Kwame Opoku: Return of stolen skulls by Germany to Namibia: Closure of a horrible chapter?
Refuting in detail the arguments proffered by Germany on the questions of apology and compensation for the genocide of the Herero and the Nama, Dr Kwame Opoku notes that the Namibia-Germany case is being keenly observed by other African peoples and states with unresolved issues relating to the colonial era.
‘I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people. The Herero are no longer German subjects. They have murdered and stolen, they have cut off the ears and other parts of the bodies of wounded soldiers, and now out of cowardice they no longer wish to fight. I say to the people: anyone who hands over one of the chiefs to one of our stations as prisoner shall receive 1,000 marks and whoever delivers Samuel Maharero will receive 5,000 marks. The Herero people must however leave the land. If the people refuse to do so, I shall force them with the Great Rohr [cannon]. Any Herero found within the German borders, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I no longer receive women or children. I will drive them back to their people or order them to be shot. These are my words to the Herero people.
The great General of the mighty German Kaiser.’
Vernichtungsbefehl (Extermination Order) by the German commander, General Lothar von Trotha.
In connection with the recent return to Namibia of 20 skulls of Namibians that were taken to Germany during the German colonial rule in South West Africa, now Namibia, Nahas Angula, Prime Minister of Namibia is reported to have declared at the airport: ‘The Namibian nation accepts these mortal remains as a symbolic closure of a tragic chapter.’ 
With all due respect, the return of the 20 skulls surely cannot be a symbolic closure of a tragic chapter in the history of Germany and Namibia. At best, the handing over could be regarded as a symbolic beginning of a process that may close this incredible chapter of cruelty and criminality organised by a European state against African peoples. German rule in South West Africa (1884-1915) was marked by singular brutality, disregard of the human rights of Namibians, confiscation of land and cattle, coupled with exploitation of the human and material resources of the vast colony. The massacres of the Herero and the Nama were the first genocides of the 20th century, a period that was to be distinguished by many other atrocities including Nazi genocides. 
As far as I know, the Germans have not accepted their full responsibility and do not appear willing to make the necessary compensation for the loss and pains suffered by the Herero and Nama and to make a formal apology at the highest state level as they have done several times for the victims of Nazi atrocities. How can we speak of the ‘closure of a tragic chapter’ when the Germans have not declared their willingness to compensate the victims of the atrocious massacres and the expropriation of land and seizure of cattle? They do not seem to be willing to compensate Namibians to the same extent as they compensated the victims of Nazi atrocities.
The arguments advanced in support of Germany not rendering apology and not paying compensation have been, to say the least, perverse:
- That for Germany to pay compensation to one ethnic group, the Herero, would upset the policy of national reconciliation pursued by Namibia. During the commemoration ceremony in January 2004, the German ambassador to Namibia restated his government’s position: ‘It would not be justified to compensate one specific ethnic group for their suffering during the colonial times, as this could reinforce ethnic tensions and thus undermine the policy of national reconciliation which we fully support.’ 
- That the crime of genocide was only established in 1948 by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (UN genocide convention) and thus the killing of colonial peoples in 1904–08 was not a crime in international law when the Germans launched their war of extermination against the Herero.
- That German development aid to Namibia already covers or includes the compensation sought by the Herero.
These arguments are really unworthy of Germany. However, in this as in the question of the return of looted art objects from Africa, it seems any absurd argument appears acceptable to Western governments instead of returning the objects or paying compensation where relevant. Who would have thought that in our time the Germans would be responding to the descendants of the victims of the German war of extermination with such arguments? The above arguments are surprising in view of the background to Namibia–German relations.
It is an extraordinary argument for Germany to advance Namibian policy on national unity as grounds for not paying compensation to Namibians whom they have deprived of their land, cattle and forced to work without pay in the colonial days. Since when has Namibian national unity been a concern of Germany that always supported apartheid South Africa in its cruel, racist and segregationist rule in Namibia? Namibia’s policy regarding national reconciliation is clearly not the business of Germany. Namibia did not interfere with Germany’s policy of re-unification between East and West Germany.
To use the present Namibian policy of reconciliation as grounds for not paying compensation to Namibians deprived of their land and cattle during the colonial rule is an argument that can only be advanced by colonialists and former colonialists. Is this a further attempt to create dissension among the various peoples of Namibia by creating the impression that one ethnic group is seeking compensation for colonial suffering at the expense of others who also suffered under colonial rule? Why does the German government not try to answer the claims of the Herero and Nama and then deal with other demands as they come? If other groups also have claims, and I have no doubt that the cruel colonialist rule brought sufferings to all Namibians, these claims should also be specifically presented but dealt with separately. Seeking refuge in a possible upset for Namibian policies of national reconciliation is a cheap trick that will not abolish or reduce the responsibility of Germany to compensate for genocide, expropriation of land, confiscation of cattle, forced labour, internment in concentration or labour camps, forced prostitution for the pleasure of German soldiers and other unmentionable cruelties.
Can anybody seriously argue that before the adoption of the UN genocide convention in 1948 it was legal to kill colonial peoples and go free? What about the duty of ‘preservation of the native tribes’ contained in Article 6 of the General Act of the Berlin Conference of 1885 by which the colonialist and imperialist powers divided Africa among themselves and established guidelines for the colonisation of Africa? Rachel Anderson who has pursued this issue in detail concluded that: ‘International legal prohibitions against some forms of genocide, such as wars of annihilation, developed long before their codification in the U.N. Genocide Convention and were embedded in both treaty and customary law by the late nineteenth century.
