Namibians of German descent cannot do much about the atrocities committed by their forefathers but they can show empathy and a willingness to find ways to address such history and tackle the past, Political Scientist Henning Melber has stated.
Melber’s views come at a time when the Namibian and German governments are involved in marathon negotiations over the 1904-08 Nama/Ovaherero Genocide. Affected groups have also dragged the German government to a US court over the matter.
“We cannot ignore that the social injustice existing today has its root causes in the colonial past and that most of us German-Namibians directly or indirectly were beneficiaries of this past. Our privileges are based on injustices committed earlier on,” Melber said in an interview with this publication this week.
Melber, who describes himself as a patriotic Namibian, is seen as traitor by some Germans in Namibia as an antagonist for advocating the need for restitution for the Herero and Nama genocide.
“Normally I call myself a ‘German born Namibian living in Sweden’, which for me personally summarises the closest how I feel and define myself. My main point of reference beyond my family (wife and daughter) has been the more than 50 years I spent in Namibia since my arrival as a son of German immigrants to the country then called South West Africa in 1967. I have several homes, physically and spiritually, but Namibia is the main one, where ever I live. Namibia changed my life decisively” shared Melber.
Melber however stressed that it is important for Namibian-Germans to enter dialogue with those who are descendants of people who had suffered under German colonial and South African white settler-colonial rule.
“Not because we as Namibian-Germans are responsible for what happened, but because we are responsible for dealing with the past in the present to seek a common future as Namibians of different origins and histories, as descendants of victims and perpetrators” said Melber.
He further added that too many Namibian- Germans (including the so-called Southwesterners) are living in their own world, which hardly relates to the daily social realities of other Namibians. “They mainly interact socially with other Namibian-Germans, listen to the German radio stations, watch German television and read their local German daily newspaper. As a result, they miss out on many relevant Namibian matters discussed as concerning other Namibians. They should be less autistic and more willing to enter dialogue in search of commonalities among Namibians. We do not have to sacrifice our specific identities, but we should be more aware of the identities of others, their emotions, their histories, their perceptions. If we do not interact, we will contribute to the cultivation of stereotypes and make no use of the opportunity to be people who join the search for a peaceful future for all in this country. Many Namibian-Germans are afraid and feel under siege. But this is to some extent self-inflicted, because they have never undertaken any serious effort to interact with others beyond the daily level of a domestic or a gardener or someone else in a subservient position. We need to be courageous enough to enter meaningful exchanges to secure a deserved place in society” said Melber.
Earlier this month local Namibian-German artist Eric Sell, better known as Ees, called for a cleaning campaign on Independence Day, a move which drew mixed emotions in the public space.
Critics of the campaign have opined that Ees’s voice would have been more relevant on key national issues such as the Herero and Nama genocide.
Ees explained to this publication that as a proud Namibian with German roots just like any proud Namibian with Oshiwambo or Otjiherero roots: “it would be great if they (genocide negotiations) could be dealt with urgently, that way we can sort them out and move forward- because being stuck in the past will not give us the opportunity to move forward to a prosperous Namibia”.
According to the musician, his position on the matter is not unique compared to other Namibians and expressed that labelling people into certain groups only divides the nation and what a healthy Namibia needs, is unity.
“I think we should always celebrate our Namibian Independence and honour the people that sacrificed their lives for the freedom we have today. One of the many ways to show your respect to our freedom fighters is to try to continuously improve the wellbeing of our country and keeping it clean. It is a day in the year we should all be very proud of and I guess it will hurt nobody to clean up for an hour and then celebrate and party the other 23 hours. Cleaning is not only a once off thing, but it should be all through the year, however Independence Day is a great opportunity to start the movement in my opinion” explained Ees.
IPPR Research Associate Maximilian Weylandt, who also hails from a German background, said “we cannot pretend that nothing happened — the genocide and the colonial era shaped Namibia and harmed communities in profound ways that are still very apparent today.
To be silent on the genocide could be interpreted as wanting to ignore it, and that cannot happen. That said, while we need to openly talk about this history, I personally think that it is also very important right now for the German-Namibian community, and for the German government, to listen to those whose communities were harmed by the genocide and the colonial government more broadly,” Weylandt indicated.
Although he does not have sufficient details about the ongoing negotiations, he hopes the German government will take the grievances of the affected groups seriously.
“Of course, we cannot go back and change what happened in the past, but it is very important to address our history with humility and seriousness” he said.