Op-Ed

An Apology is Not Enough: Germany, Genocide and the Limits of Reparations for Namibia

After more than 100 years, Germany will finally acknowledge its genocide in Namibia. An apology is not enough, writes Perivi John Katjavivi.

In his book, “Traumas Lost and Found”, Mark Wolynn outlines how a well-documented feature of trauma is our inability to articulate what happens to us. I’ve long recognized my country, Namibia, as a place where the past is seldom engaged. Where the stark inequalities and the still obvious racial divide is ignored in favour of a few glimpses of multiculturalism. Instead, fragments of memory, pain and loss are buried deep in our unconscious waiting to reemerge someday.


They emerged for me again a few years ago when I visited the grave of my grandfather. We had to ask the local white farm owner permission to enter the farm where my grandfather is buried. This is not uncommon. Some of the Herero were brought back to these ancestral lands after the genocide as cheap labor. Many others were sent to the reservations, which to this day remain poor inhospitable parts of the country. This is the relationship we now have with the land. It is an example of how bizarre the situation is and how the past and the present are not predetermined spaces that do not converge. Instead, this is rather personal.

After more than 100 years, Germany will finally acknowledge its genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia. Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said her country will formally recognize and apologize for the systematic murder of Namibia’s Herero people more than a century ago. The governments of both Germany and Namibia are currently in talks to finalise the terms of the apology.

The genocide is considered the first of the twentieth century, and was carried out between 1904 to 1907. German troops oversaw the extermination of 80 percent of the Herero population. Of the more than 80,000 Herero population, only 15,000 survived. The Germans subsequently seized their land, their cattle and placed Herero and Nama prisoners in concentration camps.

The women in the camps were forced to dig up Herero graves and skin the skulls of their dead relatives. The skulls were transported to Germany where they were used in experiments to prove German superiority. At least 300 heads were taken to German laboratories. Many of these skulls were returned to Namibia in 2011.

I attended and filmed the ceremony at the Charité Universitätsmedizin in Berlin. Present was a government delegation from Namibia, and many members of the affected Nama and Herero communities. It was an emotional event which saw some of our Namibian elders insist they personally knew the identities of some of the returning skulls. The genocide was a testing ground for the racist eugenics theorist Eugen Fischer and for the occultist ideas that would later fuel Nazism.

Merkel’s government has been quick to insist that there will be no reparations, but rather targeted development projects. The coloniser dictates the terms of peace as well as war. What negotiations are taking place behind the scenes and how do they differ from the compromises that were made at independence?

At the 1992 land conference in Namibia, our first black Prime Minister, Hage Geingob, rejected the idea of land reformation based on ancestral land claims. But the spirits are restless and whether it is the ancestors or our unconscious drive to relive past events this remains something that deeply affects many Namibians today. It has to be dealt with honestly and openly.

I remember watching Germany win the World Cup in 2014. In the games leading up to the final, the site of German flags on cars parked outside bars throughout Windhoek was unavoidable. A brown-skinned boy interviewed by a local NBC crew reminded us that “we are a German country now.” Fanon would have a field day.

I wanted to partly embrace this New Germany with its position as the centre of a unified Europe (at least then.) They were a football team filled with Turkish and Polish immigrants. An image of a unified country as well as a unified Europe. However I found little here that resembled the attitudes of German Namibians. The bars many German Namibians filled up to watch the football are the sorts of places that routinely get accused of assaulting and / or of not serving black patrons. Is this the German country the young man spoke of?

These bars like Andy’s and Joe’s Beer House are decorated with old racist insignia. There was even a special Hitler birthday party at The Little Italian—a pizza restaurant in our capital city Windhoek. But it’s not just the attitudes but the architecture and the old colonial/Apartheid design of the city that is equally depressing. One of our streets was named after a heroic Namibian liberation fighter: Mandume Ndemufayo. The street ends at a memorial park which serves as a tribute to the colonial soldiers who killed and cut off Mandume’s head. It is this sort of schizophrenia that permeates the national conscience.

We know that the government of the Republic of Namibia could trace the genealogy of every white family in Namibia and send a massive bill to the descendants of every land owner and every person who engineered and benefitted from the genocide. That money could be redistributed in a large sum. However one has to seriously doubt whether that money would change unhealthy dietary habits, or enhance education skills, or teach the knowledge that seems to drive successful communities.

