Speech by the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr. Wolfgang Massing at the opening of the commemorative conference 1904 – 2004 on 17 August 2004
I am honoured and pleased to be invited to the opening of this important conference. Looking at the impressive number of historians and experts as well as the broad spectrum of topics your are dealing with, I am confident that you will be able to throw some new light on a dark chapter, or rather the darkest chapter, of the German colonial past in . It is not easy to deal objectively- sine ira et studio- with a period which – although 100 years ago - still raises so many emotions and so much pain among the descendants of the victims of that war. Those of you that have attended the commemoration of the Hamakari battle at Okakarara on 14th of August could realize that its impact is still felt today. It remains an unfinished history in some way or other. In a very moving speech the German Minister for economic cooperation and development, Mrs. Wieczorek-Zeul, acknowledged all the atrocities committed at that time by the German Imperial Troops. She pointed out that “Without a conscious process of remembering, without sorrow there can be no reconciliation – remembrance is the key to reconciliation”.
Looking closer into this brutal war of suppression there are still quite a few questions that have to be clarified. Unfortunately some of those questions will be difficult to answer, because there are no more witnesses, relevant documents are missing or others are questionable as to the degree of their authenticity. And there are even documents which have been not yet made available to the public, like for example the diary of the General von Trotha which is gathering dust in the archives of his family. The German Government has been trying to make available all relevant documents from our own archives. You will remember that the German Foreign Minister Fischer, when he came to Namibia in October last year, presented the whole collection of the nearly 10.000 files of the then Reichskolonialamt (Colonial Office) between 1884 and 1920 to the National Archives. A huge pile of material.
But there is another more fundamental problem when approaching this past: discussions and publications about the war of 1904 have mainly been among historians from Western countries . I am very happy that this conference has made a serious effort to include more Namibian historians into the debate. Especially for the descendents of the victims it is very important that their own experiences and perceptions of the events are being dealt with. This is essential to have a more comprehensive picture of the events, and I regard it as a necessary contribution to heal the wounds of the past. Some of you might have seen the documentary of the German TV about the 1904 war . In this excellent film called "death in the desert" Mr. Kaputo, who is regarded one of the best connoisseurs of the traditions and the history of the Hereros, plays a crucial role. He recalls in a very moving way what his grandmother has told him about the Hamakari battle. These oral traditions which over time have developed to a multifaceted collective memory on the side of the Herero communities, should be better known and integrated into a common approach to history. I am sure that there is still a lot to discover in this regard, but we should also take a more systematic look into the written documents on the side of the Hereros, which have not yet been fully exploited for the historical research.
In this context I am very happy to be able to announce that our Minister for economic development, Mrs Heidi Wieczorek-Zeul has brought 4 small, but valuable documents which were collected by the German linguist Professor Dempwolff, who served as a medical officer in during 1899-1905. They came later into the possession of the German Missionary Dammann, who eventually deposited them at the manuscript department of the Staatsbibliothek in . These four documents are of particular interest, as they are letters written by Herero leaders during the 1904 war: two by Chief David Kambazembi of Waterberg, one by Salatiel Kambazembi, and a letter by a certain Timotheus. I would like to thank especially Mrs. Kalle, country director of the GTZ and Mrs. Ellen Namhila, director of the National Archives who have helped to repatriate these documents to .
Before I officially hand over these documents let me thank all those that have prepared and organised this important event so well, especially Mr. Hartmann its convener. I sincerely wish that this conference will be another step to come to terms with an unfortunate past. As the well known German philosopher and sociologist of Jewish origin, Theodor Adorno, has put it " beredt machen, ist die Voraussetzung aller Wahrheit." To give suffering a voice is the precondition of all truth."
Thank you very much.
And now I have the honour and pleasure to hand over the Dammann collection to Honourable Mutorwa, the Minister of Basic Education, Culture and Sport as a gift of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to the people of in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation.