That German expression of regret in Namibia

January 15, 2004
3 mins read

The German Ambassador in Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, recently expressed ‘regret’ on behalf of his country, for the massacre by German colonial forces of an estimated 105,000 Herero people in Namibia, following an anti-colonial uprising in January 1904.

In terms of the ratio of people killed to the entire population of the territory, the German colonial massacre, ranks as one of the most savage acts of genocide in human history. Yet, while the expression of ‘regret’ is the closest that Germany has ever come to accepting its crime, the ambassador ruled out the payment of compensation for the crime.

In a world of many standards, the colonial powers have not paid compensation to African peoples for the slave trade, which destroyed the fabric of African societies, yet it turned Africans into the chattels that helped to produce the surplus of the worldwide capitalist system. Neither have they been obliged to pay for the colonial plunder which helped to consolidate the wealth of Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, and Spain, as well as the continued pauperisation of the African peoples by the same powers, led by the United States of America today, under neo-colonialism and globalisation.

Yet, the same Germany that will not even contemplate the payment of compensation to an African people, continues to pay Israel and the Jewish people for the holocaust of the years of the Second World War. This illustrates how little regard there is for African people and the suffering we have had to endure in the history of our relationship with the world capitalist system. The racist outgrowth of the exploitative relations of the capitalist system has continued to re-inforce the refusal of the Western powers to accept responsibility for the historical injustice they have inflicted on the African peoples. That relationship of injustice and exploitation has continued in a more systematic manner with globalisation.

The German massacre of the Herero people is particularly poignant as an illustration of the perversity of the colonial system because of the cruel manner of its execution. The Commander of the German colonial forces, General Van Trobha had issued a proclamation to all the Herero people to leave their ancestral land in Namibia or they would be shot. Of course he carried out his threat and went on to massacre over 105,000 people.

It sounds painful to recall this tragic episode in the colonial history of Africa, however, the consequences continue to have a direct bearing on the present existence of the Namibia people who had to undergo not just the painful German colonial massacres, but also the bestiality of apartheid until independence over a decade ago.


There are commentators today who tell Africans to forget the crimes of colonialism, because after over forty years of independence in our countries, the problem has shifted unto the shoulders of post-colonial ruling classes who have perpetrated even more monstrous crimes against their peoples. While it is true that the bandit bourgeoisie of post colonial Africa has been very destructive in its husbandry of our countries, there can be no doubt that its antecedents must be traced to the colonial system of exploitation, which the much-lamented Walter Rodney, author of HOW EUOPPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA, described as a one-armed bandit, let lose upon African peoples and our resources.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Africa’s colonial history provided the basis of the tragic transitions which our ruling classes have continued to make  from import-substitution industrialisation, through to structural adjustment and its concomitants of privatisation and liberalisation, with their ruinous impact on the fabric of African life. The legacy of colonialism represents a major problem that African peoples must bond together to defeat, if we are to become truly independent and free.

The German expression of regret in respect of their crimes in Namibia is not wholesome, but it helps to highlight a significant missing link in the history of the continent. The search for a meaningful route out of poverty, underdevelopment, and exploitation is elusive, because the ruling classes nurtured by the imperialist powers have continued to rule our countries, employing recipes that were brewed in the colonial metropoles, to ensure the survival of the relationships of exploitation forged since colonialism.

  It is therefore significant to point out that the lesson from the German expression of regret in Namibia is that African patriots must redouble their efforts to break the yoke of imperialism in our continent. That will be achieved when we defeat the political economy of neo-liberal capitalism that is further entrenching underdevelopment and exploitation, and making a complete mess of the national liberation struggles of the 1950s and the 1960s.


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