Aletta Nguvauva, Paramount Chief of the OvaMbanderu Traditional Council visited New York city to attend a court case hearing on Thursday October 12, to view Namibian human remains recently discovered at the American Museum of Natural History, and consult with Ovaherero/Ovambanderu descendants in the USA. What follows are her thoughts on the case and the struggle for restorative justice for the genocides.
What is the purpose of your visit to the USA? What do you hope to accomplish?
I came to New York to attend to a legal proceeding concerning the Genocide case that was filed here. We hoped that all aspects of the proceeding would be sorted out this time so that Germany can finally have her day in court to answer to the demands for reparations for the genocide committed in Namibia against the Nama, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu. Unfortunately, Germany has thus far refused to respond and once again did not show up in court. While that is unfortunate, it is not surprising. But I am happy that the judge agreed to our request to postpone the case until January 25, 2018.
What does this case mean to you and the people you represent?
This case means quite a lot to the Namas, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu people as it entails another attempt by the victim communities to get Germany to own up to its historical responsibilities. The case also demonstrates the determination of the victim communities to take any possible step necessary to get Germany to the point of respectfully dealing with them.
What other means are you using to try and secure restorative justice for your people?
The communities of victims have an elaborate awareness campaign going to bring the message of this genocide, most notably to Germany itself. There are also concerted attempts to inform fellow Namibians about the genocide so as to build a national understanding on the matter.
What does restorative justice mean for you? What is it that you are asking or expecting from the German government?
Our ancestors lost their livestock and land through manipulations, systematic plunder and finally confiscation. They were ultimately ordered to leave the country through the notorious Extermination Order of 2 October 1904. Their livestock and land was thus left behind as they fled for their lives.
Those who somehow survived the genocide found that it was a capital offence to own any livestock and these was thus forfeited to the new German ‘State’. Gracing rights were introduced and the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu were denied these to finally rob them of all the livestock.
Restorative justice to us means the compensation of the Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Namas for their land and livestock that was taken from them without any compensation. We are for example, expecting Germany to make funds available for the development of the communal areas inhabited by the victim communities as well as for the acquisition of commercial farming land for the resettlement of members of the victim communities.
ONGI recently helped to uncover Namibian remains here in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History. How do you feel about that? What was it like seeing those remains?
We learnt about this development a few weeks ago with mixed emotions. My mind snapped back to the year 2011 when I first saw human remains in Germany as part of a huge delegation of Namas, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu traditional leaders who went to accompany the repatriation of the human remains from Germany under the then Minister Sports and culture, Kazenambo Kazenambo. It is never easy seeing the human remains of your ancestors, including skulls and entire skeletons, who were stolen from their motherland, sold and transported across the globe. I am deeply saddened by this discovery, and equally determined to work hard to make sure justice is served, and that the horrors perpetuated in the service of twisted notions of white supremacy are exposed so they are not repeated.
What are your thoughts on what should happen to the remains? Should they stay here as some have suggested or should they be returned home?
What is important to me is the process that we (Namibians) as a collective, should follow to come to a decision on final resting place of these remains. Look, it is my understanding that there are remains from our Sam and Damara compatriots. Culturally, these remains might have a completely different meaning or significance to them, compared to the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu. That is why I think a broad national dialogue is needed to determine the appropriate manner and timing of their return to Namibia.
It is our stated position that everything looted by colonialists from Namibia including cultural artifacts should be returned home. Human remains are even more sacred and must, after a thorough consultation among all stakeholders, and appropriate research about identity and origins, be returned home.