Namibia, The Catholic Church in
NAMIBIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in southern Africa, the Republic of Namibia is bound on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the north by Angola and Zambia, on the east by Botswana, and on the west and south by the Republic of South Africa. A long, thin strip of land, the Caprivi Strip, extends the northern border of Namibia east between Angola and Botswana to Zambia. With a terrain consisting of high plateau, the climate is hot and dry, and rain is infrequent. The Namib Desert stretches along the western coast, while in the east is the Kalahari. Namibia is predominantly agricultural, with its main crops millet, sorghum and peanuts, but a large percentage of its income comes from diamonds, other minerals and fish products. Natural resources include copper, uranium, gold, lead, tin, lithium, Zinc and natural gas, as well as unexplored coal, oil and iron ore deposits.
From 1884 until 1920, as Sud-West Africa, Namibia was a German colony, and from 1920 to 1988 it was administered by the Republic of South Africa as a mandate of the League of Nations. In 1966 Marxist revolutionaries began a rebellion and renamed the region, although South Africa fought to retain the territory until the United Nations intervened. Namibia became an independent republic in 1990. Rich in natural resources, it is the fifth-largest uranium producer in the world, although its climate forces it to import much of its food. Most of the country's wealth passes to foreign investors, leaving half the population in poverty, dependent on subsistence agriculture for their survival. The life expectancy of the average Namibian is 42.5 years, in part due to the spread of HIV/AIDS; 38 percent were literate in 2000.
History. The region was originally inhabited by Khoikhoi (Hottentot), San and Herero tribes. Christianity
made its first appearance in 1486, when Portuguese navigators under Bartholomew dias landed briefly at Cape Cross and Angra Pequena (Luderitzbucht) and planted crosses. Lutheran missionaries from Germany arrived in 1850. In 1878 Father Duparquest of the holy ghost fathers came from Angola and traversed the territory by ox wagon. The Prefecture Apostolic of Cimbebasia was erected in 1879 and entrusted to his congregation. When the Prefecture of Lower Cimbebasia was created in 1892, it was confided to the oblates of mary immaculate (OMI). The region became a German protectorate in 1884, and in 1896 the new government granted these religious a site overlooking the town of Windhoek that was later termed Roman Hill because of the cathedral, rectory, hospital convent and high school erected there. The oblates of st. francis de sales, who had charge of the Orange River vicariate since 1884, were entrusted in 1909 with the Great Namaqualand, which became a vicariate in 1930; its name was changed to Keetmanshoop in 1949. The second vicariate, which embraces the northern part of the country, is Windhoek, erected in 1926 and confided to the OMI.
Namibia endured a period of violence beginning shortly after the turn of the 20th century. From 1904 to 1907 German forces almost exterminated the Herero and Nama tribes, killing around 80,000 Africans in the aftermath of an uprising against the intruding colonialists. Namibia was captured by South Africa during World War I, and in 1919 the mandate was transferred from Germany to South Africa by the League of Nations. After the demise of the league, the United Nations assumed trusteeship, but this was not recognized by South Africa, which continued its occupation and control of Namibia. The UN continued to demand that South Africa withdraw and the demand was confirmed by a series of World Court rulings. In 1966, the UN General Assembly terminated South Africa's mandate and declared Namibia to be the direct responsibility of the UN.
Independence. A 1971 High Court of Justice at the Hague determined South Africa's occupation of the region illegal; instead the black nationalist South West Africa Peoples' Organization (SWAPO) was deemed the true representative of the Namibian people. SWAPO members were predominately Ovambo people of the north, with fewer members of the Herero tribe. The South African government, responding to the UN declaration and the threat of SWAPO and rejecting a 1979 UN-supervised transition to independence, resorted to Draconian emergency regulations: most public meetings were prohibited; police had complete freedom to detain suspects indefinitely for interrogation; arrests, torture and execution were routine methods of discouraging opposition to South African rule.
The Church, together with the Lutheran church and leaders of other Christian faiths, were involved in the push for independence, repeatedly calling for a change in South African policy and the restoration of freedom and human rights. Several religious leaders were expelled from the country because of their efforts on behalf of justice. In 1988 the UN convinced South African leaders to negotiate with SWAPO leader Samuel Nujoma, a Marxist who won the presidency in November of 1989, after South Africa relinquished is claims to all but Walvis Bay. An important port, Walvis Bay was returned to Namibia in 1994.
Namibia promulgated a new constitution on March 12, 1990 that guaranteed freedom of religion to all citizens, although no denomination was subsidized by the state. In 1994 the church hierarchy was established when Windhoek became the archdiocese for the country. While sporadic acts of violence in the country did involve the Church on occasion, such violence resulted from tribal rather than religious conflicts. In 1998 the German government sent a formal apology to the Herero people, calling the 1904 massacres of men, women and children "a particularly dark chapter in our bilateral relations."
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 Namibia had 66 parishes, tended by 13 diocesan and 58 religious priests, although more were needed. Other religious included approximately 36 brothers and 285 sisters. Most of the native children in the country attended the Catholic-run schools, which numbered 27 primary and eight secondary schools by 2000. Many of the country's hospitals, dispensaries, orphanages and hostels were also left to Church care, as the region continued to battle the spread of AIDS. By 2000 one out of every four Namibians were infected with the HIV virus. Church evangelization efforts were enhanced by the publication of an Afrikaans Sacrametary and Lectionary begun in south Africa in the late 1980s by the Afrikaans Apostolate.
Bibliography: j. e. brady, Trekking for Souls (Cedara, Natal 1952) Bilan du Monde, 2:801–803. The Catholic Directory of South Africa (Capetown 1917–). m. gilbert, A History of the 20th Century, v. 3 (New York 1999). Annuario Pontificio has information on all diocese.
[j. e. brady/eds.]