Traditional authority charts new waters

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Under the Traditional Authorities Act of 2000, any traditional community, whether royal or not, may establish a traditional authority. One would have thought the essence of such communities is to administer to the cultural-cum-traditional needs of their subjects and/or people.

This can mean the preservation of the cultures, customs and traditions of the respective communities.

“The functions of a traditional authority, in relation to the traditional community which it leads, shall be to promote peace and welfare amongst the members of that community by its members, and in particular to a) ascertain the customary law applicable in that traditional community after consultation with the members of that community, and assist in its codification b) administer and execute the customary law of that traditional community c) uphold, promote, protect and preserve the culture, language, tradition and traditional values of that traditional community; d) preserve and maintain the cultural sites, works of art and literary works of that traditional community c) perform traditional ceremonies and functions held within that traditional community.

Honestly, the idea for this column only occurred to me when sparked by the Ovaherero Traditional Authority’s (OTA) recent awards.

I was not aware, as I suspect many others as well are not aware, that traditional authorities in this country have so many noble tasks.

These tasks are consonant with the preservation, maintenance and promotion of the customs, cultures and traditions of their peoples. These are callings these authorities rarely seem to have shown pride in, on face value. Rather than distinguishing themselves at these noble functions, the traditional authorities have since Independence, for the better part of their existence, and for bad or worse, primarily and predominantly distinguished themselves through intra-cultural rivalries, which many a times have torn them asunder into multiple factions.

The examples of such authorities at war with themselves or with each other abound, and thus there is no need to mention and point out any specific ones.

Not only this, but one wonders how many of them, especially the ones which have been in existence from the word go since Namibia’s Independence 27 years ago, can pride themselves on having distinguished themselves in any of the functions and duties enumerated earlier? But one should perhaps, give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, less than two weeks ago, a spectre played itself out at one of the capital’s premier conference venues, the Gateway Centre, at a gala dinner held by the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA).

At the gala event the OTA gave awards to 2015 and 2016 Grade 10 and 12 learners studying the Otjiherero language from all over the country, as well as to their teachers.

This surely is a milestone in the history of this authority, which at times, if not most of the time, has regularly been in the news for the wrong reasons.

In what may signal a new beginning for this authority, the evening was characterised by tranquillity and camaraderie with the usual inter- and intra- internecine squabbling out of the window.

Not only this, but the teachers and learners also could hardly hide their joy and pride at being recognised for perfecting their language. This is a feat that comes rarely in post-colonial Namibia where indigenous languages are scoffed at, and those who dare to speak them usually characterised as archaic and uncivilised.

In view of this bold and commendable initiative by the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, one cannot but also reflect on the ongoing efforts by the University of Namibia (Unam) aimed at establishing a Namibia Institute for Indigenous Language Development (NIIL).

If all goes according to plan, this centre should be up and running by next year. How forward-looking of the OTA to have initiated the said awards. This certainly dovetails with the vision of Unam, if not the OTA’s own vision.

The latter being that culture cannot be culture without a language. This is certainly something that other traditional authorities must emulate.

More often traditional authorities have been in the habit of running to the government for handouts, even for the most trivial matters in an attempt to become self-sustaining.

But here we have an authority, and one for that matter that cannot be said to be benefitting from fish quotas allocations, relying on its own resources and that of its benefactors, to initiate such awards. Surely this is something this traditional authority must get a pat on the back for.

Is this, after all, not what the high political leadership of this country has been encouraging, rather than the eternal internecine wars and bickering, and the mushrooming of traditional authorities which cannot help their subjects, let alone administer to their cultural cravings with most of what are supposed to be cultural ceremonies nothing but wishy-washy modernisms, if not religion.

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