Perhaps a quarter million Herero live in Namibia today. For many, ethnic identity is everything. "It is the root of our being," Nokokure Veii, a Herero activist and secretary of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation, wrote in an email. She regularly dons a traditional dress and hat for Herero gatherings, like weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies for newborns and commemorations of fallen Herero chiefs.
The Herero population has grown in recent years, Veii said, but not enough to ensure a change in the status quo. "We were reduced to a mere insignificant minority in the country of our birth," Veii said. According to the World Bank, Namibia, like post-apartheid South Africa, still suffers from some of the highest income inequality in the world. Many of the businesses in Windhoek, Namibia's capital, are owned by white Namibians.
This helps explain why, in more than a dozen conversations with Herero activists in Namibia and the diaspora, three issues came up again and again.
The first is land. The Herero want preferential access to the land that was taken from them. But their numbers — less than 10 percent of the population — are too low to give them sway in the Namibian government, Veii said.
The second is reparations. In recent years, Germany has started to take responsibility for colonial genocide and has offered development aid to Namibia. But many Herero and Nama have called for direct reparations, of the sort paid to Holocaust survivors after World War II. They say the descendants of victims, not the nation of Namibia, should lead negotiations with Germany.
"Development in the regions we live in is slow and almost nonexistent," Veii said. "This poverty is generational, and unless we break the chain through reparations from the German government, the status quo will remain."
That battle has moved to the U.S. thanks to a 2017 lawsuit. Under the Alien Tort Statute, an unusual law that has allowed foreigners to sue perpetrators of human rights violations, the Herero are challenging Germany in U.S. federal court.
The third issue might be described as truth and reconciliation. When apartheid ended in the early 1990s, South Africa empowered victims to publicly challenge their perpetrators. But Namibia did not.
"South Africa took a very bold step," Hengari said, "by creating a Truth Commission where people would come vent out and point fingers and, through that process, find a mechanism of trying to level out things."
In Namibia, RauRau added, this effort must come from within the Herero community. "We must write our own history," he said. "Our books must be published endlessly, so that our children can have pride in ourselves."
The Herero refuse to become a forgotten people. Theirs is a story of patient persistence.
After attending college in Minnesota, Hengari returned to Namibia as a participant in the liberation struggle and settled on a farm not far from the reserve where he grew up.
But he does not yet feel content. There is work to do. "We all need to join hands and join in if we want to see a change in the lot of our people," he said. "There is no way that one can feel content at this stage. And there is no clear path, or plan, to get out of this."
Published/Updated on 27.08.2019 by Meyan Nanguy
Assistant Editor-In-Chief @ ivorycoasttribune.com