Rather we must acknowledge the fact that the wealth of nations is built on their human capital. One of the great myths of our time is that the political independence of the African continent released us from the horrors of our colonial past. Today’s white Namibians inherit assets and human capital that have been accumulated for over 100 years. Colonialism is treated as being ancillary rather than being fundamental.

We have an empty policy of reconciliation in Namibia which continues to support policies which go out of the way to accommodate the coloniser; the privileged; the one percent. And it is the perverted collusion between government, business, cheap black labor and white minority capital that continue to restrict the possibilities of an honest engagement with the past and a plan for the future that will benefit all Namibians.

In his article in The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations. However he argues for more than just compensation for past injustices—what he calls “a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe.” He calls instead for something that would lead to a spiritual renewal. For Coates, reparations would mean “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”

I call for the same.

Perivi John Katjavivi is a Namibian filmmaker and writer. His first feature The Unseen played in competition at the Durban International Film Festival this year. He holds an MA in African Cinema from the University of Cape Town and continues to pursue work in academia. He also serves as Chairman of the Filmmakers Association of Namibia.

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OkayAfrica and B4Bonah Share New 'B4Beginning' Capsule Collection

We've teamed up with the Ghanaian artist ahead of the release of his debut project for some colorful new merch.

Rising Ghanaian star B4Bonah, premieres his catchy debut track "See Body," and to mark the song's release, OkayAfrica has teamed up with the artist to share a new collection of tees, that'll fit nicely into your summer wardrobe.

The artist's latest track is a party jam, that sees him flowing "over an earworm flute melody and afrobeats percussion," using "his rasping flow to celebrate the girl of his dreams." The track was produced by J.Rocs.

B4Bonah - See Body www.youtube.com

In conjunction with the song's release, two new shirt designs are available for preorder at our Okayshop. The vibrant shirts feature the artist's image on colorful blue and green colored blocks, with the words "B4BONAH B4BEGINNING," on the back—referencing the artist's debut mixtape, which is slated for release in late July. The project features Medikal, Mugeez (R2Bees), Amaarae & Ivy Sole.


B4Bonah is an artist to watch, as he continues to make his presence known in the Ghanaian music scene.

Watch the music video for "See Body" above, and head to shop.okayplayer.com now to pick up to pre-order a shirt (or two). You can also preorder B4Bonah's B4beginning mixtape here.

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Watch EL, Joey B and Falz' New Video for 'Ehua'

Ghana meets Nigeria in this hilarious new clip.

Ghanaian rappers EL and Joey B connect with Nigeria's Falz for this addictive new collaboration and music video for "Ehua."

"Ehua" is built on energetic afro-electronic beat work produced by EL himself. Joey B handles the hook while Falz kicks things off early with a solid verse.

The eye-catching and hilarious music video for the single, directed by Yaw Skyface, features EL as a policeman, Falz as the 'oga' bossman, and Joey B as a worker for the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG).

Falz takes Joey B's woman by showing off his money and status, so Joey B enlists policeman EL to get back at Falz. The plan backfires however as the officer decides to stick around and party with the rich instead of helping the everyday worker out.

For more GH hits check out our Best Ghanaian Songs of the Month roundups and follow our GHANA WAVE playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Watch the new music video for EL, Joey B and Falz' "Ehua" below.

EL ft Joey B & Falz - Ehua (Official Video) youtu.be


News Brief
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Nigeria's Super Falcons Were Forced To Threaten a Sit-In Protest Over Unpaid Bonuses After Women's World Cup

After negotiations, the Nigerian Football Federation have agreed to run the players their money.

Nigeria's own Super Falcons had a great run during the Women's World Cup. But instead of the players heading back home or to their respective professional clubs after losing to Germany 3-0, they were forced to strong-arm the Nigerian Football Federation to pay what they're owed.

According to ESPN's initial report over the weekend, the Super Falcons threatened to stage a sit-in protest at their hotel in France until all of their unpaid bonuses dating back to two years ago were paid, along with their World Cup allowances and bonuses.

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