Herero Massacre: Africans Must be Compensated
By Akinyi Janet
Not Long ago, former Namibian Ambassador to Germany, Professor Peter Katjavivi, demanded that German universities return to Africa dozens of human skulls, remains of the colonial-era Herero massacre, that are held in their archives. A section of the German press reported that skulls of Herero and Nama prisoners of the 1904-1908 uprisings against Imperial German rule were sent to Germany for "scientific research" by Dr Eugen Fischer to prove whites' superiority over blacks.
The Herero community demanded for reparations and dialogue with the German government regarding the atrocities committed against them during the uprising. German public television ARD showed 47 Africans' skulls stored at the Medical History Museum at the Charité hospital in Berlin and at least a dozen more at Freiburg University. The collection consists of over six thousand skulls as well as dried skin, hair, plaster casts of faces, heads, hands, and feet. All these in a western museum and colleges! When will Africans be accorded respect by the West?
According to existing UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Convention, such things must be repatriated to their countries of origin. Africans believe in dignified burial of its folks. It is time these remains are returned for burial. Germany officials at the embassy of Windhoek insist that they have to receive an official request from the Namibian Government to repatriate the body frameworks. Did Germans in the first place seek official permission from Namibia before shipping these skulls to the West? Why the double standards?
The Herero people rose up against German colonial rulers in January 1904 to protest against the stealing of their land, cattle and women by Germans. The German colonial rulers responded ruthlessly, defeating the Herero in a decisive battle at the Waterberg later that year. It was followed by the notorious "extermination order" of General Lothar von Trotha, under the direct command of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin to exterminate the Herero. Tens of thousands of the Herero community that numbered between 50 000 to 80 000 were butchered. Only about 15 000 survived the campaign that ended in 1907. Many historians called the killings the first genocide of the 20th century.
Even though overseas Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul expressed Germany's regret in fairly general terms in 2004 for the Herero deaths during an event marking the centenary of the massacre, the State President of Germany, Herzog had refused in 1998 to make any formal apology to the Namibians. Will the ICC try Germany over the same massacre?
Germany has refused to pay any compensation to the Hereros for expropriated and exploited land; Herero massacre; use of Herero women as sex slaves and use of Herero bodies as research objects.Should the bones and skulls of the victims of German colonialist aggression still remain in German possession? Isn't it astonishing that the German government has compensated the Jews for their losses under the Nazi regime but is unwilling to adopt a similar policy towards Africans who were victims of genocide under its regime?
No European nation has so far openly apologised to African people for slavery, colonisation, genocide or any other abominable atrocity. The continuation of indescribable crimes on Africans by the West with impunity makes Africans boil with anger. It is time Africans are accorded the respect and dignity they deserve. Demanding the skulls of our forefathers is not asking for too. Is it?