An analysis of international law during the early twentieth century shows that the war of annihilation waged by the German colonial administration against the Herero nation violated several treaties to which Germany was a signatory, as well as customary law of the period. Most scholars do not dispute that Germany waged a war of annihilation against the Hereros. There is ample evidence that the Hereros endured slavery, forced labor, concentration camps, medical experimentation, destruction of tribal culture and social organizations, and systematic abuse of women and children.’ 
Germany cannot be serious in arguing that before the adoption of the convention on genocide in 1948 it was legal to kill Africans who had done nothing more than defending their land and livestock from an aggressor that had travelled thousands of miles from Europe with evil intentions. Behind this argument of defenders of colonial genocide is the usual European line of defence: we must judge past periods not by today’s standards but those of the relevant past period. Fortunately, as regards the brutal German killings of the Herero in 1904–08, the laws in 1904 and present laws all prohibit such activities. Jeremy Sarkin has stated in his excellent book, ‘Colonial Genocide and Reparations in the 21st Century’ that: ‘While specific codified instruments were in their infancy in international law in the nineteenth century, international agreements existed even in international criminal law, instruments such as the 2878 Lima Treaty to Establish Uniform Rules for Private International Law and the 1889 Montevideo Treaty on International Penal Law. Already at that time various branches of international law, especially international humanitarian law (1864 Geneva Convention), provided protection for individuals and groups. Additionally, international protection for individuals and groups at the time was found not only in international humanitarian law but also other international legal regulations such as those governing slavery and piracy.’ 
To confuse German development assistance with the specific demands of the Herero for compensation for land and cattle expropriated during the colonial era must surprise all reasonable persons. These are obviously two different issues that cannot and should not be mixed. Besides, if the compensation were included in development assistance, then that portion should be clearly stated and indicated. In any case, it is legally not acceptable that those seeking compensation for forced labour, concentration camps, false medical experimentation, systematic abuse of women and confiscation of land could be answered by reference to assistance to their state.
Would Germany have advanced such an argument in the case of the victims of Nazi aggression and atrocities? Development assistance should not be allowed to obscure or confuse historical facts of genocide and expropriation of land and cattle. If development aid included compensation for the Herero and Nama, the Germans would have to explain the basis for such compensation. Is it legal or moral? If it is moral, what moral would this be? And does that moral forbid making a clear and straightforward compensation to those whose cattle and land they confiscated?
Jeremy Sarkin has argued that the much vaunted claim that Namibia receives the highest level of aid from Germany may be untrue: ‘In addition, Germany’s claim that Namibia receives the highest levels of aid seems to be false. Between 1985 and 2001 Namibia was in absolute terms only twenty-third on the list of African receivers of aid from Germany. The amount given has been about $20 million per year, while Egypt as the highest recipient received more than $220 million per year. If only the post-independence years are considered, Namibia’s position as a receiver of aid from Germany improves to twentieth position.’ 
At the handing over ceremony of the 20 skulls to a Namibian delegation on 28 September 2011, at the Medical Museum of the Charité Hospital, Berlin, the German state-secretary in the office of foreign affairs who was present, left the hall immediately after her speech and before the Namibians spoke. Cornelia Pieper was booed by other Germans at the ceremony. There was no formal apology for the massacre of the Herero, the Nama and the Damara from the German government which had declined two days earlier to take part in discussions on the issue organised by Africavenir and other German NGOs. 
It appears evident that the German government is not willing to recognise the historical German governmental responsibility for the massacre of the Herero and the Nama. They are acting as if the question of the return of human remains is a matter between the Charité Hospital and the Herero. One does not need much reflection to realise that this is a responsibility that lies squarely with the German government and not with the hospitals and the museums that are keeping the skulls and bones. The NGOs expressed an apology for the genocide committed against the Herero and the Nama by German colonial troops; they also established a book of condolence in memory of the victims of the German genocide in Namibia 1904–08, which they handed over to the Namibian delegation.  It was left to the NGOs to save the honour of Germany. Incidentally, no German minister or official was at the airport to welcome the Namibian delegation. It was met by representatives of the NGOs.
To close this shameful and tragic chapter in the history of their lawless and cruel rule in Namibia, Germans would have to do a little more than return a few skulls. They have to disclose fully the number of human skulls they sent to Berlin and other German hospitals and universities; only they could do this. They are known for keeping accurate records even under the most testing conditions.Taking into account the number of Herero that the Germans massacred – some 60,000 – and the keen interest of German ethnologists, such as Luschan and the evil medical professor Dr Eugen Fischer, in obtaining human skulls, there must be thousands of such remains in German natural history and ethnological museums and universities. 
According to Zimmermann: ‘Today, the physical anthropology of the Berlin Anthropological Society can be found in the attic and cellar of the Berlin Museum of Natural History. The collection consists of over six thousand skulls as well as dried skin, hair, plaster casts of faces, heads, hands, and feet, postcranial skeletons, and perhaps even parts that have remained packed in boxes since the Second World War. The cooperation between the Berlin anthropologists and the German colonial state transformed administrators and soldiers into anthropological collectors and colonial raids and massacres into scientific expeditions.’ 
There are still some 12,000 human remains in the University of Frankfurt, Dresden Völkerkunde Museum, in the Charité, Berlin, 7,000 (minus the 20 recently returned to Namibia), and an unknown number in the Arbeitstelle fur Geschichte der Medizin, University of Marburg. Berlin, Bonn, Bremen, Cologne, Dresden, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Rostock and other German cities all have such skeletons in their museums and other institutions. We do not know how many of these human remains came from Namibia but, taking into account the history of German activities in this area, we can assume that many came from Namibia. We also do not know how many Namibian human remains have been transferred by Germany to other European countries, such as Austria, by way of exchange or through sale. There is therefore a need for Germany to return more human remains to Namibia and to give a full account of the many human remains that were taken from Namibia.
