Olufuko Festival stirs the pot
The controversy surrounding the Olufuko Festival slotted for 21 to 27 August at Outapi, Omusati Region, is continuously widening.
The biggest church in Namibia and a human rights organisation have condemned the event, with NamRights even appealing to UN bodies to declare Olufuko as a harmful traditional practice.
The organisers, however, are pressing ahead - brushing aside any resistance that comes their way.
The festival, spearheaded by the Outapi Town Council and that has Founding President Sam Nujoma as its patron, is a revival of an ancient tradition of Ovawambo in which girls are prepared for womanhood, including marriage and pregnancy, as well as caring for their own families.
However, opposition to the initiative came quick and fast - from the bedrock of Christianity in Namibia.
After a three-day meeting at Ongwediva, the All Pastors General Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) issued a statement appealing to church members to distance themselves from any Olufuko practices.
“We would like to make it clear to our members that ELCIN neither condones, nor supports, the traditional initiation rites for girls,” states the press release signed by the church’s presiding bishop Vaino Shekutamba Nambala.
In reaction to this the Olufuko Preparatory Committee issued a statement, defending the practice as a fundamental human right.
Signed by Omusati Governor Sophia Shaningwa and Oswin Namakalu of the Outapi Town Council who is also the chairman of the Preparatory Committee, the statement says the Constitution does not give religions a superseding role over culture and tradition.
“It is unfortunate that the pastoral letter denounces the practice of our culture and tradition of Olufuko as being against Christianity. This is not well thought through and is therefore misleading, because even Jesus himself went through initiation in accordance with his Jewish culture and tradition,” it states.
The Preparatory Committee dismissed the pastoral letter as being “harmful” to a constitutional provision.
The signatories made it clear that the Olufuko Festival will go ahead as planned.
Meanwhile, NamRights’ Phil ya Nangoloh joined ELCIN against what he described as “undue and outdated” revival of Olufuko traditional marriage practices.
“From a human rights viewpoint, early childhood marriage has very serious harmful social and economic as well as civil and political consequences, as the scourge leads to victims being withdrawn from school due to early pregnancy,” he said.
According to Ya Nangoloh, early maternity shortens the victim's life expectancy because it leads not only to extremely high maternal and infant mortality rates, but also “adversely affects her health, nutrition, education and employment opportunities”.
“Hence, we totally reject Olufuko practice because it is discriminatory and degrading against girls. “Moreover, the practice is entirely incompatible and inconsistent with the provisions of the Namibian Constitution, with specific reference to Chapter Three thereof. We are urging the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate this practice with the view to nip it in the bud. Any so-called traditional practice, which violates any one of the universally recognised human rights, is harmful and, as such, it must be discontinued forthwith in Namibia.”
“NamRights appeals to the business community and any other concerned persons to boycott the scheduled festival and by so doing avoid complicity in a conduct which contributes to serious violations of women’s rights in Namibia,” said Ya Nangoloh.