German Minister Gerd Mueller calls colonial-era killings in Namibia “genocide”

German minister Gerd Mueller has 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 “genocide” while discussions on compensation are ongoing.

The German ministry released through it’s spokesman the admissions that his country did commit genocidal crimes in Namibia.

“It is in the meantime clear that the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1908 were what we today describe as genocide,’ Mueller said after meeting tribespeople on Friday, according to a ministry spokesman.

Some 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama members in a 1904-1908 were slaughtered by Geman soldiers, after a revolt against land seizures by colonists in what historians and the United Nations have long called the first genocide of the 20th century.

While Germany has previously acknowledged “moral responsibility” for the killings, it has avoided making an official apology for the massacres to avoid compensation claims.

Mueller further went on to state that his country cannot afford to ignore what happened in the past. “It is our job not to forget but to work through the German colonial history and strengthen the reconciliation process.”

The spokesman said some other senior politicians, including the premier of the northern German state of Schleswig Holstein, had also previously used the word genocide, but he was unaware of any other ministers doing so.

After decades of denying responsibility for the crimes, Germany, in 2004 accepted for the first time to take the blame for the episode, a century after the massacres had taken place in 2004. The then development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, said the “atrocities… would today be called genocide.”

Also, in 2015, the German parliamentary president, Norbert Lammert, referred the massacre as genocide.

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 that 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 U.S. court’s dismissal of one case.

What happened?

During its 1904-08 campaign in what was then German South West Africa, the German Reich sent reinforcements to put down an uprising by tribespeople over their expulsion from land and recruitment into forced labour. The Hereros had killed 123 German traders, settlers and soldiers.

In addition to the slaughter, thousands of Hereros were driven into the desert and died of thirst and starvation, and the rest were sent to concentration camps. Germany last year handed over to Namibia skulls and other remains of massacred tribespeople used in the colonial era for experiments to push claims of European racial superiority.