The Ovambanderu and Ovaherero women in the North West have expressed displeasure at the manner in which the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is forcing married women to remove their headgear when posing for pictures to renew their passport and National Identity Cards. Scores of Herero women in Maun were shocked at the Immigration offices when they were told to remove their headgear to take pictures. The headgear called Otjikaiva is part of the Herero traditional dress and is built to represent the horns of the cattle, which are so important to the Herero communities. They argue that the government is trying to strip them of their long standing tradition and posing for pictures without the scarf has never happened to a Herero woman. A married Herero lady from Bodibeng said she was surprised to be told to remove her headgear when renewing her Identity card that has expired. “I was told to remove my headgear and I was not happy at all because grown women like me do not remove the headgear in public,” she decried, adding that this has never happened as Herero women are not allowed to remove headgear in public.
“We have never removed our headgear and even our mothers never did this,” she decried, adding that the Government is not respecting their culture.
She said government has never consulted them on this matter. “We expected the government to at least consult us before making any changes because we are going to be affected,” she said. In 2011 government allegedly wanted the Herero women to remove their head gear but the Herero and Mbanderu communities protested against the matter. The then chairman of Ovaherero and Ovambanderu community in Botswana, Godknows Wateka said government through the Ministry of labour and Home Affairs directed that Herero and Mbanderu women be exempted from removing headgear for cultural and religious reasons. Waketa said they were given an affidavit form to fill for women when taking pictures. He is now surprised to hear that the matter has resurfaced again. “We are not aware of the matter and if it is true that there is such practice in Maun we will investigate the matter and take appropriate step and address the matter accordingly,” he said, adding that a Herero woman is not allowed to take off her headgear in public. The Immigration department did not respond to a questionnaire sent at the time of going to press.