The handing over of the Namibian human remains by the Germans was, by all accounts, a complete diplomatic disaster. Not only did the German representative at the handing over leave before the Namibians spoke but also the German government refused to receive the delegation in an appropriate manner. The Namibians left Germany feeling that the Germans still regard them as inferior; they must have been reminded of the period when the Germans treated Namibians as ‘Untermenschen’, sub-humans. Servas van der Bosch reported in the Inter Press Service News Agency as follows: ‘The handover in Berlin was marked by the walkout of a German minister of state Cornelia Pieper, whose speech was disrupted by protests. So far, Germany has failed to apologise for the massacre, and it refuses to pay reparations. The Namibian delegation was angered by her departure.
"We are here to receive the skulls of our ancestors," Hengari Erenfried told IPS, while hoping to catch a glimpse of the precious remains. "These are our grandparents that were brutally killed by the Germans. The Germans definitely have to pay."
"We want them to acknowledge that they killed our people," said Katjivikua. "That they desecrated their bodies and cut off their heads. Among those skulls is a four-year old child. That is so painful. The Germans must pay. Why can they pay other tribes that they killed like the Jews? Because they are white?"’ 
Cornelia Pieper’s speech was clearly a regression from the position taken on 14 August 2004 by the German minister for economic cooperation at the commemoration of the battle of Ohamakari, near Waterberg. Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul expressed regrets and remorse in fairly general terms. Earlier in 1998 the German State President Herzog had refused to make any formal apology during a visit to Namibia, even though he expressed his regrets at the ‘massacre’ of the Herero. Wieczorek-Zeul recognised the political, moral and ethical responsibility of the Germans for the war of extermination instituted by Lothar von Trotha against the Herero and Nama but stopped short of accepting legal responsibility for the consequences of that war even though she stated that the German war against the Herero would be regarded today as genocide and General von Trotha would be tried before an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. When asked to apologise, she said her whole statement was in that direction. However, the word ‘apology’ was not used in her delivered statement. The Germans are willing to say ‘sorry’ but are not willing to make a formal apology or to engage in any discussions on compensation. 
Wieczorek-Zeul asked the Namibians to forgive the Germans for their fault in the sense of the Christian prayer, ‘Our Father’. She added that without remembrance, without deep sorrow, there can be no reconciliation. Reconciliation requires remembrance. This statement by Wieczorek-Zeul was far ahead of what any senior German official had said up to 2004 and went beyond the declaration of the German parliament on 16 June 2004, ‘In commemoration of the victims of the Colonial War in the former German South West Africa’. In this declaration, ‘the German Bundestag acknowledges a special political and moral responsibility towards Namibia’ and ‘extends its deeply felt regrets and its sorrow to the suppressed African peoples. In doing that we wish to make a contribution to restore the dignity and honour of tens of thousands of victims.’ Reference was also made to the 500 million euros that Germany had allocated to Namibia since independence in 1990. 
Cornelia Pieper, representing Germany, failed to seize a historic occasion to improve relations between the two countries. The German government is not willing to assume its full responsibility – moral, historic and legal – for the genocide of the Herero and the Nama. True that the unfortunate state-secretary had said in her speech that ‘The Federal Government recognizes the grave historical legacy and the resulting moral and historical responsibility of Germany towards Namibia’ , but there was nothing else in Pieper’s speech that indicated that the Germans were ready to recognise their responsibility, especially their legal responsibility and duty to make the necessary compensation to the victims of the German genocide and to compensate for the land and cattle they confiscated. Germans seem to have forgotten the slogan that there shall be no expropriation without compensation. The reference to ‘historical legacy and the resulting moral and historical responsibility’ sounds good but when closely examined turns out not to be much of a concession on the part of Germany.
The historical legacy and historical responsibility are well established by Germany’s own records. The moral responsibility flows from the records regarding the perpetrators and those who employed or instructed them to commit the atrocities. Not even Germany would deny this. The one responsibility the German government left out is the legal responsibility. But does the legal responsibility exist independently, outside the historical, i.e. factual situation, and the moral responsibility for genocide and expropriation? Do legal rules, apart from the texts, exist without any context or moral framework? Do the rules operate in a vacuum, outside a specific societal context? How can the Germans recognise their heavy historical legacy and the resulting moral and historical responsibility and still refuse to apologise to the Herero and Nama for their atrocities or to compensate for the land and cattle they confiscated?
By all moral standards, if not by all laws, a person who causes damage is required generally, at least, to make compensation. It is our submission that once you accept the factual, i.e. historical responsibility, and the moral responsibility for a heinous and serious crime such as genocide, the legal liability is inescapable. What consequences that liability entails would normally have to be determined by a third instance, preferably a tribunal. That the perpetrators of genocide and other unspeakable crimes against Namibians were not tried can only be attributed to the complicity of other nations that have themselves been involved in similar atrocities in the colonial era. They clearly have no interest in the re-examination of their policies during their imperialistic rule; where there has been divergence of interests between the conquered perpetrators and the victorious states, such as after World War II, we get appropriate tribunals such as the Nuremberg Tribunal. But even then, the tribunals are careful not to examine earlier periods that may reveal that the conquered state had only done what other states may have practised in the past.
