Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Over the course of the last two decades, the question of German colonialism and its legacy has gained growing academic interest and public attention on different occasions. Above all, the ongoing struggles of representatives of the Herero people in present-day Namibia for recognition and reparations of the German colonial war from 1904 until 1908 have caused public controversies and intensified coverage in the news media over the last decade, since a lawsuit has been filed by the Herero People’s Reparation Corporation the US supreme court in Washington, in 2001. The case is supposed to constitute precedence in view of further reparation claims for ‘colonial genocides’ in international law (Sarkin 2009).

When in August 2004, on the occasion of the centenary of the brutal supression of the Herero uprising by the German colonial army, the former German minister of Cooperation and Development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul attended the central ceremonies in Namibia, and apologized for the atrocities committed by the German colonial army, many perceived this event as a turning point regarding German memory politics. However, the apology resulted in a public controversy in Germany around monetary compensations with regards to the lawsuit. To date, the German government refuses to recognize the Herero genocide as such and strongly avoids the term genocide; instead politicians rely on the ‘particular historical responsibility’ towards Namibia; and thus remain an idea of ‘patronizing charity’ instead of reparation.

In light of the rhetorical struggles, I argue that the discourse can be explored in terms of ‘colonial aphasia’ (Stoler), which designates a state of speechlessness and a ‘difficulty speaking’ in the face of the risk of reparation claims. In my paper, I will develop a case study on the 2004 apology and its aftermath deploying the metaphorical concept of ‘aphasia’ to explore the ‘difficulty speaking’ about the Herero genocide in the public media discourse. A particular emphasis of my analysis will be on the questions: In which ways is the memory of the Herero people being recognized in public media discourse in Germany? Which memories are being heard in the public arena and which knowledge about the colonial past is rather being occluded? Which are the discursive limitations of public memorialisation of the Herero genocide?


The paper is a work-in-progress piece of my dissertation project, which focuses on a qualitative discourse analysis of the memorialisation of the colonial war against the Herero, Nama and Damara in the print media discourse, building on a sample of articles from major German newspapers between 2001 and 2014.The present case study of the 2004 apoloy presents the first exploration in a range of several case studies that address the memorialization of the Herero genocide on very different occasions.