New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Church Unchains Mental Detainees

Rundu — The police have appealed to the Ministry of Health and Social Services to introduce more mental institutions in the Kavango Region following an exposé by New Era on several people incarcerated by the Apostolic Church outside Rundu.

Last week, New Era broke the story of a group of four Namibians and two Angolans who were chained to wooden posts by Reverend Moses Matyayi of the Apostolic Church on the grounds that they were "a danger to society."

The practice of incarcerating mental patients with chains padlocked to tree trunks and other objects has apparently been going on at the church for over a decade after the victims sought "spiritual healing" from Reverend Matyayi for mental and other illnesses.

After New Era broke the story, members of the police and social workers appalled by the illegal detentions intervened and ordered their immediate freedom on the grounds that the practice infringed on their human dignity.

But the police said Matyayi's actions though well-intentioned, were illegal. They say the situation was prompted partly by the fact that the country has only one psychiatric unit, denying many mentally challenged patients in the country access to proper mental health care.

The police also called on the Ministry of Health and Social Services to introduce psychiatric units in the Kavango Region and other regions situated far from Windhoek.

Deputy Police Commissioner Willie Bampton appealed to government to consider availing psychiatric units to regions to "avoid these types of cruel activities."

"As the police, we can really not allow people to be treated this way in a democratic Namibia, therefore we humbly appeal to the ministry of health to start making plans to build facilities in the regions that cater for mentally-ill people," said the deputy police commissioner.

The psychiatric unit in Windhoek cannot accommodate all people with mental disabilities in the country, hence it sometimes takes years before patients are even admitted, the deputy commissioner said.

"Whenever we have criminal cases involving mentally-ill patients it becomes a problem, because we do not have the facilities to detain such people. Sometimes we have no choice but to lock them up in cells all by themselves to avoid fights with other inmates," he said.

Last week Thursday, Bampton led police officials to the Sauyemwa informal settlement where they ordered the reverend of the church, Moses Matyayi, to unchain the mentally challenged patients.

Nine people were found chained to heavy metal objects and wooden posts. One of the patients said he had been detained for more than a year. Although Matyayi complied with the police, he refused to admit any wrongdoing.

"I have invited community leaders several times to come and visit the church so that they can assist and give me advice on how to go about the situation. They came and left without saying anything."

Reverend Matyayi told New Era during an interview that Herbert Shixwameni, during his time as the councilor for the Rundu Rural West Constituency, the Mbunza Traditional Chief Alfons Kaunda, the Regional Health Director Elizabeth Muremi, former Rundu Mayor Gosbert Sikerete and current Rundu Rural West councilor Rosa Kavara all visited the church, but they failed to do something.

The country was left in shock last week after New Era exclusively exposed the church-cum-clinic in Rundu and the goings-on there.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the New Apostolic Church in Namibia last Friday distanced itself from the incarceration of mentally ill patients by Matyayi.

"The New Apostolic Church has taken note of the reports in newspapers concerning the healing of mentally ill people. The church distances itself from such practices since this is definitely not part of how the New Apostolic Church functions, " stated Boniface Masholo Matengu, the District Elder and Administrative Controller of the New Apostolic Church in Namibia.

"The New Apostolic Church does not profess to be faith healers and make no claims to cure addictions of any sort. It is the principle of the New Apostolic Church to support organizations and institutions in the community that have professionally qualified people to deal with these problems," said the District Elder and Administrative Controller of the Church.

The New Apostolic Church confines its activities to spiritual worship and caring for its members socially.

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