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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 01:17 GMT
Unfinished business for Namibia's Herero
By Peter Biles
BBC News, Namibia

Herero Monument, Okahandja
The Herero come to this monument to remember their suffering
On a dry, windswept slope overlooking the Namibian town of Okahandja, a makeshift bell summons the local Herero community.

There is a grey slate monument to the Herero chiefs who led the failed uprising against the German colonialists in 1904.

Alongside in the sand, is a circle of white stones where people come and talk to their ancestors.

These are important rituals for people to reflect on the repression the Herero suffered at the hands of the Germans a century ago.

Namibia's Herero community is seeking reparations from Germany for the suffering experienced during colonial rule.


The Herero say that German policy at the time amounted to genocide.

Many Herero who rebelled, became prisoners of war. Starvation and torture were widespread. Of an estimated 65,000 Herero, only 15,000 survived.

A token sign of reparation must be given to the people who suffered this genocide
Phil Ya Nangoloh

Today, the pain is still felt acutely.

"Our fathers and mothers were killed like animals. It's a sad story, all the atrocities, the way the Germans killed people, starved them to death, and took them into concentration camps," says 65-year-old Ujama Karuhumba who lives in Okahandja.

Close to the centre of town, there is an old German church, with a powerful reminder that the Germans too, took casualties in the fighting with the Herero in the early years of the last century.

The graves of more than 50 German soldiers are laid out in a neatly kept cemetery, and on the granite headstones are recorded the names of those who perished in a far-flung land.


Germany has offered an apology for the massacres that occurred, and proposed a multi-million dollar development deal for Namibia.

Herero women in traditional dress, Okahandja
Herero women are famous for their coloured dresses and hats

However, the Herero Genocide Committee is seeking millions of dollars in compensation from the German government, based on the atrocities committed.

Esther Utjiua who chairs the committee, says Germany wants no mention of the word "genocide".

She describes the relationship with Germany as "hostile", and says further dialogue is needed.

"They are too vague. We don't know where we stand with them. We want to be involved. We don't want them to decide on our behalf what it is we want.

"For two years, we've been asking the German government to talk about the issue of genocide, and come to an agreement on reparations that can be acceptable to both sides."

After a state visit to Germany at the end of last year by Namibia's President Hifikepunye Pohamba, talks between the two countries on bilateral development co-operation were postponed.

Community sense

The Herero identity in Namibia today, is alive, not least because of the unique sense of style adopted by the Herero women. They are famous for their full-length coloured dresses and unique hats. Ironically, it is a tradition that stems from the influence of German missionaries.

At a recent fund-raising dinner in the capital, Windhoek, influential members of the Herero community outlined ambitious plans to raise money and write more books about the events of 1904.

A young student made an impassioned plea to the assembled guests: "It is against the background of the German atrocities that the Herero community is seeking compensation from the German government. I'm saying 'Push on' until the long overdue victory has been attained".

Phil Ya Nangoloh of Namibia's National Society for Human Rights says he fully supports the Herero claim for reparations.

"There is enough documentation to prove that genocide has taken place, as defined in the Genocide Convention. A token sign of reparation must be given to the people who suffered this genocide".

Against the odds, the Herero tradition has survived, and no-one here is forgetting the unfinished business relating to the events of more than 100 years ago.

Namibia's Herero people claim reparations
11 Jan 02 |  From Our Own Correspondent
German bank accused of genocide
25 Sep 01 |  Business
Timeline: Namibia
02 Aug 01 |  Africa

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