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Ovaherero Genocide Foundation Condemns Germany “Loaning” Back Looted Artefacts

By: Ludorf Iyambo

The vice-chairperson of the OvaHerero Genocide Foundation, Joyce Muzengua, said they will issue a letter condemning Germany for “loaning” back 23 traditional Namibian artefacts.

This comes after a Berlin museum in Germany made a statement that it will, on Friday, 27 May 2022, send 23 ancient pieces of jewellery, tools and objects back to Namibia.

Muzengua said Germany is making such a statement so that they are not illegally implicated in the ovaHerero and Nama genocide. German colonial settlers killed tens of thousands of indigenous ovaHerero and Nama people in the 1904-1908 massacres -labelled by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century.

“Genocide is a crime that has illegal implications. You can never conduct whatever it is to restore, rectify or reparate the crime of the genocide without a legal obligation. It does not work like that. Germany is basically trying to do the right thing, but they are cautious with their semantics so that it does not bind them or haunt them in future. That is why they use terms like projects and “indefinite loan”. What is an indefinite loan? A loan is something to be paid back. These are just semantics to protect them so that they do not implicate themselves illegally for things that will open a case,” said Muzengua.

She further said that Europe had colonised the entire world, and if Germany has to start by giving back artefacts, which are part of the reparation package, it would be detrimental to Germany because all the other superpowers are watching Germany.

She further disagrees with the statement that the artefacts should be handed over to the National Museum of Namibia and made available to local artists and academics for research.

“The communities against which the crime was perpetrated are still not involved in this thing,” she said. She said the artefacts were crafted by the ancestors of the decedents of the Nama and ovaHerero communities, who are still alive.

She claimed that they were not surprised by seeing this because Germany had agreed with Swapo. She moreover said Germany is trying to cover her footprints because she knows that this could open a case for the entire West.

Sima Luipert of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) said that the German government does not want to acknowledge that they stole the artefacts. She said the museum that will receive the artefacts was never discussed with Nama and ovaHerero authorities.

“I don’t know how you loan back something you have stolen. The receiver of this stolen good has no rights whatsoever to receive it because it does not belong to them,” said Luipert.

Luipert told The Villager that the was no Namibia when the artefacts were looted from the communities; hence, they should be given back to the rightful owners.

“We will challenge the Museum Association of Namibia, and we will challenge the institution in Germany. These things do not belong to them,” claimed Luipert.

The artefacts, which Namibian experts chose, include an ancient three-headed drinking vessel, a doll wearing a traditional dress and various spears, hairpieces and other fashion accessories.

Esther Moombolah, director of the National Museum of Namibia, during the announcement of the artefacts’ return to Africa, said that Namibians should not have to get on a plane to see their cultural treasures, which are kept in boxes in foreign institutions.

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which runs the Berlin museum, where the items were previously housed, did not say why the objects were not simply restituted to Namibia rather than put on long-term loan.

Hermann Parzinger, president of the SPK, said that it was “a process of rapprochement, and that’s the way that was decided for the objects to go back” to Namibia.

Berlin’s Ethnological Museum has been working together with the National Museum of Namibia since 2019 to discuss the future of the hundreds of objects from the southern African country in its collections.

The move is one of a series of recent steps by Germany towards atoning for colonial-era crimes, including the official recognition last year that it committed genocide in Namibia, then known as German South-West Africa.

Although smaller than those of France and Britain, Germany’s colonial empire encompassed parts of several African countries, including present-day Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia and Cameroon.

Over the last years, Germany has returned skulls and other human remains to Namibia that it had sent to Berlin during the period for “scientific” experiments.

Germany returned the late Hendrik Witbooi’s Bible and whip to Namibia in 2019.

The Ethnological Museum also reached an agreement last year to begin returning its collection of Benin Bronzes, ancient sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, to Nigeria.

The 16th-18th century metal plaques and sculptures, among the most highly regarded works of African art, are now scattered around European museums after being looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.

Julia Heita

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