your connection to The Boston Globe

A Namibian people mark 1904 genocide

German minister issues an apology

HAMAKARI, Namibia -- Namibia's Herero people yesterday marked the centenary of a massacre seen as the first genocide of the 20th century, urging a visiting German minister to back compensation for the colonial atrocity.

Herero chief Kuaima Riruako told thousands of cheering supporters he had thrown away a prepared speech after listening to an acknowledgment of responsibility for the 1904 massacre from German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. "I couldn't read it because what was said here calmed me down," he told a crowd of about 7,000 at a farm on the edge of the Kalahari desert, 217 miles northeast of the capital, Windhoek.

"I am here to witness the apology and admission of guilt by the German government. I'm not here to refuse the apology. There must now be dialogue to finish the unfinished business."

Germany, Namibia's main source of development aid, has expressed "deep regret" for the killings in which an estimated 65,000 people died when German troops put down a Herero revolt and tried to wipe out the cattle-herding, seminomadic tribe.

But Germany has not made a formal apology as this may strengthen the case of those wanting to claim compensation, which Berlin refuses to pay.

The atrocities happened too long ago to file a civil suit in Germany and a $4 billion lawsuit filed in the United States is seen as having a limited chance of success. Flanked by a group of bare-chested Herero men chained together by the neck, and placard-carrying descendants of Herero women raped by German soldiers, Wieczorek-Zeul made a speech that she said amounted to an apology.

"I am painfully aware of the atrocities committed . . . I remember with great respect your ancestors who died fighting against German oppression," she said. "We Germans accept our historical and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time. . . . So in the words of the Lord's Prayer that we share I ask you to forgive us our trespasses."

At that point several people in the listening crowd -- many carrying red, white or green tribal flags -- cried out saying: "Where is the apology?"

"Everything I said in my speech was an apology for crimes committed under German colonial rule," the minister replied, to scattered applause.

Her speech followed a ceremony in which many Herero rode on horseback, while others paraded in long dresses or German colonial-style military uniforms.

"How is Germany going to own up to the apology? There has to be a form of redress, the injustice has to be undone," said Kaiere Mbuende, a Herero, and former government official.

The Hereros revolted when German soldiers and settlers colonized southwest Africa.

The settlers seized land and cattle, raped women, lynched men and hunted down Herero, whom they sometimes called "baboons" according to "Words Cannot Be Found," a new edition of the British government's 1918 account of German occupation.

"I see myself as a Namibian," said Michaela Hubschle, a woman farmer of German descent. "I fully support the case for reparation -- the minister's apology was important but there has to be dialogue," she said.

Germany, which has paid billions in compensation for victims of the Holocaust, has argued that the Hereros have no case for compensation because international laws on the protection of the civilian population did not exist at the time of the conflict.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives