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Churches should allow members to practise culture – Nujoma

Founding president Sam Nujoma says churches should not prevent their members from practising their culture, because the Constitution provides them that freedom.

Nujoma said this at a fundraising gala dinner of the olufuko cultural festival at Outapi on Saturday.

His speech was read on his behalf by minister of industrialisation and trade Lucia Iipumbu.

Nujoma said the festival remains a symbol of excellence and an important platform in maintaining cultural values, norms and heritage.

Last year, retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (Elcin) general secretary Alpo Enkono labelled olufuko as a pagan practice and a shameful act, which Christians do not want to associate with.

Enkono’s comments came after Elcin’s western dioceses met with the leadership of the Outapi Town Council to suggest that the name of the Olufuko Cultural Centre at Outapi, where the olufuko festival is held annually, be changed. The festival prepares girls as young as 12 for womanhood, marriage and pregnancy.

Elcin believes the centre’s name creates the perception that everyone who visits it, supports olufuko.

Enkono said if the name does not change, business people showcasing their products at the centre would not attract customers, since many Christians do not want to visit the centre.

Nujoma, however, said people who do not respect their own norms and traditions are easily influenced by others to accept alien norms.
Against this background, the best way to preserve cultural heritage is to share it with others through events like the olufuko cultural festival.

“In the same vein, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are encouraged to become actively involved in the olufuko cultural festival by assisting with funds and to showcase their products and services as the backbone of the country’s economy,” Nujoma said.

Nujoma said as the Outapi Town Council prepares to celebrate the ninth edition of the festival, it is fitting to reflect on the role the festival plays in the empowerment of girls.

He believes the country has made significant progress in improving the participation of girls and young women in the education system over the last 33 years.

“We need educated citizens who can compete in a globalised world. We need to build a capable generation armed with the knowledge, skills, cognitive ability and drive to elevate our productivity and improve our competitiveness,” he said.

Nujoma said Namibia needs a generation equipped to build a better society characterised by respect, generosity and integrity.

He urged Namibia to develop a culture of lifelong learning, continuous professional development, and knowledge production.

He further stated that the nation can only serve future generations if they are diverse, ambitious, imaginative and practical in embracing a collective destiny.

“This cannot be achieved if we do not instil the right cultural norms and values,” he said.

Nujoma implored the olufuko preparatory committee to not divert from the original aims and objective of the olufuko cultural festival.
The festival has not taken place for the past three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It will take place from 1 to 7 July, and more than 20 girls are expected to take part.

Speaking at the same event, Omusati governor Erginus Endjala said some people believe when young girls participate in olufuko initiation, they are prepared to be married at a young age or are offered to men.

“This is not true. olufuko is not a wedding. The girls are not married off at olufuko,” he said.

“By serving and cherishing our tradition, we maintain a link to our past and provide a foundation for our future. That is the reason we are hosting olufuko,” he said. NamRights’ executive director Phil ya Nangoloh said olufuko was a blatant violation of women’s rights, because it sought to instantly convert girl children into adult women for the purposes of marriage, sexual intercourse and child birth.

“As such olufuko, which means wedding ceremony, has been outlawed and banned by the Namibian Constitution,” Ya Nangoloh said.
Elcin priest Mathew Tshapaka Tshakapolo said there is nothing wrong with celebrating olufuko as it is a cultural practice.

“If you discontinue olufuko, what are you going to replace it with? Before the Europeans brought Christianity to Africa, how would our grandmothers and mothers have been initiated? Now, convince me, what is wrong with olufuko.”

He said those who believe that olufuko is wrong or a shameful practice are going against the Biblical fourth commandment which compels them to be respectful towards their parents.

“This is because you are going against the cultural practices of your forefathers. You are disrespecting their cultural [beliefs]. You are disobeying their culture,” he said.