By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK While poverty in most Namibian communities is mainly attributed to unemployment, it appears cultural practices, such as having a large number of offspring, contribute to impoverishment. Cultural practices reflect values and beliefs held by members of a community, are deep-rooted and often span generations. Although some practices can be beneficial to all its members, others constitute the core of impoverishment of any given community, worsening poverty levels. Newly appointed Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) ambassador, Veronica de Klerk, says there is a need for Namibians to drop some harmful practices. She cited expensive weddings, whereby some people tend to secure bank loans, as one of the harmful cultural practices still haunting the Namibian society. In such cases, couples compete by throwing the most extravagant weddings that would be the talk of their communities for a long time, without considering the cost implications. The magical aura of a wedding first forms in the young person’s mind and is carried in his or her dreams till the day when the two become one. While a wedding remains one of society’s most valued traditions, and is generally custom-honored worldwide, there is a tendency locally that the bigger the crowd, the bigger the feast and the more the drinks, the more respected or secure will be one’s reputation. Cows, goats and chickens are slaughtered. A lot of time, money, planning – and anguish – all go into the activities that precede the typical wedding. “This places a tremendous financial burden on the already struggling poor in terms of food for the guests and a large wedding entourage, all of whom need expensive clothes,” says De Klerk, who is renowned for her work in rural empowerment projects. The exorbitant sums of monies exchanging hands for dowry and the large herds of livestock demanded by the bride’s family are such that they enhance poverty among the poor. It is common practice that the more educated the bride-to-be, the more the man will have to pay but the irony remains that with the huge amounts of money demanded for lobola (dowry), parents are depriving their own daughters of a good financial head-start in life. Desperation is one of the characteristics that most poor people carry. Practices like traditional doctors also contribute in no small measure to impoverishing already poor communities. Traditional doctors continue to ‘steal’ from poor people as they promise to make them rich. She says, “It is so sad to see how many poor people pay expensively for a wide variety of muti” – believed to enhance one’s riches. She added, “It is sad to see how the hard earned monies of the poor are paid over to people who thrive on the fears and ignorance of the gullible poor.” While in the olden days funerals in African tradition were a time of mourning with little to worry about how one looks, today the society has turned funerals into fashion shows where some people display the latest designer suits and eye-wear. Bereaved families do not only go through the agony of losing their loved ones but also suffer stress on their financial resources which are desperately needed not only for the coffin, but also for flashy dressing and food to feed the multitudes that attend funerals not to give family support but mainly for the post-burial feasting. Extended families were a source of pride in most communities but as the world revolutionizes, sustaining a family has become expensive. According to De Klerk, feeding and clothing a lot of children is no joke. It disallows them to have a good education, needed to unleash the country’s dormant potential. Further, chances are slim for children in big yet poor families to rise from the flat plain of their impoverished existence to acquire wealth. Thus, people should learn to take care of their own children and not place the burden on others. Commenting on these matters, traditionalist Alex Kaputu believes that the big weddings and funerals, among other factors identified as harmful practices, are part of African culture. He explained that African people are used to the culture of helping one another such that some of these issues are perceived as normal in their daily lives. “It is a kind of an African tradition. For example, weddings are planned and extended relatives come in to help,” he said. In terms of funerals, as the world becomes modern, Kaputu says, insurance companies have come to the rescue of many, providing affordable products and services that even those described as poor in society can participate in. “It depends on individuals and how they articulate to these issues,” he says.
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