New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Soul-Searching Conference Ends in Kavango

Kamutjonga — The first-ever regional conference which convened to deliberate on burning issues such as teenage pregnancy in the Kavango Region, concluded on a high note on Tuesday evening.

The high-profile conference was attended by national leaders, among them Deputy Prime Minister Marco Hausiku, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Rosalia Nghidinwa, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services Petrina Haingura, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Tjekero Tweya, regional councillors, traditional chiefs and the Governor of the Kavango Region, Maurus Nekaro. The conference was held at the Kamutjonga Inland Fisheries Institute, some 25 kilometres southeast of Divundu in the Kavango Region. Issues discussed during the two-day conference included malnutrition and teenage pregnancies, which are challenges widely viewed to be detrimental to the region's development aspirations.

The question of reviving traditional norms and customs also came under the spotlight as traditional leaders feel that their influence is waning, while young people increasingly show little respect for their elders and age-old customs and traditions.

During the discussions, the secretary of the Mbunza Traditional Authority, Dagobert Mukoya, who spoke on behalf of the five traditional chiefs in the region, condemned those who make use of public platforms such as radio stations and newspapers in order to launch attacks against traditional leaders, and asked them to refrain from doing so. "A chief is a respectable person, people cannot just point fingers directly at the chiefs. You need to follow the right channels," Mukoya said during one of the group discussions.

The topic drew loud and enthusiastic applause from the Hambukushu chief, Erwin Mbambo, who supported the notion. "It must stop, it must stop!" Mbambo interjected.

The chief has often come under intense criticism from his subjects and others living or conducting business in the area of his traditional jurisdiction for his outspokenness and confrontational style, which more often than not engenders enmity.

The advent of independence and democracy has eroded the dominant influence and authority of traditional chiefs to a considerable extent and this is often manifested in the attitudes and errant behaviour of their own subjects to the intense frustration of the custodians of traditional customs and tradition.

Summons to traditional courts, fines and activities such as ploughing the mahangu fields of the chiefs have become a thing of the distant past, because many traditional laws are in conflict with the provisions of the constitution. Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Kavango Regional Council's management committee, Bonny Wakudumo, suggested that chiefs should minimize their visibility in public if they are to uphold their status and the dignity of their positions.

Last year, the youngest girl to become pregnant in the region was a 12-year-old Grade 5 pupil at the Sauyemwa Combined School in Rundu, one of the many reasons that prompted traditional leaders to demand that men who impregnate under-age girls should be fined 12 head of cattle, and that those who are employed should be dismissed from work.

The deputy prime minister has tasked the office of the regional governor to compile a report within the next three weeks on the outcomes of the groundbreaking conference.

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