Zukiswa Wanner Surrenders Germany’s Goethe Medal over Gaza Genocide

The day Nicaragua sued Germany at the International Court of Justice for funding Israel and cutting aid to the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), the South African writer returned the Goethe Medal in protest of the German government’s role in the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as well as its silencing of dissenting artistic voices against Israel


My name is Zukiswa Wanner.

I am a writer, editor, publisher and curator who considers the African continent
my home. In 2020 I became the first woman on my continent to receive the
Goethe Medaille alongside Bolivian artist and Museum Director Elvira Espejo
Ayca and writer Ian McEwan from the United Kingdom. While the Goethe Medal
is conferred by the Goethe-Institut to ‘non-Germans who have performed
outstanding service for international cultural relations’, it is important to note that
the award is an official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I note and appreciate Goethe-Institut President Carola Lentz’ statement from an
article of 14 January, 2024 in Der Spiegel where she says, and I quote,
Longstanding partners in the international cultural world are losing trust in the
liberality of Germany’s democracy and poses the question, should the Aaswartige
Kultur und Bildungspolitik (AKPB) support only persons or groups who
accommodate the political/moral agenda of the respective German government?
She concludes otherwise and notes that organisations like Goethe-Institut must
not become the extended arm of the government, particularly in difficult political
times. In the same vein, Goethe-Institut Johannesburg, which is the regional
headquarters for Sub Saharan Africa stated in a statement on 7th February, 2024
‘As to the current war in Gaza – we are convinced that in view of the catastrophic
situation, a new ceasefire is urgently needed. The rising number of civilian victims
is unacceptable. It’s important to state this so I highlight that this is NOT a
statement surrendering the medal because of the Goethe-Institut and its position
even where we may not always agree.I mention the Goethe-Institut’ statement by
way of explaining that my actions are not a critique of the cultural institution but
rather of the government.

In May 2023, while attending Palestine Festival of Literature and months before
October 7, I was in the Occupied Palestine Territories and travelled to Ramallah,
Nabi Saleh, East Jerusalem, Hebron and Lydd. As a writer coming from a country
with a history of apartheid, what I experienced shook me and resulted in my
writing a long essay Vignettes of a People in an Apartheid State. One did not
need to be from a country with a history of apartheid to see the daily injustices
and indignities visited on Palestinians. Palestinians have separate roads, different
number plates and are constantly under threat from strangers from the United
States or white South Africans with apartheid nostalgia who come with guns and
the protection of Israeli Defence Forces to settle into their homes. Indeed, unlike
most literature festivals, PalFest takes the writers to multiple cities since
Palestinians are unable to travel without permission from Israel, much like South
Africa during apartheid, just more cruel.

This is why I am giving up the medal.

I understand Germany’s guilt for the Holocaust.

I do.

That guilt is appropriate and has enabled Germany to face its unconscionable past.
But it is this that makes its position on a current genocide in Palestine all the more
shameful. As an aside and as an African, I wish the German government exhibited
the same regret for their history in Namibia with the Herero-Nama genocide and
for the genocide during the Maji Maji Rebellion in Tanzania . Equally important, I
wish that the German government, in reflection and saying ‘never again’ would
acknowledge that NEVER AGAIN should be for ANYBODY. Instead, what I see
is Germany being on the wrong side of a genocide again (as per International
Court of Justice provisional ruling to the case brought on by South Africa).
Additionally, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees,
Federal Republic of Germany and United States of America are the biggest arms
exporters to Israel. With more than 30 thousand killed in Gaza, this should have
been a mea culpa moment for the Federal Republic of Germany, instead, they
seem to have doubled their support for a very problematic government.

Culturally, since October 7, 2023, I have seen Germany disengaging from artists
for their position on the colonial state that is Israel even in light of Israel’s failures
to adhere to the Oslo Accord (which was a super mediocre document for
Palestinians). I am reading that of the cultural events cancelled by Germany, 30
percent are by Jewish artists who are anti-Zionist. This has failed to make sense to
me that Jews can be considered antisemitic (obviously ignoring that Palestinians
are a semitic people as those in support of the Israeli government seem intent on
forgetting). More recently, during the Berlin Film Festival, Palestinian filmmaker
Basel Adra and Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham won best documentary prize for
their film No Other Lands which shows the eradication of Palestinian villages in
the West Bank. The German Cultural Minister is reported to have stated her
applause was only for the Israeli half of the filmmaking duo. South African
history has a phrase for this. Petty Apartheid.

I thus find myself unable to stay silent or keep an official decoration from a
government that is this callous to human suffering.

For Enquiries email: wanner.zukiswa@gmail.com

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