Genocide: Ovaherero, Nama ready for long haul

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Windhoek – Representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama communities say they are prepared to take their pursuit for justice over Germany’s 1904-1908 genocide in Namibia all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Their legal claim is in respect of the massacre of tens of thousands of people in what is now Namibia by Germany’s colonial troops, widely acknowledged as the first genocide of the 20th century.

The court action is separate from ongoing talks between the Namibian and German governments over the genocide.

On September 24 this year, the US Circuit Court of Appeal dismissed the genocide case citing lack of jurisdiction, but expressed its belief that the Nama Traditional Leaders Association and the Herero Traditional Authority had genuine grievances.

This week, Paramount Chief, Advocate Vekuii Rukoro, Ombara Otjitambi of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, and Gaob: Johannes Isaack of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association said they were appealing the verdict.

“We have reviewed the (Circuit Court of Appeal) decision and we see a fundamental legal error at its heart. Thus, we instructed our attorneys in New York to file a petition for rehearing and for en banc proceedings.

“The en banc petition will be put to a vote by the entire Second Circuit, which will decide whether or not to rehear and withdraw the flawed decision. We expect to file our en banc petition very soon, around the first week of October, and we promise to share it broadly after it is filed,” they said in a statement.

 “We knew from the onset that this is a marathon and not a 100m dash and we are in it for the long haul, if need be all way to the US Supreme Court. The merits of the case were not even considered, and the Germans - by hiding behind technicalities - can for a while pop champagne bottles in celebration of the hollow ‘victory’, the smart Germans themselves know that there’s nothing to celebrate as their nightmare is (about) to become more complex.”

On January 12, 1904 the Ovaherero - led by Chief Samuel Maherero - rebelled against German colonial rule.

From August of that year, following the Battle of Waterberg, Germany’s General Lothar von Trotha issued an exyermination order and drove the Ovaherero into the desert in the Omaheke Region, where many died of thirst when the Germans poisoned wells and the few other water sources after 

In October 1904, the Nama also rebelled against the Germans only to suffer a similar fate.

Estimates say when the uprising started, there were around 80,000 Ovaherero but by 1907 there were just 15,000.

In 1985, the United Nations Whitaker Report classified this as an attempt to exterminate the Ovaherero and Nama people.

The government of Germany acknowledged its guilt in 2004 but has ruled out any financial compensation.

At bilateral level, Namibia’s government this year rejected Germany’s offer for financial compensation after Berlin refused to call the settlement “reparations”.

Authorities in Berlin want the terminology of any agreement to instead refer to “healing the wounds”.

The Namibian government wants Germany to pay reparations, with the money going to identified projects in the areas of water provision, rural and peri-urban electrification, road network construction, housing, education, vocational training, value addition, agricultural development and land acquisition.

This will benefit the Kharas, Hardap, Khomas, Kunene, Omaheke, Otjozondjupa and Erongo regions where affected communities predominantly reside.

In the five years of negotiations, there have been eight rounds of talks while the Special Cabinet Committee on Genocide, Apology and Reparations Chaired by the Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba has met at least 15 times.

A key outcome has been Germany’s acceptance of a “political and moral responsibility” to “render an unconditional apology to the Namibian government, her people and in particular the affected communities”.

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