The disrespect shown to the Namibian delegation that went to Germany to represent the victims of the genocide and their descendants seems incredible. Germans, like many Europeans, seem to find it difficult to apologise to Africans and to compensate them for property they have confiscated. Africans have been treated over centuries with contempt by Europeans but there have not been as many protests and reactions as one would expect. This may have misled some Europeans, especially former colonial masters, to believe that their disdainful and arrogant behaviour is natural and correct. Supposing the Namibian delegation refused to participate in any further meeting concerning the skulls and left Berlin in protest over the disrespectful behaviour of the German government towards both the dead and living Namibians, and left without the skulls, what would have happened?
One could suggest that, in future, the Germans themselves should bring the skulls back to Namibia. After all, they took the human remains to Germany and, if they have now accepted that this was wrong, they should be able to return them to where they took them. Namibians should not go to Berlin or Freiburg to collect skulls and be treated like miserable beggars.
By their disrespect towards the Namibian delegation, the German authorities have once again failed to seize a great opportunity to act in a way that would contribute to harmonious relations between the German-speaking Namibians and other Namibians. German-speaking people in Namibia were the beneficiaries of the seizure of land and cattle as well as of the cheap labour of Namibians under colonial rule. The failure is particularly unfortunate as the land question has not been settled in Namibia where, as in Zimbabwe, the expropriation of land was one of the main causes of African discontent and the consequent liberation struggle. Let no one say there is no connection between the expropriation of land and seizure of cattle under German colonial rule and the present situation of the land question in Namibia. The German Bundestag has itself referred on occasion to the need for land reform in Namibia. Some may say there is need for something more than reform.
In countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, where the historical colonial oppression and discrimination involved confiscation of African lands for the benefit of European settlers and that has resulted in the present situation where a small number of European descendants are holding the greater part of the land to the disadvantage of the vast majority, there is surely need for radical changes.
The former colonial masters of Namibia should not be allowed to easily escape their responsibilities by describing this handing over of the human remains as a closure, even symbolic, of the tragic history between Germany and Namibia.
More needs to be done and, above all, the German government must, at the highest level, apologise for the atrocities and assume its full liability to compensate the victims and their successors. There cannot be a full and complete reconciliation without a formal apology by the offender. The nature of the crimes committed against the Herero – forced labour, confiscation of land and cattle, forced prostitution of Herero women to satisfy the sexual needs of German soldiers, internment in concentration camps and damaging medical experimentation – require a formal apology from the highest representatives of the German state and consequent compensation. Is this asking for too much in view of the heinous crimes? If we are unable to apologise for past atrocities, what right do we have to criticise or attack present dictators?
But why are Germans reluctant to do for the Herero what has been repeatedly done for victims of Nazi atrocities? Is there a racist philosophy at work here? Has the inherent racism of colonialism left its traces? Have the racist theories of the Nazis taken root in Germany as regards Africans, despite all appearances and assertions to the contrary?
The hesitations and unwillingness of the German government to apply to the Herero and Nama the same standards as have been applied to the victims of Nazi atrocities – profuse apologies and substantial monetary compensation – seem to confirm the analysis made by Aimée Césaire in his ‘Discours sur le colonialisme’.  What Europeans, including Germans, criticise in Nazism is not that it had committed crimes against humanity, that it is ‘the crowning barbarism’ that sums up all the other barbarisms. Before Europeans became victims of Nazism, they were its accomplices; they tolerated it before it was afflicted on them, and they shut their eyes to it and legitimised it as it was then applied only to non-Europeans. Césaire’s view, which is shared by many Africans, has also been confirmed by Theo-Ben Gurirab, then the Namibian minister of foreign affairs, who, according to Henning Melber, declared that ‘Germany apologised for crimes against Israel, Russia or Poland, because they are dealing with whites. We are black and if there is therefore a problem in apologising, that is racist’. 
Continuities between German colonialist practices and Nazi practices have been underlined by many authors. Whether German colonialism was a step towards National Socialism or not is not my main concern here. I am only arguing for the need for compensation and equal treatment. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that most of the basic characteristics of the atrocious and evil practices of the Nazi system were already practised in the German colony of South West Africa: concentration camps, pass system and racial oppression, eugenicist ideas and practices of racial selection, territorial expansion and confiscation of property without compensation. 
Jürgen Zimmerer has underlined, in an article significantly entitled ‘War, Concentration Camps and Genocide in South-West Africa: The First German Genocide’, the similarities between the German atrocities in South West Africa and those of the Nazis: ‘The genocide in German South West Africa is also significant as a prelude to the Holocaust. One need only consider notions such as concentration camps and genocide to relate these events to the mass crimes committed during the Third Reich. Although one must be aware of making precipitate comparisons, it cannot be denied that there are actual structural similarities between the genocide committed on the Herero and Nama and the Holocaust which reward further reflection. As less than 40 years elapse between the first and the second genocides carried out by Germans, the lack of a link would be more surprising than its existence.’ 
Namibia was the preferred land for the Germans for practising and testing pseudo-sciences on the population. One recalls the evil Dr Eugen Fischer, sent by German universities to Namibia, where his pseudo-scientific theories of racial purity were practised on Namibians, involving sterilisation, injection of small pox, typhus tuberculosis. Fischer and others thought by measuring the skulls and other parts of the Herero and other Africans they could establish scientifically the inferiority of Africans. Fischer studied the so-called ‘Rehoboth bastards’, the offspring of German or Boer men who had sexual relations with African women in Rehoboth. On Fischer’s recommendation that mixed marriage should not continue, mixed marriages were prohibited in all German colonies. The wicked doctor continued his racist activities after World War I with the ‘Rhineland bastards’, with the sterilisation of the offspring of German women and African soldiers from the French colonies who had occupied western areas of Germany after World War I.  Fischer carried on his activities during Nazi rule in Germany but was never tried for his crimes and died in 1967.
