Posted by Explo Nani-Kofi
October 4 2011 was a colossal day in post-independence Namibia. The country witnessed the return of 20 humans skulls taken from this nation state, to Germany, for studies to ostensibly prove that blacks are inferior to whites. This view is not something one picks up during this period of entering archives; it is a view held by many whites even today. It is this narrow and cannibalistic view that sustained more than 350 years of systematic oppression of the black people. This commentary places the return of the skulls in perspective. It looks at German colonialism, the studies conducted on skulls, the subject of repatriation and reparation and concludes with few suggestions on reparations.
In Africa, Germany colonized German East Africa (today Tanzania), Togoland (Togo), Kamerun (today Cameroon) and German Southwest Africa (now Namibia). Like other colonies, Namibia was self-awarded to Germany at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 where the then European capitalist thugs carved Africa among themselves like hooligans dividing a bread they grabbed from a pedestrian.
After the First World War, with Germany defeated, her colonies were confiscated by allied victors of this war. This event of history meant no peace for natives, it only symbolized an exchange of an item between same vipers; from German to Britain (her proxy Apartheid South Africa). Imperial contact, however, already existed when a German capitalist, Adolf Luderitz, engaged in deceptive mercantilism, in the early 1880s, in Angra Penquena which he renamed after himself (it so remains).
After the Berlin conference, names such as Heinrich Ernst Göring, Theodor von Leut-wein, Friedrich von Lindequist, Bruno von Schuckmann and Theodor Seitz are recorded in history as names of men tasked with the responsibility of consolidating and governing the then South West Africa (Namibia) as a German colony of strategic economic importance.
The recorded history shows this colony housed more German settlers (it so remains).
Many are familiar with the name of General Lothar von Trotha. Von Trotha faced brave resistance from the natives (Herero and Nama) during the War of National Resistance (1904-1908).
During that period, the undomesticated Von Trotha issued an extermination order to kill all Hereros in the country thus marking one of the devastating genocides of the 20th Century.
Some sources estimates that more than 50 000 Hereros (more than 60% of their population then) and about 10 000 Namas (about 50% of their population then) were killed.
The skulls under discussion originates from this dark period of history.
Slayers and their non(sense)
Whites always saw themselves superior to blacks who were and remain the oppressed in many interesting ways. The whites ensured that blacks assume their inferior role at all level of human interaction. This is the story of slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and the new tendency called regime change. How can blacks suffer more than 350 years of systematic oppression is something they are still trying to understand.
On their part, black theologist came up with a term called ‘Black theodicy’ which is understood to be an “attempt to makes sense of Black suffering, and seek to explore what God’s involvement (or non-involvement) is in this…Black Theodicies [explore] why the Black community has suffered over the years – and in particular the matter of why they have endured slavery and various forms of racism.”
German colonial rule had built several concentration camps where natives were placed to die. Writing in a Swedish daily newspaper, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, on August 21 2004, Annika Westman provides a narrative of Dr. Eugen Fischer, a Racial Biologist, who came to the then South West Africa to carry out his ‘race theory’ experiments.
The purpose of the experiments, the author writes, were “to prove the inferiority of [black]…there are reports that 778 autopsies were performed for the so-called race-biological research.
Measuring skulls was a common method, and female prisoners were forced to scrape the skulls clean with glass shards before the examination.”
To share his findings, Fischer went on to write two books; “The Rehoboth Bastards and the Bastardisation Problem in Humans” and “The Principles of Human Heredity and Race Hygiene.”
Hitler would soon get his hands on these books while in prison, for inspiration.
Hitler’s Nazi bible, Mein Kampf, had made several references to Fischer’s books. It is ruminated that Fischer had direct influence on Hendrik Verwoerd when he was in Germany (later becoming the Prime Minister of Apartheid South Africa).
This is the thread; Race studies are done on black Namibians culminating in a book – that will inspire Hitler – who will cause Second World War.
Similarly, dim-witted studies were seemingly told to students – of which one of them was Hendrik Verwoerd – who will fully implement Apartheid – that added more pain and suffering on those already suffering.
