Namibia’s liberation struggle could not have been what it came to be without the role of the church, which gave the inspiration and prophesied freedom, such that at one point Tatekulu Sam Nujoma, (happy birthday to him today) dressed up like a Lutheran pastor to deliver his message about freedom to working people at the coast, because the church had the integrity to prophesy deliverance and speak the truth without fear.
Consonant with the understanding at the time that Jesus gave power to the Christian church to play an active role in the lives of its flock, various church leaders in the country internalised their assignment to (a) speak with judgment about the life of God’s people in the country, (b) continue to prophesy deliverance and political independence and (c) in very difficult times, speak the truth to power that the oppressed will be free one day!
During those difficult times liberation theology became the logic for doing theology in Latin America and Afrika, where the church was searching for its meaning and relevance in oppressive circumstances and found a new voice for themselves to confront dictatorships of the time with the message that Jesus’ essential mission on earth was to deliver the oppressed, to end abusive government systems and to offer the equality and sanctity of God’s own image, wherever they were.
The church in Namibia, notably the Lutheran Church, led the parade. On June 30, 1971 Bishop Auala of the Evangelical Lutheran Owambo-Kavango Church (ELOC) and Moderator Gowaseb of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South West Africa (ELC) authored the famous Open Letter to South African Prime Minister John Vorster.
The letter amplified the accusation that South Africa had failed to take cognizance of human rights in Namibia, as declared by the United Nations Declaration of Universal Rights, and accused South Africa of blatant failure in respect of the dignity of black Namibians.
It also listed a number of the injustices suffered by Namibians: restrictions on movement and settlement, the lack of freedom of expression, the denial of basic political rights, especially the franchise, the policy of job reservation and the migrant labour system, which resulted in low wages and the destruction of family life, and concluded with a call for justice and independence.
The open letter sent shockwaves through the white community in the country, such that the government was forced to recognise church leaders as major players in the political life of Namibia in the advancement towards peace and national independence.
Prime Minister Vorster yielded to a meeting with a delegation from ELOC and ELC in Windhoek on August 18, 1971. The meeting represented a confrontation between two irreconcilable viewpoints: Vorster attempted to sell the policy of separate development or bantustanisation as a solution and to undermine Swapo’s growing support in the country on the one hand, whereas the Open Letter became a document for political conscientisation of the general black population towards total national independence.
Things changed after Independence. Like the labour unions and student union leadership that was destroyed by the state, the church fell prey to the pornography of political power and lost its direction. Understandably, given the unquestionable legitimacy of the post-independence government under Swapo, the church has been co-opted and has abdicated its responsibility to the politicians.
After independence, the Namibian Christian Church failed to acquit itself in a manner that the Founder of the church would have liked to see. The place of the church is to prophesy deliverance, bring good news to the people in a manner relative to and critical of the principalities of the present time.
This is NOT to suggest that the church is to be antagonistic towards the government, or the state. The church is entrusted to execute the laws in accord with the golden rule, that is, that those in power ought to be servants unblemished by greed and corruption and vengefulness.
At the moment a good number of the clergy are more preoccupied with material gains they derive from the tithing by unsuspecting worshippers who flock to the charismatic Pentecostal (Prosperity churches) of apostles and prophets, for reasons other than grace and salvation.
The mainline churches have become the ruling party at prayer, just like the Dutch Reformed church became the apartheid government at prayer. To put it more problematically, the church’s voice should have been heard much more loudly and forcefully in the following areas of political and socio-economic life:
Where the state did not produce results in its fight against corruption;
If it is true that members of parliament and cabinet ministers also took from the veterans funds that were made available to assist those men and women who sacrificed life and limb in the liberation struggle;
Our state of education, which continues to ill-equip the Namibian child to survive in the modern and changing world, has not been looked at through moral lenses;
Government bureaucracy at the level of ministers and deputy ministers that is bloated and way too heavy for a small population, such as ours;
The rate of teenage pregnancies and other associated ills in our schools and communities that cannot augur well for our steadfast move towards Vision 2030 with the capital resources we need to grow and harness;
The deteriorating work ethic in our enterprises accompanied by a sense of entitlement that deter sustainable economic growth;
If it is true that we are a Christian country, it means we are expected to act as keepers of one another and should urge our political officeholders to act merely as custodians over the nation’s resources, so that when we leave the place will be in a better condition than we found it and living as an Afrikan nation at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbours and at peace with the rest of the human family.