The continuities between German colonialist ideology and Nazi ideology are plain. Some might think that the government of a state that practised genocide in Namibia, that introduced Nazi ideology and practice, and that later on supported the racist apartheid system until the very end, might not find it easy to apply to the Herero and Nama the same standards as it applied to European victims of Nazism.
Peter H. Katjavivi has quite correctly stated that: ‘The recovery and repatriation of the skulls is an essential component of regaining our past, and consequentially our dignity.’  That Africans also have a dignity to protect may be difficult for those whose wealth and power have been predicated on African subservience and labour. Whilst they say they accord dignity to all peoples and hence are willing to apologise for their mistakes, they do not seem to want to extend this respect to Africans.
The Namibian authorities must bear in mind that whatever position they take will affect other African peoples that have claims for compensation in similar situations. The exterminations in German South West Africa had already been practised in many other African territories occupied by Europeans. We should also remember that the genocides of the Herero and the Nama were conceived by chief architect General von Trotha as part of a race war that would eventually lead to the elimination of other Africans. 
On looking through the voluminous material on German atrocities in South West Africa and the refusal to apologise, I start wondering whether the German authorities have read any of them in detail or whether they are aware and conscious of the extent of the atrocities committed in their former colonies. Have they read passages such as this one from David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen on what a South African white had seen in Lüderitz and stated in an interview with South African newspaper, The Cape Argus:
‘On one occasion I saw a woman carrying a child of under a year old slung at her back, and with a heavy sack of grain on her head. The sand was very steep and the sun was baking. She fell down forward on her face, and the heavy sack fell partly across her and partly on the baby. The corporal sjambocked her certainly more than four minutes and sjambocked the baby as well.
Are you ready to swear that you saw a white man sjambocking a baby as well as the mother?
I am ready to make an affidavit if it is required. I saw with my own eyes. The woman, when the sjambocking had gone on for over five minutes, struggled slowly on her feet, and went on with her load. She did not utter a sound the whole time, but the baby cried very hard.’ 
Can one read such passages without a feeling of revulsion and a determination that such acts as beating babies, raping women and killing men, women and children must oblige the perpetrators or their successors to make apology and reparation?
The history of German South West Africa is not high on the agenda of Germans. Most Germans would have heard nothing or little about the atrocities committed in their name. The German schools would certainly, until recently, not have imparted the full history of the settlers in their former colonies. Most Germans would have heard an official version of the history of colonisation that paints a rather favourable picture of Europeans bringing civilisation to savage Africans. The reign of terror that went with colonisation is not a topic European governments like to discuss. 
When Germans think about their past and the need for coming to terms with their less than glorious past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung), they think mostly of the Nazi period, about which a lot more information has been given in the last decades. The imperial and imperialistic colonial period of their military adventures in Africa seems to have receded into the very remote past. They are more concerned with their European partners, the French, Polish, British etc., whom they respect and wish to get on with. Africans, for whom they have no such respect, do not count. No doubt there are exceptions, as the NGOs demonstrated during the recent hand-over of the Namibian skulls in Berlin. Moreover, many German authors have in recent decades examined German colonial history in excellent books and articles, but German authorities do not seem to have been impressed or influenced by such activities. 
Many Westerners, including Germans, do not seem to understand that there is a necessity for reconciliation between former colonial countries and former colonial powers and that this need is not helped by their constant insensitive behaviour towards Africans and the general racism that is seen to prevail in many quarters in the Western world. Africans should not make matters easier for colonialists and imperialists when they do not show any disposition to contrition and in many cases, as demonstrated here, categorically refuse to say ‘we apologise’. They have taken us for a ride for too long.
It should be remembered that whatever happens in Namibian-German relations will be keenly observed by other African peoples and states. The handling of questions of apology and compensation for the genocide of the Herero and the Nama concerns many Africans: they are keen to know when Germany will fully apologise and pay compensation for the illegal expropriation of land and the confiscation of cattle because German South West Africa has come to symbolise the worst aspects of colonialism and in particular, German colonialism. Moreover, as Jeremy Sarkin has rightly pointed out, the Herero case is not the only one in colonial history: ‘Clearly, the Herero case could have consequences for many societies around the world affected by similar histories. The case has great significance for the Herero but also for Namibian and African history. Other cases are already under consideration and some are currently being filed. One such case relates to the massacres in German East Africa (now Tanzania) between 1905 and 1907 in what was known as the Maji-Maji rebellion. It is believed that about 250,000 Ngoni, Matumbi, Waluguru, Makua, Yao, and Makonde people were killed.’ 
Instead of being a symbolic closure of a terrible chapter in the history of Namibia and Germany, the handover of the skulls appears to many as a symptomatic opening that reveals the worst aspects of this history and the unwillingness of some to assist the victims and their descendants to finally come to terms with the tragic past.
But this problem will not simply go away, no matter how long it takes to find the right solution, since the effects of the evil deeds of the past are still too visible in the inequalities that persist and reveal their historic origins in many aspects of Namibian society.
Those in the government of Namibia and elsewhere who may not be enthusiastic about the claims for compensation and a formal and proper apology must reconsider their position, bearing in mind that the main characteristics of German colonial rule, namely the massacres of people, expropriation of land and cattle, concentration camps, forced labour and similar atrocities, were the main causes of the revolt of the peoples. So long as the land question has not been satisfactorily settled, many may consider that ‘a luta continua’.
Kwame Opoku is a commentator on cultural affairs and has written extensively on restitution of cultural artefacts.
