BERLIN – Germany may make payments to Namibia for the killing of 65,000 tribespeople during colonial occupation, an episode that is seen by some as the first genocide of the 20th century, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.
Spokesman Martin Schaefer said the two-year talks with Namibia’s government have entered a phase in which both sides are talking “in very concrete terms” about how to treat the events in the future.
“This may include further payments,” Schaefer told reporters in Berlin. Germany already provides Namibia significant development aid — totaling some 800 million euros ($850 million) since Namibia gained independence from South African rule in 1990.
“Namibia has a little over two million inhabitants and [Germany’s] per capita aid is likely a world record,” said Schaefer. He said this was partly due to “the special responsibility we feel because of German-Namibian history.”
His comments came a day after representatives of the Herero and Nama tribes filed a class-action suit in the United States against the German government, seeking reparations and a place at the negotiating table.
Schaefer says Germany had “good reasons” for not negotiating directly with the tribes. He didn’t elaborate.
Previous lawsuits have failed because the crime of genocide was recognized by the United Nations only in 1948, in response to the Holocaust committed by Nazi Germany.
Historians say German Gen. Lothar von Trotha, who was sent to what was then German South West Africa to put down an uprising by the Hereros in 1904, instructed his troops to wipe out the entire tribe. About two-thirds of all Hereros were killed, and the order also affected smaller tribes.
In 2004, then-Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul traveled to Namibia and offered Germany’s first apology for the killings, which she said was “what today would be labeled as genocide.” Germany’s Foreign Ministry has described the killings as genocide in recent years.
Unlike other former colonial powers, such as Britain and France, Germany has taken measures to publicly confront its crimes against indigenous populations, including by funding an exhibition on Germany’s colonial history in Berlin.