A German minister described the slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople in Namibia more than a century ago as genocide, one of the most senior government members to use the term while compensation claims are under discussion.
German soldiers slaughtered some 65 000 Herero and 10 000 Nama in a 1904-1908 campaign after a revolt against land seizures by colonists in what historians and the United Nations called the first genocide of the 20th century.
Germany previously acknowledged “moral responsibility” for the killings it avoided an official apology for the massacres to avoid compensation claims.
On a trip to the southern African nation, Development Minister Gerd Mueller reiterated Germany’s historic responsibility to Namibia.
“It is our job not to forget but to work through German colonial history and strengthen reconciliation,” he said.
“It is in the meantime clear the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1908 were what we today describe as genocide,” Mueller said after meeting tribespeople, according to a ministry spokesman.
The spokesman said other senior politicians, including the premier of Schleswig Holstein, previously used the word genocide, but he was unaware of other ministers doing so.
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the German government was in talks with Namibia about how to work through Germany’s colonial history. “We are in talks, we have agreed confidentiality and hope we are making progress,” she said.
There was no immediate reaction from Namibian officials or tribespeople’s representatives to Mueller’s comment.
Tribes seeking damages are pressing on despite a US court’s dismissal of one case.
During its 1904-08 campaign in then German South West Africa, the German Reich sent reinforcements to put down an uprising by tribespeople over expulsion from land and recruitment into forced labour. The Herero killed 123 German traders, settlers and soldiers.
In addition to the slaughter, thousands of Herero were driven into the desert and died of thirst and starvation and others went to concentration camps.
Germany last year handed Namibia skulls and remains of massacred tribespeople used in the colonial era for experiments to push claims of European racial superiority.
Germany, which lost all its colonial territories after World War One, was the third biggest colonial power after Britain and France. Its colonial past was ignored while historians and politicians focused on the legacy of Nazi crimes, including the Holocaust.