The Germans transported these human remains to Berlin where they were kept, for 100 years, at Charite’s Medical History Museum.
Repatriation and Reparation (Reconciliation – Justice = Evil)
Two men, among many, are worth recognition as we witness the return of the skulls this week, Honorable Chief Kuaima Riruako and Professor Peter Katjavivi.
The former had made it his personal exercise in national and traditional discourse while the latter has been critical in hammering sense into German politicians at the diplomatic level.
Professor Katjavivi provides clarity that the skull account is “a question of regaining our dignity [and] regaining our history.”
The return of the skulls alone can never undo the damage done. What it does is raise consciousness, especially amongst the youth, about German atrocities.
Africans define a community as consisting of the dead, the living and those that are yet to come.
The skulls, to deliver spiritual soothe, are part of the African community for they represents the dead who are an integral part of the community especially to the tribes concerned. What should and must follow is surely reparations.
Reparations are not a new thing as far as German atrocities are concerned. The 1965 Federal Restitution Law saw the Jews and other persons, that suffered at the hands of the Third Reich, receive more than US $ 40 billion. Reparations are key for legacies of colonialism remains.
The black Namibians in general, and in this case the Herero and Damara remains in the very same sad condition German colonialism has placed them into.
Hereros remain landless in larger scheme of things. Namibia may have this atmosphere concept of reconciliation but the truth is that reconciliation minus justice equals Evil. Land cannot remain in the hands of Afrikaners and Germans (time will come).
That is why Erika von Wietersheim, in her book “This Is My Land: motions and emotions around land reform in Namibia,” was met (in her interviews) with overwhelming similar responses; “For a Namibian person to have land is to be alive;” “Land is livelihood;” Everything depends on land, cattle, crop production – land is livelihood;” “Land gives people security and livelihood”
While this event might appear solely sentimental to the Herero and Namas (it should be) it is really a National event Namibians must be glad, not celebrate, for where they are on this subject.
They must be glad that the ancestors of their brothers and sisters have returned home. Both the Ovaherero Genocide Committee (OGC), Nama Technical Committee (NTC) must remain intact for the task ahead – delivering reparations.
They may not leave this to government for that can be very disastrous.
Instead, government must either be together or behind. Let there be no calling of the shots by 2090, 2001 must call the shots or 2001 and 2090 must call shots together.
Reporter Markus Frenzel of ARD, German TV , had hinted on the possibility of more Herero remains in German archives, while Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, pointed out that Charite, where the skulls where kept, possess a 10 000 bone collection. Indeed, there could be more.
With the bones returned, Namibians have a strong case for reparations.
It must be remembered that in 2004, the Federal Republic of Germany Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, under no pressure or whatsoever, had declared the genocide and activities of Von Trother crimes against humanity. Notice must, however, be made here that Wieczorek-Zeul is from Social Democratic Party (SDP) while the party in power now is Christian Demoractic Union (CDU).
It was therefore no coincidence as reported, by a German online news page (Welt Online), that the German Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Cornelia Pieper, at a Friday event delivered her speech only in German and left even “ before the first representative of the Namibian Government could give a speech.”
Several ideas are worth throwing to those involved in this exercise. Namibia must seek reparation benefiting not only the living but those to come.
Firstly, It could be demanded of the Germans to offer 100 000 scholarships to young Namibians in general, and Hereros and Namas in particular, to study worldwide over the period of 30 years.
Secondly, it may be demanded that the German government build Namibia’s second University to be known as Maharero National University and carry a stature of Hendrik Witbooi at the entrance.
Lastly, the German Government could be asked to buy land (farms) from German citizens in Namibia to be given back to the rightful owners.
Leftist and Socialist Regards
Job Shipululo Amupanda
Masters of Art Political Science Candidate (University of Stellenbosch)
Honours Political Science (University of Stellenbosch )
BA Political Studies and History (University of Namibia)
Chairperson: Omaalala Youth Development Club (OYDC)