Speech by Dr. Wolfgang Massing, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, to commemorate 1904 at Okahandja, 11.01.2004
It is a great honour for me to be invited to today’s launching of the commemorative events for the year 2004. I am personally very much touched by this gesture of friendship. In January 1904, hundred years ago, the Hereros stood up against the colonial rule of Imperial Germany. The reasons for this “rebellion”, as it was regarded by the colonial rulers, were obvious: The Herero people did not wish to be expelled from their land, to be recruited into forced labour and to give up their traditions and culture in order to live in dependency and humiliation. In fighting German colonial rule, your forefathers showed courage and bravery against a well-trained and well-equipped German colonial army. Actually, your side fought so well that reinforcements had to be sent from and with them a new Commander, General Lothar von Trotha, who was instructed to crush the rebellion. After the arrival of this General the war turned into bloodshed: Von Trotha was not only determined to defeat your people militarily but also to destroy its identity. As you all know, the turning point in the tragic war was the so called Hamakari battle as a result of which many thousands of your people were pushed into the vast Omaheke desert where they died of hunger and thirst. We do not know the exact number of people who lost their lives under awful conditions but it was a national tragedy for the Herero people. In October 1904 von Trotha, who had not succeeded to break the resistance of your brave people, issued the infamous extermination order. This was the culmination point of a brutal and inhuman policy - even by standards of colonial times.
By remembering these tragic events we should not forget that there also was remarkable resistance on the German side against this immoral and senseless mass killing of the Hereros. Last but not least his predecessor v. Leutwein tried in vain to convince v. Trotha to stop these atrocities and to negotiate a peace settlement. Let me also mention those Missionaries especially from the Rheinische Mission who tried to relieve the suffering of numerous prisoners of war. In , the Social Democratic Party strongly opposed the 1904 bloodshed in the German Parliament (Reichstag). Their leader August Bebel condemned the suppression of the Hereros and called their resistance a justified war of liberation. As the strongest parliamentary group the Social Democrats did not approve the supplementary budget to cover the costs of the 1904 war. The result was that new elections had to take place. Not least due to strong protests from within the then Chancellor von Bülow withdrew the so called extermination order in December 1904. General von Trotha was ordered back to in 1905. Even within the German army von Trotha’s inhuman orders were criticized. The most well known opponent was Major von Estorff who tried, but did not succeed in persuading von Trotha to act moderately.
Although hundred years ago, the traumatic events of 1904 have left deep wounds among the Hereros which still need time to heal. So it is essential that not only the Hereros but also we Germans and all the other Namibians should together remember these appalling events and talk about them in an open and constructive dialogue. How should the German Government and people deal with this darkest chapter of our colonial history? First of all we have to fully acknowledge the facts and not try to hide them or play them down. Secondly, we have to face up to our common history. By doing this, injustice can not be undone, but by assuming our moral responsibility we can give back to the victims and their descendants the dignity and honour of which they were robbed. I should therefore like to reconfirm that the German Government is doing so unreservedly. I also wish to express how deeply we regret this unfortunate past. Let me mention here that in too numerous activities will take place to commemorate the events of 1904. There is a deep sympathy and understanding for the fate of the Herero-people among the Germans.
The German Government lives up to its historical responsibility by establishing a special relationship with independent Namibia. Since 1990 Namibia has been receiving more than 500 Million EURO for its own development. Our prime goal in our bilateral cooperation is to help Namibia overcome poverty and strengthen its economy and infrastructure. It is our commitment that the bilateral cooperation projects should reach all Namibians and not only be geared to one specific group or section. For the same reason it would be not 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 reconciliation which we fully support. There is no doubt about it, the war which began in 1904 was a hallmark in the struggle of the Namibians for national independence, a struggle which only ended in 1990 when your country could free itself from the chains of colonialism and Apartheid.
We cannot change the past but what we can change is the future! We must do everything here and now that such injustices and brutal human rights violations should never happen again. Let us join hands to work for a more human and just society in which racism, tribalism, hatred, violence and discrimination will have no place. Thus a painful past can be redeemed in a peaceful and prosperous future.
In this historic year 2004 I wish also on behalf of the German Government to extend the hand of friendship, solidarity and reconciliation to the Hereros and to all Namibians. The German Embassy is prepared to support activities which are linked to the commemoration of 1904, including some specific projects which will help to preserve your traditions and culture.
It is my wish that the commemoration activities will contribute to strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding between the descendants of former enemies and between our two nations.