Picture: Two of the restituted human skulls displayed during the memorial service in Berlin in September 2011.
- 1. German text of Extermination Order:‚Aufruf an das Volk der Herero Abschrift zu O.K. 17290 Osombo-Windembe, den 2. Oktober 1904
Kommando der Schutztruppe.
"Ich, der große General der deutschen Soldaten, sende diesen Brief an das Volk der Herero. Die Hereros sind nicht mehr deutsche Untertanen. Sie haben gemordet und gestohlen, haben verwundeten Soldaten Ohren und Nasen und andere Körperteile abgeschnitten, und wollen jetzt aus Feigheit nicht mehr kämpfen. Ich sage dem Volk: Jeder der einen der Kapitäne an eine meiner Stationen als Gefangenen abliefert, erhält 1000 Mark, wer Samuel Maharero bringt, erhält 5000 Mark. Das Volk der Herero muß jedoch das Land verlassen.
Wenn das Volk dies nicht tut, so werde ich es mit dem Groot Rohr dazu zwingen. Innerhalb der Deutschen Grenze wird jeder Herero mit und ohne Gewehr, mit oder ohne Vieh erschossen, ich nehme keine Weiber und Kinder mehr auf, treibe sie zu ihrem Volke zurück oder lasse auf sie schießen. Dies sind meine Worte an das Volk der Hereros.
Der große General des mächtigen deutschen Kaisers’
Lothar von Trotha, news.bbc.co.uk; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herero_and_Namaqua_Genocide
Völkermord an den Nama und Herero in Deutsch-Südwestafrika ab 1904
Dokumentation gegen das Vergessen. http://www.mahali.de/1904/genozid/vernichtungsbefehl.php
See Jan-Bart Gewald, ‘Herero Heroes’, James Currey, Oxford, and Ohio University Press, 1999; also, |+| The Great General of the Kaiser.
Horst Drechsler, ‘Let us die fighting’, Zed Press, London, 1966, p156.
- http://www.news24.com It is to be noted that in contrast to the Prime Minister, the President of Namibia, Hifikepunye Pohamba, did not refer to a ‘symbolic closure’. Statement by His Excellency Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, on the occasion of receiving Human Remains (Mortal Remains) of Namibian Origin Repatriated from Germany, http://www.op.gov.na/.
- 3. The UN’s 1985 ‘Whitaker Report on Genocide’ described the German war against the Herero as genocide, paragraphs 14 to 24, pp. 5-10, http://www.preventgenocide.org/prevent/UNdocs/whitaker/section5.htm#n12.
Kwame Opoku, ‘Namibian Bones in European Museums: How long are the Dead to Remain Unburied? Genocide with Impunity’, http://www.afrikanet.info;
‘Why do European Museums have so much trouble with African Bones?’ http://www.museum-security.org.
See also the annex below.
BBC Documentary by David Olusoga, Namibia: Genocide of the Second Reich http://video.google.com.
- Speech by Dr Wolfgang Massing, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, to commemorate 1904 at Okahandja, 2004, http://www.windhuk.diplo.de/Vertretung/Commemorative_2004__2005/Seite__Speech__2004-01-11.html. Henning Melber, ‘Genocide and the history of violent expansionism,’ Pambazuka, 2005-03-17, Issue http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/27325.
- Rachel J. Anderson, ‘Redressing Colonial Genocide under International Law: The Hereros' Cause of Action Against Germany’, 93 California Law Review 1155 (2005). http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm.
- Praeger Security International, Westport, Connecticut-London, 2009, p.1. Seealso pp. 72-80.
- Ibid. p. 61. Sarkin provides a listing of African receivers of German assistance in footnote 237 on p. 217 of his book: 1) Egypt, 2) Zambia, 3) Tanzania, 4) Ethiopia, 5) Kenya, 6) Mozambique, 7) Cameroon, 8) Ghana, 9) Congo, 10) Morocco, 11) Mali, 12) Burkina Faso, 13) Zimbabwe, 14) Sudan, 15) Malawi, 16) South Africa, 17) Rwanda, 18) Benin, 19) Ivory Coast, 20) Uganda, 21) Senegal, 22) Niger, 23) Namibia, 24) Madagascar, 25) Guinea, 26) Togo, 27) Chad, 28) Somalia, 29) Burundi, 30) Mauritania. See also Esther Schüring, ‘History Obliges: The real motivations behind the German aid flows in the case of Namibia’.
- Africavenir, http://www.africavenir.org.
- Book of condolence in the memory of victims of German genocide in Namibia, 1904-1908, http://namibia.menschen-gedenken.de/Main.aspx.
- Luschan’s interest in human remains and race theories. F. von Luschan (1897), ‘Beiträge zur Völkerkunde der Deutschen Schutzgebiete’, Berlin: Deutsche Buchgemeinschaft; F. von Luschan F (1927), ‚Völker, Rassen, Sprachen: Anthropologische Betrachtungen’, Berlin: Deutsche Buchgemeinschaft.
