The descendants of the victims of Namibia’s genocide have vowed to continue their quest for direct reparation, after disowning the settlement struck between their government and Germany.
On Google Earth, they look like a bumpy rash on the landscape. Zoom in closer and the bumps emerge as mounds in the desert sand, thousands of them in tight rows. Each of these mounds is an unmarked grave and a reminder of a terrible slaughter. And it is between these rows, where his ancestors lie, that artist and activist Laidlaw Peringanda performs a painful duty.
He comes to care for the graves that hug the outskirts of Swakopmund in Namibia. The worst aspect of the job is when the sea wind has blown and eroded some of the mounds, exposing the bones and skulls of his ancestors.
“It is not easy,” says Peringanda. “To do this you need a strong heart.”
The graveyard is the final resting place of thousands of Herero who were the victims of the 20th century’s first genocide. They died in the concentration camps the Germans erected around Swakopmund.
No one knows exactly how many Ovaherero and Nama died between 1904 and 1908. As many as 80% of the Ovaherero might have died, while the Nama may have lost half their population.
For decades, the descendants of those killed in what began as an uprising have called for Germany to recognise that the wholesale killings were genocide and pay reparation.
The German government officially called the events a genocide in 2015, but refused to pay reparation. Negotiations have been ongoing since then, but news broke in mid-May that the Namibian and German governments had reached a financial agreement. Germany is to provide financial aid worth €1.1 billion (about R18 billion) over 30 years.
The full details of this aid package are yet to be revealed, but officials in Berlin said funding would go towards projects relating to land reform, rural infrastructure, water supply and training. Affected communities are to be involved and will benefit from these projects.
The Namibian government said the agreement was “a step in the right direction”. But some descendants say it’s not enough.
“We see this as an insult,” says Nandiuasora Mazeingo, the chairperson of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation. “The Namibian government was only accorded the role of a facilitator in that process, and we have been excluded from the agreement.”
An angry Mazeingo adds that the amount offered is equivalent to the annual budget of Namibia’s education department. “And this is what they are offering for killing 80% of my people, and 50% of the Nama. They have looted our country, and their children still sit on our land.”
He says the Nama and Ovaherero should be allowed to spend the money how they wish.