SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.8 issue2Affirmation and celebration of the 'religious Other' in South Africa's constitutional jurisprudence on religious and related rights: Memorial constitutionalism in action?Comments on the constitutional protection of religion in Swaziland author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand



Related links

  • On index processCited by Google
  • On index processSimilars in Google


African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X

Afr. hum. rights law j. vol.8 n.2 Pretoria  2008




Religion and human rights in Namibia



Nico Horn

Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia




Namibia is one of the most Christianised countries in Africa. Its Christian roots date back to the early nineteenth century, when the first German and Scandinavian missionaries arrived in the country. Before independence, the churches were radically divided between supporters of the struggle for independence (predominantly mainline black churches), so-called apolitical mainline white English-speaking churches and multi-racial charismatic churches and white Reformed and Pentecostal supporters of the apartheid system. After independence, the state did not interfere with the business of the churches. The threat that a SWAPO government would not honour Christian public holidays in an independent Namibia came to naught. The affluent white churches and new Pentecostal churches remained influential and played a strong role in the rejection of a pro-choice Abortion Act. Many churches also supported the government's (and the Supreme Court's) stance against protecting same-sex relationships. The churches also ignored the fate of the small Jewish community. Christians and other religious communities have experienced privileges not always associated with a secular state. However, in the last two years of President Nujoma's term as President, he declared the government's preferential treatment of the historical churches that supported the struggle (Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic and AME churches). While President Pohamba took a more reconciliatory stance, evangelicals and charismatics lost the privilege to preach on national radio. The churches remain sectarian in their interaction with other vulnerable communities.



“Full text available only in PDF format”



