RUNDU – Parliament’s public engagement session on abortion in Namibia got off to a fiery start in Rundu and Katima Mulilo this week. Activists argued women should have the right to decide over their own bodies, while the church wants government to obey the Bible.
In Rundu, Paulus Ndumba Shikusho angered church leaders at a consultation meeting by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs, who are conducting public hearings on abortion in the country.
Church leaders stood by the current law, which states abortion can only be performed under strict medical supervision within the confines of the laws and consent to abortion can only be given in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger and as the church leaders said, “not because the boyfriend refused the pregnancy”.
Shikusho argued that in as much as church leaders claim to know God and influence people not to sin, they have no right to stop people from sinning.
He charged, “laws must be changed when there are problems facing a country, laws cannot remain static. “If there are issues that needs to be addressed, then the constitution can be amended to address issues affecting communities, in particular our women are being discriminated by these laws based on the Bible. We are saying that our country is governed by a constitution but not by the Bible,” the Rundu resident said.
He further noted that the country’s laws should be made to address the needs of the people.
“Abortion is a sin, that is not what we need to look at, we know it is a sin but you cannot stop people from sinning, you can influence people not to sin but by law, you have no right to tell people not to sin,’’ he said while standing tall.
“You are claiming that you know God. We cannot even prove that! What I am saying is that people have the freedom to make their own informed decisions, whether it is a sin, that is their issue between them and God. In other words, women must be given that protection so that they enjoy their rights,’’ he noted.
This annoyed the clergy in attendance.
As the abortion debate continue to take centre stage, several stakeholders including churches in Kavango East rejected the idea of legalising abortion.
However, according to the young women who spoke at the public hearing in Katima Mulilo, they should be given a chance to have a say when they fall pregnant, whether they want to keep the pregnancy or not, and legalising abortion will go a long way in ensuring that their voices are heard.
They argued, that saying no to legal abortion is like telling young people to stop having sex. They still sneak out and do it behind closed doors. These were the views of most of the young women who attended the public hearing on abortion petitions held in Katima Mulilo on Tuesday.
“We are not saying make abortion pills, crush them, dilute them and spray them around Zambezi region or the entire country. We are saying women should have the right to decide for themselves.
“It is not that everyone would be subjected to have an abortion, unless you want it, then you can have it. If you don’t, then you can keep your baby,” said Lesley Sanjahi, youth activist and deputy leader of Zambezi Girl Child Foundation, an organisation that advocates for the rights and welfare of girls.
“I propose that we legalise abortion. Women are already having unsafe abortions without medical professionals being there,” she added.
Another activist, Munukayumbwa Mwiya shared the same sentiments, stating that the country is already facing daunting challenges of vulnerable children and street kids and legalising abortion will ensure that unwanted and unplanned pregnancies are terminated before they become a burden to the young mothers.
“When you tell women not to have abortion, you make them have unsafe abortions. It does not take away the problem, it adds to it. We have a high rate of orphans and vulnerable children.
“Before I am a woman, I am a human being protected by the universal human rights. The ministry of gender says carry the babies and give them to us. When you tell me to carry the baby and give it to you, you are relegating me to the role of baby carrier,” said Mwiya.
Pastor Steven Muheto of Open Bible Church International in Rundu, representing his church, said legalising abortion will mean forgetting the indigenous culture and taking on foreign cultures that are not of African origin.
“This discussion has been brought about because people are not following their culture. In an African culture, girls are educated not to indulge in sexual activities at an early stage and that will eliminate the abortion topic as these young people won’t fall pregnant at a stage where they are not ready and end up getting abortions.
“Abortion is killing, as a church, we don’t support it because it is biblically wrong. The money that will be used for abortion clinics can be channelled to taking care of the unwanted babies through establishing safe homes where the young girls that are led to have abortion due to the fear of taking care of their babies or just don’t want them can take them there to be taken care of rather than turning to abortion,” Muheto noted.
“We thank you for what our government is doing this morning. We are having our parliamentarians who came to engage with us on legalising abortion. The constitution of Namibia was adopted through the Bible,” pastor Ndumba claimed.
‘Do not kill’
Ndumba argued that abortion is killing a life that would contribute to the world.
“The Bible says don’t kill. That is why we have the police to protect people from being killed but now here we want to amend the abortion law of 1975. Are we ready as the State to also amend the Bible? Who is ready to amend the Bible?” asked Pastor Ndumba, who stood against legalising abortion.
“We trust our government, let our government also trust us as we are on the ground, as young as I am, I’m a community leader. I was also supposed to be aborted but my mother protected me. What if she could have aborted me because of rejection? I also want to protect the unborn. They are the future,” he said.
Pastor Ndumba further told the politicians to bring good examples that can develop the country when travelling to foreign countries and not just take anything and make it law.
“The laws we make today will not affect us but will affect our children tomorrow. I wear black and I’m washing my hands that I’m not part of the gruesome killing of unborn children. When you look around, everyone is wearing a mask, why? Because you don’t want to die but you are here wanting to sign to kill unborn children,” he noted.
Pastor Benny Miller of Revival Centre said Namibians should not have a mindset that because something is old, it is outdated, referring to the 1975 abortion law, “As Namibians, we must be cautious and let us not say it is a South African law, it’s a law we adopted because we said we are a circular state, and when we say that, we must also say we are a sovereign nation, as a country, we have our own laws and constitution we adopted as a nation,’’ Miller said.
The public engagement on abortion was aimed at soliciting input from people of different walks of life, after deputy health minister Utjiua Muinjangue tabled a motion on legalising abortion in Namibia in the National Assembly to push for a debate on the topic.
When Muinjangue tabled the motion in June 2020, she said she wanted the National Assembly to debate and discuss the issue of abortion with the aim of considering it with a sound and mature mind.