Speech by Federal Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul at the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the suppression of the Herero uprising, Okakarara, on 14 August 2004
Federal Minister for Economic Co-operation and Development
Speech at the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the suppression of the Herero uprising, at Okakarara, Namibia, on 14 August 2004
Authorised Versions: German and English
It is an honour to have been invited to take part in your commemorations here today.
I would like to thank you for giving me, as the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development and as a representative of the German government and the German parliament, this opportunity to speak to you. Yet I am also here to listen to you.
Acknowledging the atrocities of 1904
Today, I want to acknowledge the violence inflicted by the German colonial powers on your ancestors, particularly the Herero and the Nama.
I am painfully aware of the atrocities committed: in the late 19th century, the German colonial powers drove the people from their land. When the Herero, when your ancestors, resisted, General von Trotha's troops embarked on a war of extermination against them and the Nama. In his infamous order General Trotha commanded that every Herero be shot – with no mercy shown even to women and children.
After the battle of Waterberg in 1904, the survivors were forced into the Omaheke desert, where they were denied any access to water sources and were left to die of thirst and starvation.
Following the uprisings, the surviving Herero, Nama and Damara were interned in camps and put to forced labour of such brutality that many did not survive.
Respect for the fight for freedom
We pay tribute to those brave women and men, particularly from the Herero and the Nama, who fought and suffered so that their children and their children's children could live in freedom.
I remember with great respect your ancestors who died fighting against their German oppressors.
Even at that time, back in 1904, there were also Germans who opposed and spoke out against this war of oppression. One of them was August Bebel, the chairman of the same political party of which I am a member. In the German parliament, Bebel condemned the oppression of the Herero in the strongest terms and honoured their uprising as a just struggle for liberation. I am proud of that today.
Plea to forgive
A century ago, the oppressors – blinded by colonialist fervour – became agents of violence, discrimination, racism and annihilation in Germany's name.
The atrocities committed at that time would today be termed genocide – and nowadays a General von Trotha would be prosecuted and convicted.
We Germans accept our historical and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time.
And so, in the words of the Lord's Prayer that we share, I ask you to forgive us our trespasses.
Without a conscious process of remembering, without sorrow, there can be no reconciliation – remembrance is the key to reconciliation.
2004 is a year of commemorations but it should also be a year of reconciliation.
Today, we honour the dead. Those who fail to remember the past become blind to the present.
By remembering the past, we should gain strength for the present and the future.
A shared vision of freedom and justice
Namibia's independence grew out of the determination and courage of the people of Namibia and the vision you share with your ancestors. The people of Namibia have every reason to be proud of these fourteen years of independence.
The vision that you and we share of a more just, peaceful and more humane world is based on rejecting the overcoming chauvinist power politics and all forms of apartheid. We share the vision of those who fought for freedom and dignity or against discrimination of any kind: a vision of freedom, justice, mutual respect and human rights. By gaining independence, the people of Namibia have won the chance to realise that vision. I am pleased and proud that a great deal of support was also forthcoming from my own country for this struggle for independence and beyond.
Committed to support and assist
Germany has learned the bitter lessons of history: We are a country that is open to the world and has in many ways become multicultural. We have achieved German reunification in a peaceful manner and enjoy being part of the enlarged European Union. We are a committed member of the United Nations, working for world-wide peace, human rights, development and poverty reduction. We provide sustained assistance to the people of Africa and strongly support the NEPAD initiative.
Accepting our special historical responsibility towards Namibia, we wish to continue our close partnership at all levels. Germany is looking to the future and wishes to help Namibia tackle the challenges of development. This applies in particular to assistance for the necessary process of land reform.
I hope very much for all of us that this cultural centre in Okakarara will be a place for Germans and Namibians to talk and exchange views on our past and on our future. From the unhappy past that this place has witnessed, let us draw the strength to create a bright future in peace and friendship.
As Bishop Kameeta said in an interview, at a time of faceless globalisation we must tell people loud and clear that there is hope for the world and make people aware that this world and our planet cannot survive by concentrating all the work in a few hands and a few countries but by sharing resources across the whole world and ensuring that the world population has equal access to these resources.
And so, in that spirit of hope, we share a commitment to a fairer world, to better living conditions here and in all parts of our world.