* Blur (Johannesburg), BTh (Hons) (UNISA), MA (Port Elizabeth), LLM (UNISA), PhD (Western Cape);
1 K Dierks 200 Namibian Library of Dr Klaus Dierks (accessed 10 April 2008).         [ Links ]
2 As above.
3 See H Giliomee The Afrikaners. Biography of a people (2003) 188.         [ Links ]
4 P Johnstone Operation world (1993) 403.         [ Links ]
5 As above.
6 Johnstone (n 4 above) 401. I use the word Evangelical in the North American sense to refer to the so-called born-again movement (Christians who believe that a conversion experience is essential for becoming a believer).
7 Religious and church affiliation is no longer listed in the national census forms.
8 Missionaries from West Africa include the Gorro family and Dr Elizabeth Arowalo with her Christ Love Ministries. The controversial healing evangelist, Prophet Joshua, has a big following in Namibia, especially amongst while Pentecostals and charismatics, but he does not have a church in Namibia.
9 Former Deputy-President of Zambia, Neves Mumba, has planted a Victory Ministries in Namibia under the leadership of Denzel Shipaza.
10 South African black church planters include Bishop Wahl Abrahams of the New Covenant Church and Pastor M Shapley, a former ANC cadre in the Eastern Cape.
11 The Universal Church is a Brazilian Pentecostal Church. They are led by Brazilian bishops and do not fellowship with other Pentecostals.
12 The church broke away from the move mainline Pentecostal Church, Foursquare Gospel Church in the 1970s because they did not agree with the growing emphasis on theological education.
13 n 11 above.
14 US Department of State (2007) International Religious Freedom Report (2007) (accessed 2 April 2008).         [ Links ]
15 As above.
16 The document was distributed before the United Nations supervised elections in 1989 in the form of a leaflet by someone opposing SWAPO, claiming to be a copy of an official SWAPO document. The leaflet was later published by several newspapers. SWAPO never denied that the document originated from them. Copy in possession of author.
17 Interview with Jan Pretorius, 2005 (permission obtained on 3 August 2008).
18 This is another contradiction in the state/church relationship that the state can appoint marriage officers to conduct religious marriages recognised by the secular state. The appointment of marriage officers gives the state some power over the religious organisations. In apartheid South Africa, marriage officers were expected to make a sworn statement to uphold the laws, including the prohibition of marriages over the colour line.
19 See arts 19 & 21: '19. Every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practise, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion subject to the terms of this Constitution and further subject to the condition that the rights protected by this Article do not impinge upon the rights of others or the national interest.' '21(1) All persons shall have the right to: (a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom in institutions of higher learning; (c) freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice; (d) assemble peaceably and without arms; (e) freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions and political parties;...'
20 See art 10(2).
21 The so-called coloured, Indian and black sections of the AFM operated reasonably independent in the colonial period, but it had only one legal personality.
22 Several Pentecostal pastors actively participated in transitional politics. A case in point is Gospel Outreach/Gospel Mission pastor, Harry Booysen, who was a minister in the transitional government.
23 The Kairos document points to the fact that this non-participatory model is just concealed support for the status quo.
24 A Mulondo 'A history of the Namibian Black Pentecostal Churches' unpublished BA dissertation, Vision International University, Ramona, California, 2000.         [ Links ]
25 Minute book of the AFM South West Africa, minutes of the District Council meeting. The AFM of South West Africa no longer exists and the author could not trace the minute book. However, it was in the author's possession when he was Chairperson of the church in 1990.
26 Personal interview with Pastor Joseph, Windhoek, 14 February 2008.
27 Rumours of government and SA Defence Force funds going to WTS were widespread after independence.
28 Art 4 of the Private Act of 1961 (my emphasis).
29 The Oruuanu Church, also known as the Protestant Unity Church. It broke away from the Lutheran Church after a dispute over the place of African customs in the church.
30 Copies of minutes of the Religious Advisory Board of the NBC between 1990 and 1995 in the possession of the author, who was a member of the committee until 1995.
31 Some of the prominent dominees on radio were more of the traditional Reformed school rather than the Evangelical type Kobus Venter preferred. After Venter left the NBC, he joined forces with Media for Christ, an Evangelical organisation specialising in Christian media productions. Venter became the Chairperson of the board and played a prominent role in setting up a Christian radio station, Channel 7. Since 1993, Channel 7 was seen by many Evangelical Christians as the flagship of Evangelical broadcasting in Namibia. The more reformed dominees seized the moment and filled the gap at the NBC.
32 The numbers game could have been detrimental for many of the members of the Board. In the 1990s there were several Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches with less than 500 members. And to speak of a Pentecostal or Evangelical movement was presumptuous since there was no structure organising or co-co-ordinating the churches. The Namibia Evangelical Fellowship was a fellowship of people rather than churches without official church membership.
