Germany asked for "forgiveness" at the weekend for colonial atrocities committed against Herero-speaking Namibians, while promising increased development aid for the country's land reform programme.
The acknowledgement follows a long-standing demand for an apology over the genocide that followed a 1904 Herero uprising against German rule, which led to the destruction of an estimated 75 percent of the Herero population. Germany is also facing a US $4 billion class action lawsuit brought by the descendants of the survivors.
Speaking at Okakarara village, some 280 km northeast of the capital, Windhoek, near where Herero resistance was finally crushed, Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said: "I am painfully aware of the atrocities committed ... We Germans accept our historical and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time."
Some of the 2,000-strong crowd at the commemoration ceremony on Saturday chanted "Payment, payment!" in German, a demand for reparations for the extermination and expulsion of the Herero ordered by Lieutenant-General Lothar von Trotha a century ago.
"I am personally happy about the apology, but I still have the right to take Germany to court for reparations," Paramount Chief off all Herero-speakers, Kuaima Riruako, declared during the commemoration. "Now we can have a dialogue to finish the unfinished business," Riruako added, hinting at the demand for reparations.
In September 2001, about 200 Herero under Riruako filed a lawsuit in the US court of the District of Columbia demanding US $2 billion from the German government for atrocities committed under colonial rule. Lodged by the Herero Peoples' Reparation Corporation, it also seeks $2 billion from three German companies including Deutsche Bank, mining company Terex Corporation, formerly Orenstein-Koppel Co., and the shipping company Deutsche Afrika Linie, formerly Woermann Linie.
The district court of Columbia was chosen because a 215-year-old law, the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, allows for such civil action.
Germany has firmly ruled out reparations, but Wieczorek-Zeul said Berlin would help Namibia tackle the challenges of development, "in particular, assistance for the necessary process of land reform".
"Germany will finance infrastructure development on communal land in Namibia, in a bid to boost land reform," Wieczorek-Zeul said after a meeting last week with Lands Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba and President Sam Nujoma. "We will financially support initiatives on communal land to make that land more productive and develop its infrastructure."
Details of the financial support will be discussed next year in a new round of inter-governmental cooperation, Wiezcorek-Zeul added.
Asked whether she was concerned that largely white-owned commercial farms could be expropriated by the government for redistribution to landless Namibians, the minister replied that Pohamba had assured her that land reform would "proceed in line with the Namibian constitution and relevant laws".