Why do I do it? Why do I keep at it and have I been doing it for so many years? What is it that I am trying to accomplish by writing and blogging about the Nama-German War? And by searching for the Lost Battlefield of the last battle of this great war?
I get asked these and other questions very often and not always in a friendly way. I have been accused of fomenting unrest in the silent truce between the Namas and the Germans. Nothing can be further from the truth. Quite the opposite.
The issue is complex, like the uneasy relationship between a man and woman after some bitter dispute. Just like a woman scorned by her husband’s infedelity the Namas, well some of them at least, simply don’t trust Germany. Like a vexatious wife they want to exact revenge. Similar to a wife embroiled in divorce proceedings with her unfaithful husband the Namas (some of them) demand reparations and she (they) will not be satisfied with anything less than everything.
And just like in a divorce there can be no winners in such a contest. Germany has already officially shown some remorse for the atrocities and there has been some financial programmes to support Namibia. I think that they will be more than willing to spend billions of euros more, on certain conditions.
Conditions is a big word, and perhaps understandably a word that the Namas don’t like. Many of them demand (another big word) reparations to the tune of $30 billion and they even went to court in the USA to get it. They argue, not without merit, that Germany paid dearly for the Jewish Holocaust and the ravages of World War 2 and so they should for the Nama war. They say that Germany is in no position to set conditions, just like the vexatious wife.
Germany on the other hand is unwilling to soften its stance, just like the unfaithful husband.
For many, not all, on both sides it is a chess game of black and white. All or nothing.
In the mean time the Namas continue to suffer. Unemployment, substance abuse, lack of education and poverty are rife. These problems can be traced back to the war and the genocide. In addition to these the Namibian government tends to favour the northern part of their country, home to the Ovambos, or that is my impression. Certain groupings of Namas vehemently oppose the handing over of any reparation money to the Namibian government, because they claim, again not without some merit, that the money should be given to the Namas and Hereros directly. They claim that the money will disappear into the bottomless pit of the central government and that none of it will reach the people who suffered the most during the Nama and Herero wars. The Namibian government stand on their sovereignty and would not like to be sidestepped.
So, it is a stalemate position, just like in an acrimonious divorce. Nobody wins, but the Namas more so than Germany.
Fortunately in the middle there is a group, as always the silent majority, reasonable people of both sides, who just want to do something about the terrible plight of the Namas. I like to see myself and people like Carsten Mohle in this group. We are engaged in this project because we have a vision of a new dawn for the Namas, a vision of a new micro economy supported by cultural-historical tourism and other projects which would benefit the Namas.
For this to happen we need to get the two parties to talk to each other, just like in a reconciliation process between a man and a woman. Reconciliation is not something that can be forced upon two parties involved in a dispute. There is no prescribed recipe for two parties to resolve their differences. There is no technique or technology with guaranteed results for dispute resolution. At the very best it is a process. This process should be approached with caution and in small steps. Trust should be built up from scratch. The only guarantee is that it will take a long time.
All wars are terrible and the Nama war was no exception. To deny the fact that German soldiers and other officials were involved in terrible deeds is foolish. It is a good starting point just to admit to it. To continue to rub German noses in it is equally foolish. That is definitely not my position. The Germans of today are not directly or legally responsible for the misdeeds of their forefathers, but they have a moral responsibility to assist the victims of that war. It is a responsibility that they can only voluntarily assume. To continue to think that a legal responsibility can be forced down Germany’s throat is, for a lack of a better word, irresponsible. By spewing forth hatred and cries for “justice” and “retribution” and “reparation” the protagonists will only be alienating the very people that are in a position to help them and forcing the German government to harden its stance.
I believe there is no ceiling to the aid Germany can provide to the Namas should it be applied in the right way. Germany knows that the Namas will continue to demand help even when they send Namibia billions of euros because the Namibian government will not exclusively utilise these funds for the benefit of the Namas. It will go into the central purse of the Namibian government.
My answer to the initial questions then is that I do all of this to open the channels of communication between the two parties. I am simply trying to get the two sides to talk to each other and I believe that is what Carsten Mohle is also doing. We are simply two individuals who understand a few things about the plight of the Namas. We are both searching for the Lost Battlefield because there is an equal amount of honour and history involved for both sides. For the Germans there are 13 of their bravest soldiers buried in unknown and unmarked graves, forgotten for all intents and purposes. For the Namas there is the unheralded and untold story of their great and unvanquished hero, Simon Koper, symbol of resistance, reminder of the claims of the Khoi-Khoin to being the First People or First Nation of our sub-region.
Like in the case of the fighting husband and wife I do not claim to know the answers to all the vexatious questions, but I do know that I must get the two parties to talk to each other. They must use baby steps, one project at a time. For now we focus on finding the battlefield because we know that it is a small way of establishing some respect for the other on both sides. We have seen it happen already.
Finally it allows us to dream and to nurture our vision of a new dawn.
The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon. Visit my Amazon author’s site by clicking on https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07HFTTQ2B where you can also place orders.