33 The government did not introduce new subsidies, but maintained the status quo of subsidies to approved private schools.
34 Since English is the language of instruction in all Namibian schools from grade 1, one can no longer theoretically speak of German or Afrikaans schools. In practice, however, the schools maintain a strong German-speaking character.
35 Although the Constitution guarantees free primary education, the Ministry sidestepped the provision by making contributions to the development fund compulsory.
36 Investigation done by author.
37 Windhoek Gymnasium Private School (accessed 14 February 2008).         [ Links ]
38 Art 20(4).
39The Namibian 3 July 2000 html (accessed 12 February 2008).         [ Links ]
40 The full text of art 20(4) reads: '(4) All persons shall have the right, at their own expense, to establish and to maintain private schools, or colleges or other institutions of tertiary education: provided that: (a) such schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education are registered with a government department in accordance with any law authorising and regulating such registration; (b) the standards maintained by such schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education are not inferior to the standards maintained in comparable schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education funded by the state; (c) no restrictions of whatever nature are imposed with respect to the admission of pupils based on race, colour or creed; (d) no restrictions of whatever nature are imposed with respect to the recruitment of staff based on race or colour.'
41The Namibian 20 April 1999, published on the website, 'Namibia drops move to legalise abortion' (accessed 10 February 2008).         [ Links ]
42 As above.
43 As above.
44 S v Makwanyane & Another 1994 3 SA 868 (A).
45 'Choice is the better option', Editorial, The Namibian 23 April 1999 (accessed 10 February 2008).         [ Links ]
46 C Maletsky 'Abortion ruled out' The Namibian 28 November 2002 (accessed 10 February 2008).         [ Links ]
47 C Maletsky 'Nujoma should be clear on 'misleading churches' The Namibian 17 June 2004 (accessed 9 March 2008).         [ Links ]
48 A Craig 'NBC bans religious devotions - Claims a need to 're-visit guidelines' 7 January 2005 http://www.unipeakxom/gethtml.php?_u_rJ_=aHR0cDovL3d3d-y5uYW1pYmlhbi5jb20ubmEvMjAwNS9KYW51YXJ5L25hdGlvbmFsLzA1OEFERkFFMzQuaHRtbA (accessed 20 March 2008).         [ Links ]
49 C Maletsky 'Nujoma should be clear on misleading churches' The Namibian 17 June 2005 (accessed 11 April 2008).         [ Links ]
50 The Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev Schalk Pienaar, was the President of the CCN at the time.
51 The so-called tarry meetings are an old Pentecostal practice, especially in black churches. The congregation come together on a week night and pray throughout the night, most of the time for a 'new baptism of the Spirit'.
52 n 41 above.
53 As above.
54 Signpost March 2005.
55 As above.
56 Statement by Kauku Hengari, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs (accessed 12 April 2006).         [ Links ]
57 Sheehama v S 2001 NR 281 (HC).
58 S v Heidenreich 1995 NR 234 (HC).
59 Art 25(2) reads as follows: 'Aggrieved persons who claim that a fundamental right or freedom guaranteed by this Constitution has been infringed or threatened shall be entitled to approach a competent court to enforce or protect such a right or freedom, and may approach the Ombudsman to provide them with such legal assistance or advice as they require, and the Ombudsman shall have the discretion in response thereto to provide such legal or other assistance as he or she may consider expedient.'
60 Fantasy Enterprises cc t/a Hustler the Shop v Minister of Home Affairs & Another; Nasilowski & Others v Minister of Justice & Others 1998 NR 96 (HC).
61 Fantasy Enterprises (n 60 above) 100.
62 Act 6 of 1992.
63 The Namibian 2 April 2002.
64 Frank v The Chairperson of the Immigration Selection Board 1999 NR 257 (HC). The case was later heard by the Supreme Court on appeal: The Chairperson of the Immigration Selection Board and Erna Elizabeth Frank & Another 2001 NR 107 (SCA).
65 Frank (n 64 above).
66 1949 1 SA 952(C).
67 '1. All persons shall be equal before the law. 2. No person may be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.'
68 Frank (n 64 above) 115.
69 Frank (n 64 above) majority judgment 114.
70 Frank (n 64 above) 119.
71 Frank (n 64 above) 151.
72 As above.
73 R Goering 'Africa's gays persecuted as cause of ills' Chicago Tribune 9 June 2004, Chicago.         [ Links ] The article is based on interviews with Namibian gay activist, Ian Swartz.
74 S v Smith & Others 1997 1 BCLR 70 (Nm).
75 n 64 above.
76 C Maletsky 'Swapo youth gets religion' The Namibian 14 July 2008 (accessed 14 July 2008).         [ Links ]
77 Letter to the Ombudsman dated 28 March 2007.
78 n 20 above.
79 See Chikane v Cabinet for the Territory of South West Africa 1990 1 SA 349 (A).
80 n 48 above.
81 Shortly after independence, Zimbabwe banned the so-called Moonies, a notorious Messianic group under the leadership of a Korean, Dr Moon, who declared himself Jesus Christ incarnate.
82 In 2005, Zambia banned the South American Pentecostal Church, the Universal Church of the Kingdom.

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License