Some community members and the family of a 117-year-old deceased man have accused the pastor of Okaku Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) of preventing his burial at Okaku cemetery.
Irate community members, including two headmen and family of the late centenarian Beneditu Shikwamanga, a resident of Omandobe village near Okaku, claim Reverend Nehemia Sheeefeni prevented the deceased’s burial in an ELCIN graveyard because he was a member of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).
Although Shikwamanga’s documents indicate he was born in November 11, 1901, family members claim that he had told them several times that he was born in 1898.
They decided to bury him at Okaku cemetery because they had no means to travel to the RCC graveyard, which is far from Okaku. It was also the late Shikwamanga’s last wish to be buried at Okaku cemetery next to his late children. He had even marked the spot where he wanted his grave to be.
What traumatised the family more is the fact Sheefeni reportedly hired some people to close the grave that the family had already dug, which according to them could be a taboo in Oshiwambo culture as the right rituals were not followed. The grave was allegedly closed at night and Shikwamanga’s family was allegedly not informed about this bizarre development.
“He has to tell us what he buried in that grave. We traditional leaders will not just let it lie like that. He has to answer and he must pay,” said Andreas Kaweendwa, the headman of Okaku.
When this reporter called him to give his side of the story, Sheefeni refused to talk. “Don’t force me to cut off this call. I know what New Era does and I do not want to talk to you,” was the pastor’s only comment.
Recalling the events that led to the squabbles over the grave, Maria Andreas – the niece of the late Shikwamanga – said her uncle died on August 07 and the family tasked her to ask the Okaku ELCIN leadership to allow them to bury him at Okaku cemetery. According to Andreas, numerous people from different churches, including a once prominent businessman, are buried at Okaku and the family did not suspect that Shikwamanga’s remains would be rejected in this manner.
“On Tuesday I called pastor Sheefeni but he told me that he was in a meeting at Ongwediva and we should talk to the church elder,” she said.
While Andreas was talking to the church elder, a group of family members had already started digging the grave, after a church elder had given authorization.
“On Wednesday we went to see the pastor again because we learnt that he was not happy that we had dug the grave. He then told us that we can proceed with the burial, but it was going to be the last time he would ever allow a person from a different church to be buried there because we’ll put him in trouble with the Okaku community. Someone from our group answered him that it was common for non-ELCIN members to be buried at Okaku cemetery.
“It was then that he changed his mind and said he would no longer allow us to bury him at that graveyard. He said he would lock the cemetery gate with two locks,” explained Andreas.
The family allegedly had to postpone the burial with the hope that Sheefeni would change his mind again.
But when he did not, Omandobe village headman Josef Gideon organized for the late Shikwamanga to be buried at the neighbouring Olushika cemetery.
“Many years ago, Okatana used to be the only hospital around. Many people died in that hospital and they used to be buried at Okatana cemetery. The Okatana hospital and cemetery belong to the RCC but non-Catholics were not treated differently. Shikwamanga lived in this village, he was one of us, why is he being treated differently now that he is no more, it is not right,” said Gideon.
Another villager asked: “How can the church expect us to live in harmony if there seems to be grudges between ELCIN and RCC? Why do they keep preaching about forgiveness if they do not forgive each other? We thought that there is only one God and one heaven. Why do they want to separate our dead? They need to explain these things to us.”