Germany admits to genocide for the first time in 120 years

The German government has for the first time in 120 years admitted that the 1904-1908 massacre that killed more than 60 000 Nama and Herero people should be classified as a genocide.

Initially, the two governments acknowledged, in a joint declaration, that by today’s standards, the massacres would be classified as a genocide.

The descendants of the affected communities say Germany should have called it what it was – a genocide – at the time of the negotiations.

In 2021, Ovaherero Traditional Authority secretary general Mutjinde Katjiua and Nama Traditional Leaders Association secretary general Deodat Dirkse said because Germany stated they recognise the genocide in “today’s perspective”, this means they do not recognise any obligation to make reparations in the current reconciliation agreement.

German embassy spokesperson Gundula Perry yesterday confirmed to The Namibian that Germany has acknowledged what happened was a genocide.

“The German government calls the atrocities committed by German troops against the Ovaherero and Nama for what they are – a genocide – and acknowledges its moral and historical responsibility,” Perry said.

Mutjinde Katjiua

This is a U-turn from the European country’s earlier decision to call it a genocide “in today’s perspective”.

Germany was criticised for this, saying it does not want to take full accountability for its atrocities.

Perry told The Namibian that their position was solidified when that country’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, asserted that Germany must apologise unconditionally and mentioned this in his speech at the late president Hage Geingob’s funeral.

“In his address delivered at the funeral service for the late president of the Republic of Namibia, Hage Geingob, federal president Frank-Walter Steinmeier clearly expressed that, as agreed in the joint declaration, it is ‘high time’ to tender an apology to the Namibian people and that he hopes he will be able to return to Namibia very soon for that purpose,” she stated.


Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) leader McHenry Venaani says Germany is ‘flip-flopping’ on the terminology, when a genocide is what it is and was.

“People should not want us to just let this thing go because the geopolitics is not working in our favour. When we started this thing, when we pioneered the road of genocide, we knew it was genocide and we know now it is genocide,” he says.

Venaani stresses that the same Germany is paying reparations to the Jewish community today and has committed huge amounts of money.

“It’s the same way that they were denying it was not genocide. Today they are saying it’s genocide. They must fix a quantum that is respectable. At this point in time, what they are fixing is not respectable,” the PDM leader says.

McHenry Venaani


Genocide reparations technical committee member Freddy Nguvauva says the current German government is more receptive to agreeing to a reparations deal.

Jürgen Zimmerer

Nguvauva says the Germans have shifted their focus to their energy crisis and the conflicts it is supporting.

“We know what is currently happening in Germany with the rise of the right-wing parties, the nationalists and the economic hardships Germany is currently facing due to their reliance on Russian gas and energy, which is really squeezing their budget, and this means the Germans are prioritising their own interests rather than looking at issues beyond Germany, including genocides that they committed years ago,” he says.

This was also reiterated by vice president Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah who said this in the face of Germany’s highly polarised political stance regarding the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Ukraine.

A historian of German descent, Jürgen Zimmerer, says it is striking that details of an agreement between Germany and Namibia are discussed in Windhoek, of which German civil society has no knowledge.

He says reconciliation and atonement should be a matter for the entire society.

Zimmerer says the German government is not disclosing anything about the achieved changes, saying from his perspective, the agreement on the recognition of the genocide without any qualification is an important step.

“That no amount is given a) for the atonement in general and b) for the amount paid right away seems to be odd. If an agreement has been reached, why not announce it? If not, then the Herero and Nama people are at the mercy of the German government. It should at least specify the procedure by which the new increase is to be determined,” the historian says.

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