Back in 1959/60 people were forcefully removed from the Old Location but at least the apartheid regime, at the time, provided them with some decent living spaces to go to.
The point that I would like to make is that today’s municipal planners are the heirs of a very long and unbroken tradition of forced removals of people and demolition of their properties. Most of the proclamations being applied during these demolitions date back to pre-independence. In this country there are two frightening words: ‘remove’ and ‘cut-off’. When you hear those two words then you know there is trouble lurking on the horizon. Those words are used by two institutions in the country, which I regard as ‘criminal’ right now – namely, the municipalities and NamWater. ‘Remove’ simply means destroy your ‘house’ or the bulldozer will do that for you. And they have been doing that with such disturbing regularity in recent years. NamWater, for its part, can just arrive at your house and put a ‘prison-like lock’ on your water taps and leave. The message is simple: the first is, stay in the cold or rain and the second, die of thirst and hunger.
My concern here is with the recent demolitions of ‘shacks’ but what the poor call a ‘home’. But let me in passing say that it was unfortunate that we opted for the commoditisation and thus commercialisation of water. The same is true of land which has been turned into a commodity that can be bought and sold at auctions to the highest bidder thus those with money, even foreigners, can own chunks of land in Namibia. Gone are the liberation struggle ideals of returning land to the dispossessed.
Talking of municipalities, most are basically involved in the business of demolition. The most notorious is Windhoek – maybe they have many bulldozers at their disposal. The City of Windhoek is probably busy demolishing a few ‘shacks’ as I write. This is being done during Namibia’s harsh winter without providing an alternative for those displaced – a winter of discontent it will be.
Comparing what’s happening now to what happened in the 1950/60s when Africans were moved to present-day Katutura, the latter seems in retrospect like a Saturday afternoon picnic. Mind you, this was a case of whites versus blacks but at least people were not just thrown out in the cold as they were given houses, which is a far cry from what the City is doing to its ‘own people’ today.
Let’s contextualise this. The Old Location issue was cast in the language of race – whites versus blacks. The present scenario is a classic class issue. It’s the rich bulldozing the poor. Let me take you further afield. When those Israeli bulldozers are destroying Palestinian homes, it is done in the name of race, nation and religion. Thus all the past and present demolitions and forced removals of people have those deeper meanings to them than we are made to believe. People take refuge in all sorts of municipal proclamations and regulations to carry out what are clearly criminal activities against the wretched of the earth.
Let us take a closely related issue, the illegal occupation and fencing-off of communal land by all and sundry including high ranking officials in government and private business. Their fences are never brought down. Remember that back in mid-2000 during its last retreat in Swakopmund, the Namibian Cabinet said all those who have illegally fenced off land in communal areas should bring such fences down. This didn’t happen and government didn’t act either because it turned out that some of those who have been violating the Communal Land Act and are still doing so were some of their own.
Since we have few lawyer in this country who deal with purely human rights issues, maybe the Ombudsman can step in and put a hold on all these demolitions, especially during this time of the year. They are committing crimes against the poor. These people have no hearts. They keep on increasing their already bloated salaries and entertainment allowances every year, sit in air-conditioned offices, drive cars with tinted windows to hide away from the people and sleep in houses with fire-places but have the guts to destroy someone’s ‘shack’ while the owner looks on hopelessly, sometimes with young kids staring in bewilderment at what is happening to their ‘house’.
If no one comes out in defence of the poor, then they themselves should take the bulldozer by its horns - it was done during the Old Location years by a woman and it was also a woman last week who threw a stone and broke the windscreen of those ‘Casspirs’ – how heroic these people are. As the historian E. P. Thompson urges us: it is time to rescue the ordinary people from ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’.