Germany’s president apologizes for colonial crimes, Palestinians continue to suffer
Updated: Nov 5
At a time when the world is burning, I have reserved my words to myself, not wanting to add fire to an already raging inferno. Silence is complicity, but it is hard to speak these days when everyone is just shouting on the internet. I have stayed quiet, as a form of self-preservation. I cannot look at another picture of scattered limbs of children bombed without losing my shit. I do not do well with death. I guess no one does. Still, while I can escape my suffering by simply turning away from my screen, the people who live in that reality do not have the same luxury.
I have a friend in Sudan. A mother of two young girls. In her reality, she watches her city burn and runs with her kids in hopes of finding safety, albeit for a while. I pray for her. I pray for Sudan. I pray for peace and freedom in Palestine. I pray for Ukraine. I pray until I get tired, because the news cycle moves fast, and new wars erupt, and new people lose their lives. I forget to pray for those whose conflict don’t make major news today (Central Africa Republic, or Burkina Faso or elsewhere). I am not a pacifist (I think, if someone invaded my home, I too would go to war). But the cost of war is too heavy to bear. Did you know 426 million children live in conflict zones? Imagine to be born in terror, and for it to be the only thing you know?
I have managed to keep out of social media (for the most part), but today, I got a message that said – Germany’s president apologized for colonial crimes against my people during the Majimaji memorial in Songea. I froze. Then I bawled. An avalanche of emotions overcame me, and it felt like an elephant was stomping on my heart over and over again. Hundreds of thousands of people died from the Majimaji rebellion alone. But there were more.
In May, I visited, for the first time in my life, the place where German officers ambushed and rained bullets on my forebears in Barazani, Litembo for rebelling against their illegitimate colonial administration in 1902. They refused to pay taxes and burned down the school and churches. My people were not particularly into fighting. They believed all matters could be resolved by dialogue in a “Baraza”. But still, they did not care for subjugation, so, when the first German troop came to Barazani, they stood their ground and were ready to fight. The leader of the troop said they didn’t want to fight, that they just wanted to talk. And my people, not knowing it was a ruse, agreed. A second troop arrived while the leaders of the tribe gathered at Barazani to talk to the Germans (no doubt telling them it was ridiculous to demand taxes when they did not have that kind of ruling system in the first place). The new troop ambushed and killed almost all the leaders, my great-great-grandfather being one of them. My great-great-grandmother, pregnant at the time, fled with her children. The Kinunda clan scattered, and are still today, finding each other. The story I grew up hearing, was that Tekateki, my great-great grandfather, was beheaded and his head taken. After meeting a lot of people, and poring through documents, I realize that there is a possibility that he was not beheaded. That he was only shot and buried with the rest of the people. In May, my uncle and I visited the mass grave where the people were buried. We saw his name, listed, as one of the fallen heroes from this attack.
It was a surreal moment, standing on the very same rock where over 120 years ago, my ancestors were killed. My hands shook, and my legs wobbled as we walked over to the mass grave they were buried. My uncle and I prayed at this grave. My uncle, a jolly mganda dancer who always smiles, cried, both in grief and relief, that he connected with a part of himself that had always been missing.
My family’s story is not unique. Many Tanzanians from different parts of the country share the same pain about someone in their family. Many tribes resisted the German colonial occupation, a resistance which was curbed by brutal force, ending in hangings and beheadings for leaders. Most families have never had a chance to heal. Some, who know for sure their family member’s heads were taken, are still waiting for them to come home and complete the burial. Some of these skulls, beheaded during the German colonial resistance, lay in some basement of some museum somewhere in Germany. And then there are the artifacts taken as loot during the colonial era, including the dinosaurs of Tandaguru housed in the Berlin Museum of Natural History.
This is why this so-called apology felt like a punch in the gut, and perhaps even a middle finger. A smirk. Sorry, not sorry, if you will. Germany has continued to profit from the pain of my people, filling their museums with bones and stuff they have looted that don’t belong to them.
Empty apologies and expressions of regret for colonial atrocities seem to be trending. But it has brought us nothing – no healing, no resolution, no reparations. We need more than empty words to even begin this journey. We deserve that much.
This apology was also a wake-up call. History is supposed to be a good teacher, but we somehow have never learned. Just as Germany introduced the scorched earth method back in 1906 to squash the rebellion, burning farms and villages, the same is happening today. Gaza is under siege, and regular citizens are cut off from food, water and aid. As I read through the news of this bullshit apology, I wondered, when and who will apologize to the people of Palestine. And who, like me, was silent, when my people died at the hands of the brutal colonizers.
I still don’t know whether screaming on the internet helps – but please, Israel (state)– stop killing Palestinians.