By Nomsa Ndlovu
An aggrieved Herero man, Geoffrey Katjimambo, says that his tribe is soon to fight it in court if the Ministry of Education of Botswana continues to ignore its request to withdraw an “insulting Standard Seven social studies book” from schools.
Speaking to the Mmegi newspaper here recently, Katjimambo said the way the author of the book, Social Studies is Fun 7, portrays the Ovaherero cultural burials is not only insulting but also libellous of the tribe.
On page 15 of this book, which was published by Collegium Publishing Company, a chapter headlined ‘Cultural practices that can help encourage the spread of HIV and AIDS’, states that the Ovaherero have a culture called Otusira.
In this culture, the tribe believes that when a member of the clan dies, he or she should be replaced through the birth of a new baby. During the night vigil service, before the burial, a few girls and men from the family of the deceased engage in unprotected sex. “All what is said in a confounded, derogative statement that is aimed at embarrassing us and making the nation believe that we are an immoral society. It erodes our dignity and makes us feel inferior amongst other tribes,” he said.
Katjimambo says the allegation is not new. For some years, the gossip has been making rounds amongst the northern tribes of Botswana where different people have confronted them, wanting to know why they pitch tents and nets at their funerals.
“They tell us they have been made to believe that after burial we continue camping at the deceased’s place where copulation takes place until one of the women in the gathering announces that she has conceived. They also say that during such activities, partnership in terms of marital status is abandoned.
Each man is allowed to engage in unprotected sex with any woman of choice in the gathering until the cultural rites are over. Then the couples would pair again. This is particularly disgusting because the textbook content is written for the consumption of young minds. We know that tribes say disparaging things about others as a way of showing their superiority.”
According to the aggrieved man, some Ovaherero have met in Gumare where the issue was discussed at length. During the meeting, it was agreed that the writer of the book be contacted to explain where he sourced the information.
“In his response, the writer refused to bend from what he had written, stating that he was a resident of Gumare, he grew up amongst the Hereros, where he took note of every activity that we did”.
The grievance was presented to area MP and Minister of Education Jacob Nkate during his tour of his constituency, recently.
The Hereros told him that they wanted the book removed from schools because apart from the said chapter being an insult, it also left inerasable psychological effect in their children’s minds who at the moment are a subject of teasing and jeering by their fellow students. The book, according to parents, also implants a sense of inferiority, which may result in their children undervaluing themselves as Ovaherero and holding their tribe in low esteem. The Hereros say that since then, Nkate does not seem to have done anything to address the issue.
“We have therefore taken a solid stand that the Ministry of Education as the dispenser of the book in schools, the writer and the publisher for publishing such unethical and unconfirmed information, should defend themselves before the court for defaming our character. They have to give us tangible evidence as to where they saw the sexual activities taking place”.
Sharing the same sentiments about the contents of the book is an elder of the Ovaherero tribe in Maun, Katjikoro Kakero, 78, and his cousin’s wife Geraldine Kandu, 49. Although they admitted that the clan pitches tents and nets at their funerals, they said that they have learnt with shock that the book and the communities around them were now twisting facts about the purpose served by such.
According to them, in the olden days before employment became a source of income, it was a tradition for clan members to camp at the bereaved family’s residence for up to three months.
The camping was meant for consoling, whereas the pitching of tents is still done to solve accommodation problems that are faced by mourners at funerals.
“What the outside world should know is that we Ovaherero still practice the extended family system. In the system, you will find that different families stay in the same compound where a husband, wife and their children share the same room. When gatherings such as funerals take place, such families will be having no extra rooms to offer to their relatives. It has therefore become a rule amongst us that mourners provide themselves with shelter where they will be able to sleep, bath and change clothes in privacy”, they explained.
Asked for a comment, the Managing Director of Collegium, Johnson Chengeta, said that no one from the complaining tribe had confronted his company about the allegations.
“However, since you have informed us, we will not just sit on our laurels and act as if nothing is happening. We are a socially responsible company whose motto is to account for every complaint raised against us by carrying out investigations, that at the end of the day may solve the matter in an amicable and peaceful way.
“What the Hereros should know is that if at all there are some misconstrued facts in the book, it could have been a matter of being misinformed rather than aiming at defaming their character”, he said.