The tragedy of illiteracy

Deep inside the Kunene Region, in Otjimijira Village under the Omakatendeka constituency lies a Himba-speaking community; a community still stuck in the yesteryears.

During a tour around the Kunene Region, courtesy of Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), we stumbled upon this Himba Village; a village consisting of people who are still remote in today’s enlightenment error brought about by the introduction and intrusion of information technologies.

Twenty-two years of independence down the line and it comes as a shock to many that there still exists a community of people who have never stepped feet in a classroom; that there are still people who give birth at home, regardless of the efforts made by the Ministry of Health to build clinics and hospitals. Despite the endless campaigns to empower women, young girls in that community are still being married between the age of 12 and 15.

No one in the community is able to read or write; neither of them has ever had an opportunity to go to school together with their children, nor have they ever been out of their village. For them, their village is their world and life. They have never even voted for any political candidate who could, in the near future, stand for their rights and represent them in Parliament.

To them, the political independence we enjoy in the urban Namibia means being set free from predators such as hyenas, jackals and leopards that kill their livestock. Independence to them also means protection from human attack that may lead to death. Since they cannot kill the wild animals, which are protected by the Ohirovipuka Community Conservancy, a ‘dangerous’ environment leaves them defenseless. They still fight the war to end the human-wildlife conflict that has given them many sleepless nights from time immemorial.

Strangely, the eldest member of the Himba community is the 34-year old Vazuva Musutwa who is also the community spokesperson.

The community’s main worry, according to their spokesperson, is that of their health due to unavailability of clean water and clinics. They drink river water and have to walk a two-days’ distances to reach the nearest clinic because of lack of transportation.

As a result, they still resort to the traditional ways of giving birth through the assistance of a midwife as they neither have transportation to go to the hospital nor the money to pay for medical fees. Thus, there are two old Herero ladies who often assist them in delivering.

Musutwa says, “We have only heard of our councilor but we have never seen or met him. Even the nature conservancy people whom we understand are supposed to be conducting frequent visits to this place to check what is going on around the village, only visit us once after four or five months.”

When it comes to issues of marriage, Musutwa says a Himba man has to give three cattle to his in-laws before being given his wife and the girls normally get married between the ages of 12 to 15 years. A man is able to marry up to five wives, depending on his capacity to pay for the lobola and take care of the family.

Musutwa says they survive mainly on meat and milk and at times, mealie-meals, which are normally given to them by tourists who pay visits to the village.

“We normally take one meal per day for the adults and the children take two meals a day. We normally receive maize-meals from tourists whom we entertain and receive groceries or food from in return for our performances,” says Musutwa.

As a result of their illiteracy, they do not even know about funding or who to report to when their livestock has been killed by wild animals. More so, the Nature Conservancy Act requires them to report the death of their livestock within 24 hours after the incidence, which is almost impossible for them given that it would take them days to reach a place where they can find help due to the transport problem.

During the dry season, there is hardly any milk from the cattle due to the lack of adequate grazing land. Thus, they will be surviving mainly on game meat or even slaughter an ox and dry the meat, which can last them for a month or so.

“Our children eat little porridge in the morning but as for the game meat, there is a hunter with a permit to hunt in this conservancy, so he hunts for animal skins and normally gives us the meat to eat,” he adds.

Because they cannot read or count, these Himba people identify their livestock by their colours and even their ages are just approximations in which they relate to cultural events that happened during their times of birth.

This realisation comes at a time when the nation just celebrated 22 years of independence last month. Namibian independence came as a result of the unselfish and devoted sacrifices of men and women, sons and daughters of Namibia who took the nation before self and believed unreservedly in a Namibia free from poverty, oppression and racial discrimination. The national shrines in which they were buried are a symbol and a reminder of the bitter and protracted armed struggle they went through for the liberation of this country.

It was the desire to walk free and tall in their home country without anyone asking them for a pass, to work and contribute effectively to their country’s economy, to be able to live a ‘decent’ life where everyone could afford the basic commodities.

But for this poor community, they may still have to wait expectantly for their ‘Independence Day’ to come one day in the independent Namibia for them to celebrate together with the rest of the nation on the fruits brought about by the birth of a new democratic Namibia. PF