furthermore, the German government continues to be one of the largest exporters of Namibian minerals, and one suspects that this lucrative business is dictating foreign policy behind the scenes.
Bibliography and Links (back to top )(links last checked x/09)
Appendix (back to top )
Plagiarism Warning & Links (back to top )
Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi: