Speaking for the Dead: The Memorial Politics of Genocide in Namibia and Germany
International Journal of Heritage Studies, Volume 24, 2018 - Issue 5
55 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2018
Date Written: December 20, 2017
This paper discusses the politics of the material commemoration of mass crime, with a focus on the Ovaherero and Nama descendants of the victims of a 1904–1908 mass ethnic killing in German Southwest Africa. My approach to monuments emphasises their place as artefacts that mark changes of regime after war or revolution, and as focal points of resistance to state regimes of commemoration. Tracing the material forms of memorialisation in Germany reveals the significance of both a ‘remembrance culture’ of the Holocaust and, at the same time, resistance to recognition of the Ovaherero/Nama genocide. In Namibia, the success of the Ovaherero/Nama activist campaign in Germany prompted the government to shift positions and take up the cause of genocide remembrance, asking Germany to officially recognise that its actions constituted genocide, to issue a formal apology and to pay reparations. By framing the mass violence of imperial Germany in terms of its enduring legacy in heritage, Ovaherero and Nama activists and their supporters were able to cross into different geographies of commemoration and bring distant wrongs, without living witnesses, into the present.
Keywords: Genocide, Namibia, Germany, Activism, Memorials
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