- Andrew Zimmermann, ‘Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany’, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001, p.167. See also http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/ermordet-praepariert-und-erforscht/4665882.html.‚Schädel im Schrank’, http://www.zeit.de/2011/42/Schaedelsammlungen.For detailed bibliography of German colonial collection of skulls, see: Aussereuropäische anthropologische Schädelsammlungen in Freiburg und Deutschland, http://www.freiburg-postkolonial.de/Seiten/anthropologische-schaedelsammlungen.htm.The long history of fascination with skulls up to present day is well demonstrated in an exhibition in the Reiss-Engelheim Museum, Mannheim, entitled ‚Schädelkult - Kopf und Schädel in der Kulturgeschichte des Menschen’. The exhibition catalogue published by the museum in 2011 gives an idea of how widespread is the availability of skulls in Germany. Some 32 institutions lent their skulls for the exhibition. These institutions are located in Bad Buchau, Bad Säckingen, Berlin, Bonn, Frankfurt am Main, Freiburg i.Brisgau, Giessen, Hamburg, Hannover, Heidelberg, Kassel, Konstanz, Koblenz, Kõln, Kranenburg, Landshut, Mettmann, Müllenbach (bei Bayern), München, Regensburg, Speyer, Stuttgart, Tübingen, Neu-Ulm, and Weimar. Some of the skulls in the exhibition are listed as coming from Benin Republic, Nigeria, Angola and Madagascar. It would be interesting to know whether some of the collections have also skulls from Namibia.
- Servaas van den Bosch,’German Extermination Marginalised Ethnic Groups’, http://ipsnews.net.
- Rede von Bundesministerin Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul bei den Gedenkenfeierlichkeiten der Herero- Austande am 14. August 2004 in Okakarara. http://www.windhuk.diplo.de.‚Wieczorek-Zeul begeistert Namibia’ http://www.isdonline.de. See also, Larissa Förster, ‚Jenseits des juristischen Diskurses: Die Entschuldigung von Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul in Namibia’, http://www.issa-bonn.org/publikationen.
- Erklärung des Deutschen Bundestags vom 16.06.2004. ‚In commemoration of the victims of the Colonial War in the former German-South West Africa’, http://www.windhuk.diplo.de. See also, ‚Verantwortung’ JA – ‚Wiedergutmachung’ NEIN Der Deutsche Bundestag lehnt Antrag auf Entschädigung für Völkermord an Herero und Nama ab. Dokumentation, http://www.ag-friedensforschung.de.
- ‚Die Bundesregierung bekennt sich zu diesem schweren historischen Erbe und der daraus resultierenden moralischen und historischen Verantwortung Deutschlands gegenüber Namibia’, ‚Ansprache von Staatsministerin Pieper anläßlich der Feierstunde zur Übergabe von Schädeln namibischen Ursprungs in der Charité’ http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de; see also, ‚Pieper sorgt bei Schädelübergabe an Namibia für Eklat’, http://www.tagesspiegel.de.
- ‘Discours sur le colonialisme’, Editions Présence Africaine, 1955, Paris, p.13;English text, ‘Discourse on Colonialism’, translation by Joan Pinkham, Monthly Review Press, 2000, New York. p. 36; German version translated by Heribert Becker, ‘Aimée Césaire, Rede über den Kolonialismus und andere Texte’, Karin Kramer Verlag Berlin, pp. 80-81.
- Henning Melber, ‘We never spoke about reparations’, in Jürgen Zimmerer and Joachim Zeller (eds.), ‘Genocide in German South-West Africa’, p. 270. First published in 2003 by Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin. First English Edition published in 2008 by The Merlin Press.
- See, Pascal Grosse, ‘What does German Colonialism Have to do with
National Socialism?’ in Eric Ames, Marcia Klotz and Lora Wildenthal (eds.),
‘Germany’s Colonial Pasts’, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2005, pp. 115-134. See also the pages of freiburg-postcolonial.de, http://www.freiburg-postkolonial.de/Seiten/einleitung.htm.
- Jürgen Zimmerer and Joachim Zeller, op. cit. p. 59.
- The career and activities of Dr Eugen Fischer in German South West Africa and in Nazi Germany are discussed in Kathrin Roller, ‚Der Rassenbiologe Eugen Fischer’, in Ulrich van der Heyden and Joachim Zeller (eds.), ‚Kolonial Metropole Berlin’, Berlin Edition, 2002. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugen_Fischer. Interesting iinformation and insights about the pseudo sciences that required the measuring heads and other parts of the body as well as making casts of Namibians can be found in Anette Hofmann (ed.), ‘What We See, Reconsidering an Anthropometrical Collection from Southern Africa: Images, Voice, and Versioning’, Basler Afrika Bibiographien, 2009.
- Peter H. Katjavivi, ‘The Significance of the Repatriation of Namibian Human Skulls’, http://www.africavenir.org.
- David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen, ‘The Kaiser’s Holocaust - Germany’s forgotten genocide’, Faber and Faber, 2011, p.151.
- David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen, Ibid. p. 211.
- See Richard Gott on the British example, ‘Let’s end the myth of Britain’s imperial past’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/book end-myths-britains-imperial-past.
- Zeit Online wrote in connection with the handing over of Namibian skulls on 30 September 2011, under the title‘Kolonialgeschichte: Schädel im Schrank. Das düstere koloniale Erbe der deutschen Rasseforschung muss endlich aufgeklärt werden’: ‚Sollte das wirklich das letzte Wort bleiben? Der Eklat in der Charité stieß jedenfalls auf eine für viele überraschende öffentliche Resonanz. Das Signal war unüberhörbar. Und es würde schon verwundern, könnte die Bundesregierung ihre Ignoranz gegenüber diesem Kapitel der deutschen Geschichte weiterhin so gedankenlos kultivieren.’ [url=http://www.zeit.de/2011/42/Schaedelsammlungen.
Many good books and articles have been written on German colonial rule in Africa by German scholars and others: Horst Drechsler, ‚Südwestafrika unter deutscher Kolonialherrschaft.
