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German-Namibian reconciliation process – memorial service held in Berlin for the return of Namibian remains  Namibia

Memorial service in Französische Friedrichstadtkirche in Berlin. Minister of State Michelle Müntefering (centre) with Namibian Minister of Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa

Memorial service in Französische Friedrichstadtkirche in Berlin. Minister of State Michelle Müntefering (centre) with Namibian Minister of Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, © epd

31.08.2018 - Article

On behalf of the German Government, Minister of State Michelle Müntefering took part in a ceremony on Wednesday (29 August) to return the remains of members of indigenous communities from what is now Namibia to a Namibian delegation headed by Minister of Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa.

During the colonial era, these remains were removed illegally from the country and taken to Germany. The remains will be brought to Windhoek on Friday (31 August) and received in an official ceremony.

In a speech in Berlin on Wednesday (29 August), Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State for International Cultural Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, said:

We have to address this part of our history, in all its facets, too, and be aware of what it means. When it comes to addressing its colonial legacy, Germany still has a long way to go.



However, we Germans do acknowledge our historical-political and moral responsibility and the historical guilt borne by the Germans of the time. The atrocities committed at the time in Germany’s name constituted what would now be called genocide, even though it was not until later that this term was legally defined.


The use of this term in the politico-historical context is therefore also something we are discussing with our partners in Namibia. Germans today still know far too little about this chapter of the past. It is now up to us to close this gap in our culture of remembrance.

Ensuring dignified repatriation

Namibia sent a 74 strong delegation headed by Minister of Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa and including traditional chiefs to the return and memorial ceremonies in Berlin.

On Monday (27 August), Minister of State Müntefering received the Namibian delegation in Villa Borsig, the Foreign Minister’s guest house, where she held bilateral talks with Minister of Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa. A wake held on Tuesday evening (28 August) provided an opportunity to carry out traditional Namibian rites.

Germany is returning human remains to Namibia
Germany is returning human remains to Namibia© epd

On Wednesday (29 August), the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Namibian partner churches held a memorial service in Französische Friedrichstadtkirche in Berlin. The official return of the remains took place afterwards. The main guests at the ceremony were representatives of the Namibian ethnic groups to which the deceased belonged. Representatives of civil society and Members of the German Bundestag were also invited. 

Minister of State Müntefering will travel to Windhoek with the Namibian delegation on Friday (31 August), where she will represent the German Government at the official ceremony.

Part of a larger reconciliation process

Between 1904 and 1908, German colonial troops brutally suppressed uprisings by the Herero and Nama peoples in what was then German South West Africa. Many survivors of the war were imprisoned and died as a result of forced labour.

The repatriation of the remains is part of the German-Namibian reconciliation process, which goes far beyond the governmental level to include parliament, churches, academia, young people and civil society.

Further human remains from Namibia are still stored in German museums and research institutes. They were often stolen during the colonial period, brought to Germany without respect for human dignity and cultural and religious practices, and used for supposed scientific purposes. This is the third repatriation, following earlier ones in 2011 and 2014.

Speech by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the ceremony to return human remains to Namibia

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