Germany returns human remains from Namibian genocide

African identities

Germany returns human remains from Namibian genocide

The German government has returned 25 of possibly hundreds of Herero and Nama skulls taken from Namibia for examination by racial anthropologists in an attempt to justify the theory of European Superiority.



A century after the genocide of the Herero and Nama people, a Namibian government delegation received victim remains; taken by the Germans during their colonial rule; at a church service in Berlin. The remains will be taken to the Namibian capital Windhoek on August 31st where rituals will be carried out.

The ceremony is part of Germany’s bid to mend relations with Namibia and especially make amends to the descendants of the tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people they massacred between 1904 and 1908.

“Today, we want to do what should have been done many years ago – to give back to their descendants the remains of people who became victims of the first genocide of the 20th century,” Petra Bosse-Huber, a German Protestant bishop was quoted saying by Reuters.

Many of the murdered victims were beheaded and their skulls sent to researchers in Germany for what is now discredited “scientific” research that asserted the racial superiority of white Europeans. It is said that this same research was later used by the Nazis to justify the murder of Jews.


“We want to help heal the wounds from the atrocities committed by Germans at the time,” said Michelle Muentefering, a minister of state for international cultural policies in the German foreign ministry.

This is the third time Germany has repatriated human remains to Namibia, the other instances occurred in 2011 and 2014. According to the German foreign ministry, the remains, many of which were stored on dusty shelves in universities and clinics, were “often stolen… brought to Germany without respect for human dignity.”


Despite these ‘efforts’ and the European country acknowledging “moral responsibility” for the genocide the German government has not honoured its 2016 pledge to issue a formal apology. This is so as to avoid paying direct reparations to the descendants, instead stating that the development aid they have provided in the hundreds of millions since Namibia’s independence was “for the benefit of all Namibians”.

Not nearly enough

Because of Berlin’s noncommittal attitude, representatives of the Herero and Nama people have filed a class-action lawsuit in a US court demanding reparations. The lawsuit which has yet to receive a ruling on whether the court will hear argues that Germany violated international law on the rights of indigenous peoples. To which the German government is challenging on the grounds of state immunity from prosecution.

Read: Representatives of the Herero and Nama victims urge for “decolonisation of the city of Hamburg”

The Chairwoman of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation, Esther Utjiua Muinjangue, said the handover ceremony would have been the perfect opportunity for Germany to officially apologize.


“Is that asking too much? I don’t think so,” she told reporters in Berlin earlier this week.

Namibian Culture Minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, speaking alongside Muentefering in Berlin, said the two countries “still have many problems to solve”.

“We must ensure that after we’ve reached agreements on damages, recognition and an apology, there’s a future in which the German and Namibian nations join hands and move forward.”


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