Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Descendants of German genocide survivors face uphill battle for reparations

A system created by westerners is making it extremely difficult for descendants of survivors of genocide perpetrated by a western nation to get reparations. Part of this maze is an apparent divide-and-conquer strategy that western nations have typically used to subdue Africans.

The descendants in question are those of Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama who survived the German genocide between 1904 and 1908 and fled to Botswana. At the time, what is now Namibia was a German colony called German South West Africa. Through two “extermination orders”, German troops instituted a genocidal project to exterminate Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama who were resisting Germany’s colonialist excesses. Those descendants have now formed an organisation called the Botswana Society for Nama, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu (BOSNOO) to prosecute their right to get reparations from Germany. This follows announcement that Germany will pay compensation to descendants of genocide survivors in Namibia only. This decision was taken despite well-known and incontrovertible fact that some survivors fled to Botswana.

In essence, those who remained in Namibia and those who fled to Botswana suffered the same fate, which BOSNOO’s Secretary General, Reverend Rupert Hambira, details in a September 3, 2021 letter to the German Embassy in Gaborone. In the letter, Hambira writes that the victim communities were “dispossessed of their land, their livestock raided and as a result reduced to poverty.” Additionally, they suffered “savage, brutal and inhumane raping, killing and incarceration as well as interrogation of the children and women with guns, spears, bayonets, knives.” By way of introducing BOSNOO in the first paragraph, Hambira describes its members as “descendants of the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama, who survived the genocide at your hands and found refuge in this land (Botswana) more than a century ago.”

Courtesy of diplomatic protocols created by westerners, BOSNOO is facing an uphill battle. While victim communities fled to Botswana and South Africa, Namibian-German negotiations didn’t cover descendants in the former countries. That is because in terms of international law (whose main and real architects are western) Namibia doesn’t have jurisdiction over survivor descendants in Botswana and South Africa. When the negotiations ended, Germany (which had earlier apologised for the genocide) agreed to pay P13.4 billion to the Namibian descendants over 30 years. In terms of this deal, the money will be used for “reconstruction, reconciliation and development projects.”

Notwithstanding the fact that they now live in Botswana as a direct result of the German genocide, Batswana descendants will not be benefitting from this money. To the unwitting, BOSNOO might look like an opportunistic venture that was inspired by announcement that Germany would be paying billions of pula to Namibia. The fact of the matter though is that way before the deal in question was sealed, way before Germany even apologised, Batswana representatives of what became BOSNOO approached the German Embassy. Hambira’s letter reveals as much. During such engagement, the ambassador stated “categorically stated” that she was “not in a position to open a second channel of discussions” and “advised us to seek audience with the Namibian Government for easier tackling of the matter.” There is no way the Ambassador would not have known that Namibia couldn’t negotiate on behalf of victim communities that now hold Botswana and South African citizenship.

At the time the Namibia-Germany deal was announced, Nichodimas Cooper, a Nama descended from genocide survivors and board member of the BW Nama Development Trust, told Sunday Standard that the Trust engaged Botswana’s Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation and Office of the President as well as the Namibian High Commission and German Embassy.

“Their position was that genocide never took place in Botswana and that they cannot be of assistance,” said Cooper, adding that such response left Botswana Nama to “wander on our own like lost sheep.”

The fact of the matter though is that not only did the German genocide overspill into Botswana, there is photographic evidence that proves it did. The commander of the German forces, General Lothar von Trotha, sent his troops into Botswana in pursuit of fleeing Nama refugees. It was von Trotha himself who had issued the two extermination orders. The invasion in question led to the slaughter of 58 Nama, including women, at Seatsub (also known as Sizatswe) in the Kgalagadi Desert, right inside Botswana. German army photographers took pictures of this invasion and the Germans have never denied that they crossed into Botswana to slaughter the Nama. Cooper, who has carried out extensive research on the Nama genocide in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, says that it is “shocking” that well-documented evidence that shows more than 300 soldiers German Schutztruppe with 710 camels invading Botswana to slaughter Nama refugees is still considered inadequate.

Some three weeks ago, Sunday Standard sought clarification from the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation about its reported position on this matter. Such clarification had not been provided when we went to press last Friday. The March 16, 1908 massacre aside the government would be hard pressed to explain the presence of Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama communities in Botswana. As Hambira’s letter states, these refuges “were dispossessed of their land, their livestock raided and as a result reduced to poverty.” In that regard, Botswana has citizens who were literally robbed by Germany and is obliged to prosecute their claims for reparations.

In his letter but only in reference to the 1904-1908 period, Hambira uses a very useful term: “divide-and-rule.” He writes that in an effort to advance her interests, imperial Germany “devised divide-and-rule tactics that also sought to pit these victims or affected communities and their leaders against one another.” Germany, a powerful national that holds all the aces, has managed to divide descendants of the survivors. While it knows full well that the descendants of the survivors who suffered similar fate at the hands of German troops live in three different countries, it chose to engage with those living in only one country. While some Namibians are greatly displeased with what they see as a raw deal, it is highly unlikely that German-Namibian negotiations can be started over. The solution is an obvious one: multi-lateral talks between Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Germany. It would also be costlier for Germany.

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