Saturday, March 5, 2011

Addressing the Needs of the People of Namibia

Authors: Hannah, Helen, Amy
Week 5: 14-20 February 2011

During week five each class delved further into the historical background of the modern-day Republic of Namibia, revealing complexities which translate into genuine needs of an overwhelming proportion of the population living in Namibia currently. Each class – political science, religion, history, and development - emphasized a different need category and ways in which various individuals, communities, and institutions have sought to address those needs.

{HANNAH} This week in religion class we visited the home of a traditional healer. Expecting a house shrouded in strange mists, with odd smells and sounds to be sensed upon our approach, all of us were a touch surprised when we entered a normal home with an average looking middle aged woman welcoming us into her living room. To add to our shock, Ms. Tsholeka is a follower of the Christian faith, not a practitioner of a more African traditional religion. The phrase traditional healer invokes an image of haunting chants, eye of newt and gaseous potions, but this was not the case. Ms. Ms. Tsholeka uses special medicines to heal people, which is why she considers herself a traditional healer. She was very secretive about these remedies, unwilling to even tell us the types of herbs and roots she uses. But the herbal concoctions are only part of the healing process, arguably less important than the prayer aspect. She prays to understand the nature of the ailment, and through prayer she knows how to best heal the client.

Her faith is unwavering. She seems almost blinded by it; unable or unwilling to answer some of the more probing questions, but this could also be attributed to the language barrier, a difficulty commonly faced when talking with speakers of a different language. Whatever the reason, “One must believe in Jesus Christ” was the main message of the interaction, which left a few lingering questions. Most obviously, what if there is no God, or, what if Jesus is not the Son of God and she happened to pick the wrong religion? Is her healing a farce? She stated that no person seeking her help has ever gone unhealed, though it may take more than one session. Her refusal to tell us the ingredients to her medicines was another point of confusion. If faith in Jesus Christ is the most important component to her healing, why not share the names of a few plants with us?

As my inner skeptic grew more and more irritated, I remembered that I was sitting in the house of a woman who made her living healing people without personally using modern medicine. This meant that people would come to her and pay money for her services, leading to the conclusion that there must be some merit to her claims. Whether she happened to use herbs and roots that are also cures for head and stomach aches or the Lord works through her to heal the sick, in this lifetime we may never know.

{HELEN} This week in history class, we learned about the tragic Herero Genocide, which occurred in Namibia between 1904 and 1908. We were appalled to hear about the mass murders committed by the German colonists that wiped out approximately eighty percent of the Herero population, a local native tribe. A woman came to speak to our class about this historical event – Georgina Katjiongua, a descendant of those killed in the genocide. She explained that the German settlers who originally migrated to South Western Africa traded with the local people in order to gain mass amounts of land, minerals and cattle. Such activity increased over time, and the newcomers eventually issued an order of extermination to wipe out the entire Herero population. Ms. Katjiongua’s personal opinions on the issue were especially intriguing to our group. She explained that the German’s bloody violation of Herero land and people continues to affect black Namibians today. The original white population in Namibia continually oppressed and abused the native people, denying them land and access to resources. Decades of whites instilling feelings of worthlessness into the black population has led to a “modern inferiority complex” that continues to linger today.

After learning more about the long term effects of the genocide, we visited the National Museum of Namibia: Alte Feste. We were interested to find that the museum’s exhibits did not mention the Herero Genocide at all, aside from a single sentence in a brochure. The Genocide was a crucial turning point in Namibian colonization, yet it has been erased from most written accounts. To this day, no memorial exists to commemorate the Herero deaths, and the Germans have yet to refer to the incident as “genocide” in their recurrent apologies. The denying of an ethnic cleansing has certainly allowed us to realize how Westernized and biased many history accounts are here in Namibia. Post-colonization and apartheid has led to independence, yet the dominant white minority continues to ignore the original cultures that inhabited the area long before the European invasion.

{AMY} This week in development class we had a speaker from the Basic Income Grant Coalition. The Coalition’s proposal for a national Basic Income Grant (BIG) would apply to every Namibian each of whom would receive N$100 per month, exceptions being people age 60 and over who will not receive BIG as they already receive a higher amount from their pension. The income re-distribution would take place through adjustments to the country’s tax rate system. This proposal is rooted in goals of alleviating poverty and giving back rights of land ownership and resources (albeit slowly) to the people of Namibia.

Beyond the Coalition’s mission for a national BIG, they conducted a pilot project from January 2008 through December 2009 in the Otjivero-Omitara region of Namibia. “The Namibian BIG pilot is the first universal cash transfer pilot project in the world” (page 19, “Basic Income Grant Pilot Project Assessment Report, April 2009”, ISBN: 978-99916-842-4-6). In regards to improved dignity, empowerment, community bonding, alcoholism and crime rates, school attendance and payment of school fees, malnutrition - especially in children, visits to the health clinic and payment of clinic fees, and consistent treatment of HIV/AIDS with ARVs, there were statistically significant moves in the right direction.

From the great success of the aforementioned pilot project one asks: ‘Is the Basic Income Grant really feasible to implement nationwide – for all of Namibia, not just in Otjivero-Omitara?’ BIG Coalition’s lobbying efforts to convince the government to adopt and implement a national BIG, in my perspective, could benefit from a campaign focusing on the children of Namibia – investing in the children’s future is investing in Namibia’s future, and there is no future without investment in the present. In my opinion an effective way of building up the Republic of Namibia is based on investing not just in a few children, but all Namibian children. A national BIG would help provide food, water, shelter, and education to the children of Namibia – so that they grow up to be strong, healthy, productive citizens contributing to the infrastructure, development, and economy of Namibia!

For some of us students interning at orphanages, we have encountered issues with something we have taken for granted – registered, legal birth certificates. Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) would theoretically benefit from a national BIG, but without a birth certificate he/she would in practice not qualify. How could the requirements be modified so that OVC without registered birth certificates would still receive a BIG? Furthermore, how can we ensure that all babies born from now on have registered birth certificates and how can we eliminate the roadblocks for todays’ children without official birth certificates?

[Further information can be found on the BIG’s website] {BIG Bumper Sticker}

No comments: