Remorse over colonisation
In Germany it is treated as a ‘sensitive matter’
WESTERN Cape Premier Helen Zille, who has been censured by the DA following her series of tweets praising certain aspects of colonialism, would be shocked to learn that some progressive former colonialists deeply regret ever entrenching colonialism.
In Germany, for instance, colonialism is treated as a “sensitive matter”. But not so in South Africa, where some sections of society still believe that the masses who were subjugated should be grateful to the colonisers, because whatever atrocities they committed were in pursuit of a greater good.
In Zille’s case, the greater good would be our independent judiciary, the transport infrastructure and piped water, as per her tweet which landed her in hot water and pitted her against DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
The Germans, meanwhile, are planning to hold a series of dialogues with scholars in countries that were previously part of the German colonial empire. In Africa these include neighbouring Namibia and Tanzania, among others.
University of Hamburg research assistant Kim Sebastian Todzi, who is attached to the department of history’s research centre focusing on colonial heritage and early globalisation, said colonialism was a “sensitive matter” in Germany.
“The narrative is that European colonialism was developmental and that the colonised benefited through infrastructure such as railway lines… that is what we are trying to deconstruct,” Todzi said.
He said double standards were applied in commemorating the “crimes of the past” and said civil society needed to be in the forefront of the planned dialogues aimed at redressing the painful and often brutal legacy of colonialism.
Todzi’s professor, Dr Jurgen Zimmerer, said that two decades ago, colonialism was told as a different story in Europe, and as “an adventure trip to foreign countries”. “But now if you mention the Herero and Nama in Namibia, people have something bad to reflect on about the German government,” Zimmerer said.
He lashed out at the German government for its “halfhearted effort” in admitting that it implemented grandscale genocide in Namibia. He was also not happy that neither President Frank-Walter Steinmeier nor Chancellor Angela Merkel had apologised.
“Look, the dialogue with Namibia is needed now because the Herero and Nama are suing Germany in New York. In my opinion, the German government is shying away from this class-action lawsuit, because it will bankrupt us. In fact, if the Herero and Nama win in court, a lot of lawsuits (against Germany) will pop up all over the place,” said Zimmerer.
The lawsuit by descendants of the Herero and Nama people pertain to a genocide by German colonial troops in the 1900s, in which more than 100 000 people rebelling against German rule in what was then South West Africa were murdered.
It has been written that the first phase of the genocide was characterised by widespread death from starvation and dehydration due to the prevention of the retreating Herero from leaving the Namib Desert by German forces. It is further stated that once defeated, thousands of Herero and Nama were imprisoned in concentration camps, where the majority died of diseases, abuse and exhaustion.
Zimmerer said the German government had been given a July 21 deadline to appear in the US court over the lawsuit.
There were many options Germany could consider rather than paying reparations for the genocide. Those included student exchange programmes, among others, he added.
That’s how serious the Germans take their legacy of colonialism. Todzi said there was also debate on whether it was morally right to continue “honouring” racists and slave owners/traders who have streets named after them. “This is a critical discussion at the moment,” he said.
But back home, Jonathan Witt took to Twitter last week and described the ANC banquet menu as a “delicious legacy of colonialism”. There are no prizes for guessing who responded. Zille tweeted Witt, commenting: “You will understand why I can’t RT that.” To which Witt responded: “Yes indeed. Nobody has a sense of humour anymore, rather not upset the offendotrons.”
Mkentane is on a twomonth fellowship with the International Journalists’ Programmes
People have something bad to reflect on