Germany for the first time on Friday admitted it had committed genocide in Namibia during its colonial occupation, with Berlin promising financial support worth more than €1 billion to aid projects in the southern African nation.
“We will now officially refer to these events as what they are from today’s perspective: genocide,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a statement.
He hailed the agreement after more than five years of negotiations with Namibia over events in the territory occupied by Germany from 1884 to 1915.
German settlers killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in 1904-1908 massacres, which historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century.
“In light of the historical and moral responsibility of Germany, we will ask forgiveness from Namibia and the victims’ descendants for the atrocities committed, Maas said.
In a “gesture to recognise the immense suffering inflicted on the victims”, Berlin will support the reconstruction and development of Namibia via a financial programme of over €1 billion (US$1.34 billion), he said, but made clear it was not compensation on a legal basis.
The sum will be paid over 30 years, and must primarily benefit the descendants of the Hereo and Nama peoples.
When Namibia became the colony of German South West Africa, German settlers deprived the indigenous tribes of their livestock and land until the Hereo revolted in 1904, killing around a hundred German settlers. A year later, the Nama also rebelled.
German General Lothar von Trotha was sent to quell the uprisings and ordered his German troops to exterminate the tribes. At least 60,000 Hereos and 10,000 Namas were killed between 1904 and 1908.
Colonial soldiers carried out mass executions, and exiled survivors to the desert where thousands died of thirst. They also established infamous concentration camps, such as the one on Shark Island.
Although many architectural and culinary signs of Germany’s time in Namibia remain, the atrocities committed during colonisation have poisoned relations between the two nations for decades.
After Germany lost World War I, the League of Nations mandated South Africa to administer the territory.
Many German-speaking descendants of the colonisers still live in the capital, Windhoek, and in smaller towns.
Although English is now Namibia’s sole official language, about 30,000 Namibians of German descent, or 2% of the country’s overall population, still speak German. Africa’s only German language newspaper, Die Allgemeine Zeitung is still published.
The legacy of German colonisation can also be seen in the Lutheran Church, which is the largest religious denomination in the country.
Many place names in Namibia carry names of German origin. The main road in the capital city, Windhoek retained the name Kaiserstrasse, or “Emperor Street” until Namibian independence from South Africa in 1990.