Three decades before the persecution of Jews and other minorities became state policy in Germany, the mindset that would lead to the Holocaust was already defined in a large African colony.
Between 1904 and 1907, the then territory of South West Africa, now Namibia, was the scene of the first genocide of the twentieth century, practiced by the same country which, in the 1930s, would bring about Nazism in power.
The massacres against the Herero and Nama peoples by the German colonizers left between 75,000 and 100,000 dead, almost leading to their extinction.
It is estimated that 80% of the Herero and 50% of the Nama were killed, which, until today, contributes for them to represent relatively small portions of the population of 2.6 million inhabitants, in a country the size of Mato Grosso.
Almost 120 years later, the former colonial power and the current African country finalize a historic agreement, negotiated since 2015, by which Germany will officially recognize that it has committed genocide, apologize and announce financial compensation. to the descendants of the victims.
According to the German press, the bases of the agreement have already been closed and should be officially announced in the coming weeks. There will be an official visit by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Namibia, with an apology to the country’s parliament.
Namibian negotiator Zed Ngavirue confirmed the talks have been successful, but did not reveal details.
Negotiations have accelerated in the run-up to the election which will decide on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor in September. Merkel still wants to complete them in her government.
While the deal is an undeniable victory for the African country, not everyone is happy with the way the talks have gone. The entities representing the two peoples say they have been excluded from the dialogue and do not feel considered by the Namibian government.
“Germany must publicly admit that the crime of genocide has been committed and that it must pay compensation. But this reparation must be preceded by a dialogue between the perpetrators and the victims, that is to say between Germany and us ”, declares Festus Muundjua, president of the Herero Genocide Foundation.
“If you crash my car, shouldn’t the argument be between the two of us?” The logic is the same, ”he says.
According to him, today the Herero, who represent 7% of the population, and the Nama, around 5%, are two marginalized and poor communities in the country. Some live in the countryside, working in subsistence agriculture, and another on the outskirts of large cities, in the informal economy.
“We don’t want to be represented by proxy, we want to represent ourselves. It is something guaranteed by international law, but the Namibian government refuses to accept it, ”says Muundjua.
Folha has asked the Namibian government for a position on asserting affected communities that they feel excluded, but there has been no response. The African country and Germany say descendants of affected peoples have been consulted throughout the process.
The discussion is steeped in how the German compensation will be made, likely for development and infrastructure projects in the country, run by the government of Namibia.
The Herero and Nama communities want to participate in the application of resources, so that they benefit the true descendants of the victims. It is not yet clear what the value of the repair will be.
Namibia ranks 130th on the United Nations Human Development Index, out of 189 respondents. Although it is one of the best positioned countries in Africa, it has the second highest inequality in the world, according to the World Bank, but better than neighboring South Africa on this score.
Its Gini index is 59.1, on a scale from 0 to 100 (Brazil’s is 53.4). Unemployment exceeds 30% and poverty affects more than 20% of the population.
The territory with a vast desert area and little arable land was one of the last to arouse the interest of European settlers in the 19th century.
It was not until 1884 that Germany established a presence on the coast, and inland expansion led to inevitable conflicts with established peoples. In 1904, the Herero and Nama revolt exploded against the colonizers, due to the dispute over arable land.
Historical reports recount the atrocities committed on both sides at first, but later the Europeans controlled the situation with an iron fist. In addition to the massacres, there were internments in unsanitary concentration camps and the expulsion of populations to the desert, where they died of hunger and thirst.
Descendants of the Germans today make up around 2% of the population, and the colonial legacy remains in the architecture of cities like Luderitz, Swakopmund and the capital, Windhoek. Living with the black majority is generally peaceful, despite historical resentment.
Part of the German community does not hide the unease caused by the negotiations. “The myth of the genocide is nothing but moral blackmail,” Namibian-German historian Andreas Vogt told the British BBC channel.
According to this view, the deaths during this period occurred in the context of armed conflict. “A portrait of a brutal, genocidal and ruthless German colonial authority on the one hand and a totally innocent and immaculate Herero people on the other,” Vogt said.
Another part of this community, however, understands that the close of this historic chapter has already passed much of the deadline.
“There is still a lot of colonial amnesia in Germany. There are people who even admit that there were atrocities and colonial crimes, but they still say that the colonizers challenged malaria and disease to build roads and schools, ”Henning Melber, a historian and German political scientist who lived in Namibia and followed the negotiations.
One of the reasons for the delay in the outcome of the talks, he said, is the fact that any deal will be seen as a parameter for future recognition of atrocities committed by other colonizers.
“The form of the apology has legal implications,” says Melber. According to him, other former German colonies, such as Tanzania, Togo or Cameroon, or even countries occupied by the Nazis during World War II, may be prompted to initiate reparations.
The links between Nazism and German colonialism in Africa are clear, says the expert, although he says that to say that the genocide against the Herero and the Nama led to the Holocaust is an exaggeration.
“[A filósofa] Hannah Arendt said that if you want to understand the Nazi mentality, you have to go back to the totalitarianism practiced in places like Africa. Not in the sense that it was a rough draft, but that the mentality of mass extinction was created in the German colonies, ”he says.
Personal relationships show this connection. The most eloquent example is that of the father of Hermann Goering, right-hand man of Adolf Hitler, who was the first governor of the German colony of South West Africa, although he did not participate directly in the African genocide. .
“There are a number of colonial officials who were then very influential in the creation of the Nazi Party. One even became Minister of Colonial Affairs. And there were examples of early 20th century colonial literature that were distributed and republished by the Nazis until 1944, ”says Melber.