With a confession of guilt and the request for forgiveness the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has turned to the descendents of the victims of what most historians refer to as the first genocide of the 20th century. “As the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and successor organization of the former Prussian Evangelical High Church Council (Oberkirchenrat), we expressly confess our guilt today towards the entire Namibian people and before God,“ says the statement released today under the heading “Forgive us our sins (Matthew 6:12)“. It continues: “From the depths of our hearts, we ask the descendants of the victims, and all those whose ancestors suffered from the exercise of German colonial rule, for forgiveness for the wrong done them and the pain they suffered as a consequence.”
In the document adopted by the EKD Council, the Protestant church squarely confronts its shared historical responsibility for the atrocities committed between 1884 and 1915 in what is now Namibia. As far as this can be seen from the sources, it seems that the German Protestant pastors sent to South West Africa did not personally call for the mass killings. However, through the theological justification of imperial power and colonial rule, and a deep-seated racism, they prepared the ground for the death of many thousands of Namibians from different ethnic groups in acts of war and concentration camps. The EKD Council states: “This is a great sin and not to be justified at all.”
“We are aware of the burdens that the descendants of victims and victimizers bear to this day,” explains Petra Bosse-Huber, EKD bishop for ministries abroad. “In no way can the present statement wipe away the wrongdoing.” However, she adds, it expresses the lasting historical and ethical obligation of the EKD to join the descendants of the victims in keeping the memory alive, to call for the genocide to be recognized as such and to work at overcoming the injustice. “We need to remember the colonial era but we also need a spirit of reconciliation.” This can only come about if all population groups extend the hand of friendship, according to Petra Bosse-Huber.
With its statement published today, the EKD expressly welcomes the path of negotiations embarked upon by the Namibian and German governments and requests that the process be continued.
The EKD statement is the result of a twofold critical historical study process conducted between 2007 – 2015 as appraisal of the role of the church and missionary societies during the colonial period and the apartheid era. A total of 13 churches and missions in Germany and Namibia participated between 2007 and 2011. The results were published in the documentation “The German Protestant Church in Colonial Southern Africa”, Harrassowitz Verlag Wiesbaden 2012
The EKD statement on genocide in former German South West Africa is available in English and German at ekd.de.
Hanover, 24 April 2017
EKD Press Office