The Poor Too Deserve A Dwelling Place Of Their OwnBy: TSUDAO GURIRAB
THE Friday press, across the board, splashed on their front pages disconcerting pictures recording official callousness and dereliction of government’s duty to care for the indigent.
No, we are not referring to the President’s convivial chat with the permanent secretaries on Thursday (more about this later) but about mothers battling bulldozers flattening their shacks on a cold winter evening at the outskirts of our city.
Provision of shelter is a basic right and to this end the Local Authorities Act of 1992 enjoins government to provide the same to the low-income groups very much in the fashion our erstwhile colonial authorities did. Despite this, there are no funds transferred from the Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing and Rural Development to Local Authorities to build housing stock.
The National housing Enterprise receives an amount of N$ 30 million in the 2012/13 budget. But the category of present land claimants for urban housing land does not qualify for NHE loans because they are unemployed and poor. It is for these reasons that sending out the bulldozers to destroy the shacks does not solve but only sends out the wrong message, namely of a government who couldn’t care less about these citizens whose only value seems to be to vote us into positions of power and privilege.
Lack of income and resultant consequences of poverty and homelessness will not be solved by sending in the police. The avowed reasons of the City Police that their foolish actions in Otjomuise and adjoining areas were on account of the inhospitality of providing services in these areas are both laughable and absurd. But then the uprising and demand for housing by the poor appears to be a nationwide movement.
We have witnessed this angry, if dignified, march from Keetmanshoop, Mariental, Windhoek, Oshakati, etc. The threatened removal of squatters in Oshakati, however, was stayed. We do not know whether we should read much into the Oshakati inaction? Lack of proper and adequate housing, particularly for the low-income groups, remains a nationwide headache because the local authorities have failed to provide housing and shelter despite the very clear provisions of the Local Authorities Act of 1992!
Tom Alweendo and his census enumerators (some paid, others not yet) recently counted us all and report that our population stands at little over two million. A symposium by the Bank of Namibia last year, estimated the (urban) housing backlog at about 100 000 and counting. The same symposium identified serviced land delivery and continued survival and application of some archaic laws on the statute books as some of the main culprits.
It is not only ironic but a scandal that a country of our size and limited population should fail to provide serviced land for housing development.
Despite this mounting catastrophic crisis President Hifikepunye Pohamba tells permanent secretaries last Friday that “I am delighted to meet with you, here today, as part of our ongoing consultations…” He also told them about what he saw on NBC’s Open File programme and the fact that he did not like what he saw and commended them on their strategic plans.
Clearly NBC has its uses in the face of a failing administration where the Head of State learns about failing and maladministration from the TV instead of ministerial briefs.
However, what the citizens need at this moment is that the administration addresses now, and not in 2030, the pertinent issues affecting their quality of life such as shelter. The clear demand is for the authorities to make serviced land available for the growing army of urban poor putting up shacks in riverbeds and hilltops. In most municipalities and towns government remains the biggest landlord.
This land and housing stock must be released to help relief the growing demand for land. Is this too much to ask from this dim-witted government? The picture which emerges from Government’s spending priorities is an uncomfortable one. It reflects a pattern where the basic needs of the ordinary people are at the back burner in the face of expenditure on vanity and grotesque projects of party and government leaders.
The haunting scenes of the abodes of the destitute being flattened on the outskirts of our towns or hapless families petitioning for a place to pitch their pondok (shack) in Mariental and Keetmanshoop in the face of official indifference cannot sit comfortably with a caring and conscientious citizenry.
We cannot afford to be lost in our salubrious environment not to care. In fact, we can not afford to care because of our recent history of dispossession and forced removals. It is because of this that we not only have a duty to care but this wretched situation must be a call to action to all, particularly the authorities.
In the circumstances we offer this morning Komombumbi Katjikururume Kutako’s prayer for the homeless and those forcibly removed by our government:
You are the Great God on earth and the heavens
We are so insignificant
In us there are many defects
But the power is yours to make and to do what we cannot do
You know all about us
For coming down to earth you were despised and mocked and brutally treated
Because of the same defects in the men of those days
And for those men you prayed because they did not understand what they were doing
And that you came for only what was right
Give us the courage to struggle in that way for what is right
Help us who have been placed in Africa and have no dwelling place of our own
Give us back a dwelling place, o God
All power is yours in heaven and earth