What keep society together?

Breakfast meeting with the Churches

Also available in Deutsch

Dr. Bernd Althusmann, the Resident Representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, welcomed and thanked all present for responding positively to the invitation. He underlined the importance to meet with the leaders of the churches and different faith centres to discuss their role in society. The churches have a significant role to play in a modern society and this must not be undermined, he added. As someone who comes from a family that has roots and close association with a church, he perfectly understands that the role of the church in society is important.

In the case of Namibia, this role is even more important in view of the challenges the country faces such as Gender Based Violence (GBV), drugs and alcohol abuse and rape, etc.

Dr. Althusmann highlighted the fact that in Germany for instance, the churches are very vocal on key issues in society. For instance, at times in Germany, if there is a serious issue that threatens the wellbeing of the wider society, even politicians encourage the churches to be involved. He further stated that there are key fundamental questions that need to be answered:

  1. What Keep society together?
  2. What is the role of the churches in keeping society together?
  3. What could be done to enhance the role of the churches in the Namibian society?

He encouraged all participants to be open and frank as we all seek for answers to these questions. Then, he went on to introduce Ms Andrea Ostheimer, the Head of Department for Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Discussions

Ms Ostheimer, was next to make her contributions. According to her, in search for answers as to what keep society together, it is important to look at the spirit of “ubuntu”. Ubuntu is an African term that refers to humaneness, interconnectedness and so on. The term has many aspects to it. She stated that it is important to identify the reference point for answering the question. Where do we start? Do we start with the family or the wider society? Who transfer what set of values to whom? Are the families taking care of their immediate ones? If not, then how do we move forward if we cannot even look after those who are more immediate to us. There must be a beginning closer to home before we move to the wider society. How does the society view the values coming from the homes? Does it accept it or reject it. Is this the possible cause of problems and conflict in societies?

What role do the teachers and churches play as society, as it is becoming younger and is exposed to modern means such as, the internet and modern technologies that provides endless information? According to her these issues pose challenges to the traditional role of the churches in the community. Hence, the churches need to regroup and make their voice heard.

Ms Ostheimer, also argued that the spirit of ubuntu is stronger in Africa, as opposed to anywhere else. This is a strong point that could be pursued and interrogated further.

Amanda Kruger from the Dutch Reformed Church indicated that the role of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) has since independence become very unclear. The umbrella body is now very quite and has no say on many issues. In simple terms, the body (CCN) has weakened with time. She emphasised that her church has programmes in place that tries to equip leaders for the changing society. She was of the opinion that churches have to earn their role again. Amanda was keen to know how the influence of the churches holds in view of the changes in society.

Clem Marais also from the Ducth Reformed Church indicated that there is too much hopelessness in society. For instance, the amount of suicide in the country is too many. No day passes without reading about sad stories happening all over the countries. He argued that from a white perspective, the youth have no possibilities in live due to affirmative action.

Affirmative action is a government law (Affirmative Action (employment) Act, 1998). According to the act, it aims to achieve equal opportunities in employment, to redress through appropriate affirmative action plans the conditions of disadvantage in employments experienced by persons in designated groups arising from past discriminatory laws and practices…

According to him in the black society, there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor and this is discouraging. (Point of correction for the record; the gap between the rich and the poor, also referred to as income disparity, is a national problem and not of a particular section in the Namibian society). This income disparity has also contributed to the country being ranked as a middle income country by the World Bank.

Maraise further pointed out that the diminishing role of the churches pose a concern. The lack of commitment from the churches on involvement in Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) activities is another concern. Further he added, the CCN itself is struggling to find its feed in the post independence period and therefore its role is unclear. The mushrooming of churches that are exploiting people is also a concern. This exploitation affects the people’s confidence in the churches and negatively affects society. In response, the government has voiced its concern and is now in the process to tighten up the laws. For instance, the government has now placed a moratorium on certain pastors not to serve as marriage officers. This followed news in the papers that some pastors where selling marriage certificates to foreigners who want to marry Namibians, just to acquire Namibian citizenship. Finally, he felt that the churches are divided and it is difficult to speak with one voice. The churches are struggling as well, he concluded.

Dr. Armas Shikongo from the Windhoek Islamic Centre said that there is loss of balance, post 1990. There is no unified moral voice and this has led to a missing role of religion. He stated that we are functioning in a secular context with the government wanting to be a key player in defining religion. For instance, the debate of whether to allow the bible studies as part of the curriculum. He contested that if you remove religion from the centre of education it creates tension. He also refers to the President calling for the day of the National Prayer back in March 2014 as very interesting in a secular state. Dr. Shikongo indicated that if religion in general is properly understood and applied, has positive role and outcome. Therefore, religious leaders should play a prominent role in society. Faith has a prophetic role to play in society, he added. He concluded that the role of the churches in conflict management and modern challenges is and remains critical.

Reverend Kamburona from Oruuano Protestant Unity Church said that the main problem is the high alcohol consumption and drugs abuse widely spread in society. The mushrooming of Shebeens and cucashops in society is slowly destroying this country, he added. There must be a law to control the issuing of licences to open up shebeens. The churches need to come together and speak louder on these issues.

Rev. Hanghome from the Anglican Church departed by questioning which of the three institutions is important to serve as a starting point. Is it the family, the church or the state? Certainly, he thought that it was important that the family be a crucial starting point as, according to him, the moral decay starts in the homes. With independence and the emphasis placed on human rights, the role of the parents has tremendously diminished. He pointed out that the media also has a crucial role to play in taking the churches message to the masses.

Recommendations and way forward:

  1. The discussions should continue and encourage more churches to participate in future.
  2. Solutions to shebeens should be found
  3. Training of leaders for the future to be pursued
  4. Engage the media (at the next meeting) to give the issue prominence

The Breakfast Meeting was a huge success in getting different churches together. The meeting was also a success because the participant showed their willingness to debate further as they continue to seek for solutions to issues confronting the church community as well as the Namibian society at large.

Publication series

Event Reports

published

Namibia, June 4, 2014