By Irene !Hoaes
Family life in Namibia is rapidly disintegrating, due to the individualistic approach towards life.
However, there are many pressures on family life, which contribute to broken relationships and divorces.
Family tensions are compounded by situations of affluence as well as poverty, by unemployment as well as too much work, by changing gender expectations and by changing understandings and practices of sexuality.
The general secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN), Reverend Phillip Strydom, says all these factors make it difficult for families to stand united.
“Society does not see themselves as part of a unit anymore, we see ourselves as individuals, and that needs to be broken down,” Strydom said at the close of the Family Conference in Windhoek last week.
“The spirit of ubuntu must come back, meaning I am a person because of you. One of the cornerstones of African culture was the extended family.”
Strydom says the reasons of families disintegrating these days can be attributed to competition – especially about income in competition, where brothers and sisters are in competition.
He says the spirit of competitiveness has taken over, noting although it is not a bad thing it can be negative as well.
Strydom says financial hardships and poverty is also another leading factor towards this individualistic outlook on life, where people would rather only cater for their immediate family and not extend a helping hand to the extended family.
“Extended family does not exist anymore, we need to go back to extended families, that’s where we used to take responsibilities for one another, that’s where we are fathers/mothers to our neighbours’ children or orphans,” Strydom said.
He says the church needs to address this vigorously and put pressure on society to take charge.
Strydom noted that the church has the overriding role and responsibility to care about families and family life.
“The church, we can say is the custodian of family life. We have the rules and regulations of family life. Above all, we serve the One who instituted family life, God himself.”
In times of HIV/Aids, migratory labour and financial hardships and poverty, families are under stress, Strydom noted.
He says the role of family structures has also changed, especially with more and more mothers becoming professional women.
Strydom is, however, of the opinion that certain fundamental issues remain and cannot be changed, such as trust and respect within a family.
“Most family break-ups are caused by infidelity, and substance abuse among others,” said Strydom.
He cites the high suicide rate among the youth as one of the factors caused by broken families.
Strydom suggests that marriage preparation be made legal and compulsory for all prospective marriages, as well as the introduction of enrichment programmes.
He says it is imperative that churches play their role in strengthening families in the country, as the whole society is disintegrating as a result.
Meanwhile, the Programme Manager of the Family Welfare subdivision in the health ministry, Mary Farmer says the ministry is looking at the possibility of establishing a family council that will deal with family issues in the country.
Farmer says the initial idea was to come up with the council during the three-day family conference but it could not materialise due to other commitments.
The Directorate of Social Welfare is also looking at holding regional family
conferences in future.