Nangula Kathindi: Soldiering on with a divine weapon

Reverend Nangula Kathindi, the newly appointed Chief of Chaplain in the Namibian Defence Forces (NDF), becomes the first female priest to head the Namibian Chaplaincy.

Kathindi succeeded Reverend Onesmus Shanyengange, a Lutheran Pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Namibia, who has since retired to be a full time pastor for the Lutheran congregation in Oniipa.

Chaplains are clergymen and women assigned with the role of providing spiritual and pastoral support to the uniformed forces, inmates and lead religious services in formal institutions.

The Chief of Chaplain is responsible for the President’s Commission as both officer and Chaplain and also has a responsibility towards every individual of the NDF regardless of their ranks.

As head of the chaplaincy, Kathindi is tasked to give religious instructions to NDF personnel and their families who may be staying with them at military bases.

She is also tasked with recruitment duties of religious workers from various church denominations as well as monitor all activities under her command and carry out visitations as is required.

Kathindi has since begun dealing with traumatic soldiers in the military.

“I feel worthy when I listen to a soldier’s ordeal and when I am in a position to advise and extend a helping hand,” she says.

Kathindi was among the first two female priests in the Anglican Church in Southern Africa to be ordained in 1994 alongside Justina Hilukiluah.

For the past 17 years she has served as an Anglican priest until her recent appointment into the Namibian Defence force (NDF).

Despite being on the job for only four months, she has discovered that HIV/AIDS and alcohol related issues have been the worst enemy for uniformed forces.

“It is especially difficult to get people to trust you with their status, which makes it so difficult to even talk about the disease.

I just want to help people feel at home and enjoy life. People, not only soldiers, must be able to tell HIV/ AIDS what to do and not allow HIV/ AIDS to tell them what to do,” she adds.

The NDF recruitment policy is that applicants go for comprehensive medical checkups including HIV tests but at one point the policy was flouted under pressure from Government to consider applicants on humanitarian grounds.

Applicants who did not meet the academic requirements of Grade 10 were allowed to bypass the medical examinations.

Although the NDF says it does not recruit HIV positive soldiers because the nature of their work is gruesome and taxing for a person with a health problem like HIV, Its policy, however, is not to dismiss soldiers who get infected while already in the service, and this is where Kathindi comes in.

In cases like these, the soldiers are not forced but can be advised to seek counselling from Kathindi whose mission is to extend “a helping hand especially to those who have been hardened by war and the nature of their work but are suffering from within,” she says.

In the late 90s, when the country didn’t have anti-retroviral drugs, HIV was a menace in the army but the situation greatly improved when the drugs became available.

According to NDF Chief of Staff for Human Resources Brigadier General Karel Ndjoba, the NDF is contemplating introducing an annual screening exercise not as a discriminatory measure but to help the forces manage their health.

But the former General Secretary of the Council of Churches of Namibian (CCN) is more worried at the lack of infrastructure within the NDF to support the military’s religious and inner person’s needs in order to have a strong and geared army.

“At some military bases religious services are conducted in cafeterias or any available room because there is no church building,” she says, adding her dejection when chaplains are not formally acknowledged at official meetings and gatherings.

“There is a belief that a pastor or priest has already acquired all the skills necessary. The challenge, however, is that people are affected in different ways by different problems and therefore it is important that chaplains and priests work on their skills continuously to be able to execute their duties effectively, especially trauma counselling as this is part of our job on a daily basis,” she adds.

Although she admits, soldiers often chase away chaplains saying they don’t need pastors, Kathindi is positive her role is understood in the NDF but calls for awareness amongst the Namibian civilian population, as the majority is not clear on the role of chaplains.

She feels there is a need for herself to be groomed in leadership as the job borders around accountability.

Kathindi draws her inspiration from her uncle who was a priest and other female theologians in her hometown, Ondangwa.

“I did not know that female pastors were not ordained at that time. I am so much inspired by the way they carried themselves around and what they did for their communities. I have a burning desire to emmulate them,” she smiles.

The Chief of Chaplains completed a secretarial course in England, and was awarded a scholarship by the Episcopal Church in the United States, to study at St Paul’s University in Virginia, USA from which she graduated with a B.A in Sociology in 1984. She continued after this at the Virginia Theological Seminar and graduated with a Masters Degree in Theological studies in 1986.

Married to Kuutumbeni Kathindi, the current Mayor of Oshakati, the mother of two teenagers says this position is by the Grace of God.

“Yes my qualifications and the experience have certainly played a role, and officials knew about my work and accomplishments, but God gave me this.

“This position is important for me both as Chaplain and as native Namibian. I look at my uniform and realize how things have changed for the better for Namibians. As much as I love the uniform I love the work that I do. I am glad to be in a position to serve my country.”

The Lieutenant Colonel turns 54 this July and she does not hide her admiration for the people she has to deal with.

“These are people who were told and taught only to kill, luckily some come from Christian homes where they were taught about God but at the end of the day, we all have spiritual needs,” she says. PF