Namibia’s Cultural Diversity, Reflections and Celebrations

On 21 March 2014 Namibia celebrated its 24 years of political independence, as the independence of Namibia was declared on the 21 March 1990. The Namibian constitution as the supreme law of the land was adopted to serve as the basis on which the state shall govern the whole society.

The Namibian constitution can be regarded as having effectively superseded any law-giving source in Namibia, including the Bible, despite Namibia being described as a Christian majority nation. Historical circumstances and human choices dictated this scenario. As a matter of fact, the constitution of Namibia suggests that the Namibia state shall treat religion neutrally as the state shall make its own man-made laws, based on collective human ingenuity rather than the divine scriptures, as such no religious scripture shall serve as the basis for lawmaking, as the word goes – “the State shall be secular.”

A Unique Secular State

Thank God, Namibia is not an atheist state but at least, uniquely secular! The unique secularism of Namibia is such that it allows for all members of the executive, legislature and judiciary to invoke God, when being sworn in into office, with the words, “so help me God”. This kind of religious language would be unheard of, if Namibia were to be an atheist state, hence my gratitude to God that Namibia though ‘secular’ is not God-unconscious, or God denying, otherwise how would we explain that come 21 March 2015, our new President, his entire government people will supplicate to ‘God to help them’ execute their duties of governing this beloved state? That is, governing in accordance with the secular law of the land, though one would rationally expect them to do so according to God’s constitution seeing that they are not shy to explicitly call on God to ‘help’ them! This might fit in rather nicely with what we observed early this month, on 6 March 2014, when the head of our secular state declared a National Day of Prayer to seek solutions to gender-based violence and crimes of passion in society. Yes, we are not that secular, after all.

To the atheists this was confusing, however, they seems to have forgotten that the president promised to call on ‘God to help him’ right at the moment when he was being sworn into office. I personally cannot see any contradiction there, the only interesting part would be, what sort of help does a head of a secular state expects from God, seeing that God’s supreme law is not quite part of the secular equation, constitutionally-speaking?

With that out of the way, let me now proceed to celebrate the less celebrated fundamental freedoms of religion and cultural rights that the Namibian constitution grants, especially in the sacred chapter 3! Mind you, in a secular state, nothing is supposed to be sacred, which is why it is called a ‘secular state’ in the first place. However, many constitutional experts are preaching to us that actually the only sacred thing in Namibia is chapter 3 of the Namibian constitution in particular and of course, the whole document in general. Starting with chapter 1, article 1, it reads: “The Republic of Namibia is hereby established as sovereign, secular, democratic and unitary State founded on the principles of democracy, rule of law and justice for all.” Let us all just stop, reflect and comment on these key words in this philosophical discourse. These are profound fundamentals of the Namibian state, making clear what the Namibian state shall be – and shall not become. The key philosophical and political concepts:

Sovereignty: That is, the Namibia state will not be legally ruled, influenced, controlled, regulated or governed by any other power, but human laws (popular will, not divine will).

Secularity – That the state shall not be a theocracy but a democracy, as such no religion will be made into an official state religion in Namibia. All religions shall be treated equally, like what happened on the National Day of Prayer, at least, the major world religions. As we know traditional religions and others less well known religions were not part of the National Day of Prayer, or maybe they were but I missed that one.

Democracy – This means that the Namibian state shall not become an autocratic, but democratic state, banning all types of political systems such as monarchy, dictatorship and open theocratic rule, such as in Iran, for example.

Unitary – This means that Namibia will not be a federal state, but will strive for one nation, one country and one centralized political system. At least, these are my simplistic understandings. Though it is explicit that Namibia will be a secular state, it seems fairly legitimate to ask about the extent, the nature and the time as to when the head of such a secular state can invoke God to help or intervene in national affairs? Would such divine help be exclusively confined to prayer and solemn swearing in at the inauguration of the state? At what point should God be expected to stop “intervening or helping” the Namibian state? When the HoS says, “so help me God”, what is the meaning and implication of such a phrase in the context of our constitutional secularism? As a brave and rational nation, we seem like we need to collectively stop to reflect and fully digest the substantive meaning and practical implications of that four-word phrase or is this a matter of mere ceremony and empty political gesture, without any spiritual or religious implications? If there is no political or popular will to allow God to actually ‘help’ us in terms of legal influence, economicfinancial guidance, ethical political governance, socio-moral regulation, should the ‘religious population’ continue to allow the state to use the name of God in vain, in full contradiction of one of the ten commandments in the Bible? This question is in light of article 1 point 2 of chapter 1, which clearly states that “all powers shall vest in the people of Namibia who shall exercise the sovereignty through the democratic institutions of the State.” ‘All powers’ here can be understood to exclude any sharing of powers, say, between God and the people of Namibia? This understanding is further consolidated and sealed by article 1 point 6, which further states that the Namibian constitution shall be the “supreme law of the land”! Let me rest my case on this one.

Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitution on Rights and Freedoms

Moving on to the fundamental human rights and freedoms as granted in chapter 3 of the Namibian constitution there is no doubt that chapter 3 has universally been considered the most sacred part of the constitution. It is this chapter that contains the much celebrated rights and freedoms that every Namibian is proud of and would love to enjoy to the fullest, such as protection of life, liberty, human dignity, freedom from slavery, freedom from forced labour, freedom from discrimination and inequality (on the basis of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or socio-economic status), amongst others. Most relevant to this article are the freedoms of religion and culture, as stipulated in the same chapter, specifically article 19 stipulates:

“Every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion subject to the terms of this Constitution and further subject to the condition that the rights protected by this Article do not impinge upon the rights of others or national interest.” On a more personal note, it is this article that created the enabling legal environment for me and other Namibians to choose, enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote a religion of my choice, namely Islam, though I was born into a Lutheran Christian family and brought up in a largely Christian society. My freedom and rights to practice Islam are fully granted and protected by the Namibian constitution, hence my celebratory mood. It is, indeed, a great privilege to live in a state that has enshrined such freedoms and rights in the supreme law of the land. It is also against this background that I for one, as part of the Windhoek Islamic Centre declared this year as the year for celebrating 24 years of freedom of religion and cultural diversity in Namibia, whereby a series of activities shall be initiated, organized and held to promote Islam as a religion, culture and civilization that can potentially make a positive contribution to the Namibia society. This is meant to give meaning and substance to these less celebrated freedoms and rights in contemporary Namibia. For some of us, all fundemental freedoms are just as crucial as freedom of speech, association, movement and thought, as these freedoms are intractably and practically linked and must equally be celebrated by all Namibians.

The author lectures in psychology at the University of Namibia and is also Chairperson of the Windhoek Islamic Centre Management Committee. He obtained a PhD in the Psychology of Religion from the International Islamic University in Malaysia.nbsp

Source : New Era