Der Kampf der Herero und Nama gegen den deutschen Imperialismus (1884-1915)’, Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1985; Horst Gründer, ‚Geschichte der deutschen Kolonien’, Paderborn: Schöningh, 2000; Helmut Bley, ‚Kolonialherrschaft und Sozialstruktur in Deutsch-Südwestafrika (1894-1914)’, Hamburg, Leibniz Verlag, 1968; Helmut Strizek, ‚Kolonien Geschenkte:Ruanda und Burundi unter deutscher Herrschaft’, Berlin, Ch.Links Verlag, 2006;
Ulrich van der Heyden and Joachim Zeller (eds), ‚Macht und Anteil an der Weltherrshaft’, Unrast Verlag, Münster, 2005. The bibliography on German rule in South West Africa is formidable. The accounts of German atrocities often require a strong stomach to read all the atrocious and heinous crimes against humanity that were perpetrated.
For a list on this topic by Prevent Genocide International, see: ‘German Southwest Africa 1904-1908: Genocide of Hereros’, http://www.preventgenocide.org/edu/pastgenocides/swafrika/resources/. Detailed information on the atrocities committed by Germany in South West Africa can be found in the infamous ‘Blue Book’, republished by J. Silvester and J-B. Gewald, ‘Words Cannot be Found. German Colonial Rule in Namibia: An Annotated Reprint of the 1018 Blue Book’, 2003, Leiden: Brill. There are images of hangings of Herero and the whips used by the Germans on Africans that may disturb some readers but the book is worth reading. Equally instructive is the history of the actions of the British and South African authorities to suppress this book. ‘The Report on the Natives of South West Africa and their Treatment by Germany’ (1918) had been prepared by the Administrator’s Office in Windhoek and published as a British Blue Book by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, London. It served as a powerful instrument to establish that Germany was not worthy to administer the territory because of its inhuman treatment of the Africans under its control. Once the territory was transferred to the British, to be administered on its behalf by South Africa, it became clear to Britain and South Africa that some of the criticisms against Germany could be turned against them and in the interest of cooperation with Germany, measures were taken in 1826 to suppress the report. Her Majesty’s Stationary Office ceased selling the report, copies were removed from all libraries and all available copies bought and destroyed. In response to the British Blue Book, the Germans issued in 1919 their White Book, ‘The Treatment of Native and other Populations in the Colonial Possessions of Germany and England’, which depicted atrocities committed by Britain in its colonies. See, Silvester and Gewald, p. xix.See also, ‘Blue Book they didn't want us to read’, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5391/is_200201/ai_n21324291/.‘The Blue Book They Didn't Want Us to Read: How Britain, Germany and South Africa Destroyed a Damning Book on German Atrocities in Namibia’, New African, January 2002, p. 38, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002449379. See also, New York Times, September 1918, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00E12F63F5D147A93C1A81782D85F4C8185F9/.
- Sarkin, op. cit. p. 156.
- Olusoga and Erichsen, op. cit. p. 67.
Extract from S. Lindqvist, ‘Exterminate all the brutes’, The New Press, New York, 1992, pp. 150-152.
‘In Southwest Africa in 1904, the Germans demonstrated that they had mastered an art that Americans, British, and other Europeans had exercised all through the nineteenth century - the art of hastening the extermination of a people of “inferior culture.”
Following the North American example, the Herero people were banished to reserves and their grazing lands handed over to German immigrants and colonization companies. When the Hereros resisted, General Adolf Lebrecht von Trotha gave orders in October 1904 for the Herero people to be exterminated. Every Herero found within German borders, with or without weapons, was to be shot. But most of them died without violence. The Germans simply drove them out into the desert and sealed off the border.
“The month-long sealing of desert areas, carried out with iron severity, completed the work of annihilation,” the General Staff writes in the official account of the war. “The death rattles of the dying and their insane screams of fury… resounded in the sublime silence of infinity.” The General Staff’s account further reports that “the sentence had been carried out” and “the Hereros had ceased to be independent people.”
This was a result the General Staff was proud of. The army earned, they stated, the gratitude of the whole fatherland.
When the rainy season came, German patrols found skeletons lying around dry hollows, twenty-four to fifty feet deep, dug by the Hereros in vain attempts to find water. Almost the entire people - about eighty thousand human beings - died in the deserts. Only a few thousand were left, sentenced to hard labor in German concentration camps.
Thus the words “concentration camps,” invented in 1896 by the Spaniards in Cuba, anglicized by the Americans, and used again by the British during the Boer War, made their entrance into German language and politics.
The cause of the rebellion was “the Hereros’s warlike and freedom-loving nature” the General Staff stated. The Hereros were not particularly warlike. Their leader, Samuel Maherero, over two decades had signed one treaty after another with the Germans and ceded large areas of land to avoid war. But just as the Americans did not feel themselves bound by their treaties with the Indians, equally, the Germans did not think that as a higher race they had any need to abide by treaties they made with the natives.
As in North America, the German plans for immigration at the turn of the century presupposed that the natives were to be relieved of all land of any value. The rebellion was therefore welcomed as an opportunity to “solve the Herero problem.”
The arguments the English, French, and Americans had long used to defend genocide were now also put into German. “Existences, be they people or individuals who do not produce anything of value, cannot make any claim to the right to exist,” wrote Paul Rohrbach in his best-seller German Thought in the World (1912). It was as head of German immigration in Southwest Africa that he had learned his colonial philosophy.
No false philanthropy or racial theory can convince sensible people that the preservation of a tribe of South Africa’s kaffirs … is more important to the future of mankind than the spread of the great European nations and the white race in general.
Not until the native learns to produce anything of value in the service of the higher race, i e. in the service of its and his own progress, does he gain any moral right to exist.’