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A German History of Namibia or a Namibian History of Germany?

Monday, Oct 4, 2021, 5:15 PM

Zoé Samudzi

San Francisco

A German History of Namibia or a Namibian History of Germany?

The nature of the Historikerstreit has been to [re]litigate the historiographic treatment of German genocide, from responsibility-abrogating non-exceptionalism to the notion of unprecedented political and civilizational rupture. It is within this contestation of memory that Germany’s principal enactment of genocide—the wartime annihilations of Ovaherero and Nama peoples in its colony in South West Africa (present-day Namibia)—duly enters into political discourses. In this reckoning with genocide foundationalized by the Nazi Holocaust, however, consideration of the historical resonances of German imperialism and the question of reparations are seen overwhelmingly through the frame of crimes committed within Europe. The legibility of indigenous African extermination as a crime for which reparations are warranted is clarified more readily through comparisons to Nazi violences and notions of “historical continuity” as opposed to a recognition that colonial restitution is a necessity in itself. In attending to the material, cultural, and affective politics of affected survivor-descendants in Namibia, this presentation considers the framing of German imperial genocidal violences through what I am describing as the “afterlife of the genocide” and its transnational reverberations. In attempting to wrest the historical debate back to the African continent and to the materialities of Black communities whose subjugations scaffold the arc of German statecraft and genocide, this presentation offers a multidirectional consideration of the inflections of violence, nation-building, anti-indigenous social ordering, and political responsibility within and through the Namibian postcolonial present.

Zoé Samudzi is an art writer whose work has appeared in Art in America, The New Inquiry, The New Republic, SSENSE, and other outlets, as well as a contributing writer for Jewish Currents. She was the guest editor of the September-October 2021 issue of The Funambulist, entitled Against Genocide. She is co-author of As Black as Resistance: Finding the Conditions for Liberation (2018). She has a PhD in Sociology from the University of California, San Francisco, and her research work engages German imperialism, biomedical science, Namibian postcoloniality, and the 1904–1908 Ovaherero and Nama genocide. She is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the ACTIONS Program at UCSF and a Research Associate with the Centre for the Study of Race, Gender & Class (RGC) at the University of Johannesburg.