’Our Focus Is Land, Land, Land’ [interview]

New Era journalist in Tsumeb Rochelle Neidel this week had a candid one-on-one interview with the CEO of the Tsumeb Municipality, Archie Benjamin, on issues ranging from controversial land sales and the equitable land distribution.

How many people are presently in need of residential land in Tsumeb?

At this stage, we have received about 2 000 applications for land and applications continue to stream in and it is difficult to say how many people are still in need of residential land.

What are some of the factors contributing to residential land becoming scarce resulting in demand for land exceeding supply?

Economic opportunities available in the town and the developments taking place have attracted many people to the town, especially from north-eastern regions causing a rapid increase in the population. More and more people have flocked to the town increasing the demand. It’s not like there isn’t land there is enough land. It is just the process of servicing and other procedures that delay land delivery. People must just wait a little longer. In the past when development was rather slow in the town, many businesspeople took the opportunity to buy as much property as they can considering the cheap price of land back then. It is difficult to control land belonging to private people, as they buy and sell as they wish. However, at this stage we are doing placements for houses that will be constructed this year and we use strict guidelines to determine the needs of the people based on their earnings and we also try to provide housing or land to first-time homeowners. Also many land owners have acquired land for almost three years without paying it off or developing it, so we have decided that only a year will be given for someone to develop their piece of land, failing to do so will result in the council reversing the transaction. We are trying to do away with the culture of sitting with land and not developing it while there is such a big demand. Yes, there are guys that own entire streets. We cannot change that, but for the future we can control it. As for now, there will be no further land allocation or sales through private treaties.

Since land is a scarce commodity, the municipality revealed it would allocate about 200 hectares for residential purposes, are local developers considered in this process?

The demand for land, especially residential land for locals, has necessitated this move. Yes, locals are involved in the development process. Land allocation has already been done, now we await approval from the line ministry so that the work can start. I can safely say after two years the 1 500 low- to middle-income houses will be completed.

We understand the municipality has made an application for mass housing to the line ministry, has this been approved and if in the affirmative, how many houses are likely to be constructed and what are the cost implications?

We still have not received approval or disapproval from the ministry but we have pleaded, as the town is really in need of such a programme. Should we not get the mass housing programme, we will still continue with our two-pronged approach of getting private developers on board to service the land.

The land on which Kuvukiland informal settlement is located belongs to Weatherly, how did it happen these people were allowed to squat there, because now I understand that as a municipality you cannot service that area for basic services since it belongs to Weatherly?

Initially, Weatherly was supposed to donate the land, but with the new mine that they opened called Tchudi, they put that process on hold and in the meantime people occupied the land like wildfire. Unfortunately, the demographics don’t allow for speedy servicing of the land because that piece of land is on a hilly area new water sytems and a pump station must be erected to make provision for a latrine system. Unfortunately, these developments cannot be made overnight, as they too need to be financed. But in the near future, I can assure the residents that toilets will be available.

There is a public outcry in terms of sheebeens and bar licensing and awarding of fitness certificates, and so forth. Just last week, residents marched to your office to hand over a petition. What role does the municipality play when it comes to the mushrooming of bars, as some bars have been allocated less than 30 metres from schools and even churches? As town council, are you not responsible for implementing a town plan such that this does not happen?

In some cases, we slipped up, but people simply do not listen. On numerous occasions, we addressed churches for noise pollution as well as bars but we have now decided to give consent to residents to lay charges for noise pollution in their areas. Some businesspeople that we gave licences to run cuca shops have now turned those establishments into bars. It’s really hard to control, but fortunately we have released a new structural plan for the town and any applications going through the municipality will be closely monitored. As for bars that do not honour their licences, the town magistrate should be addressed for that we do not have the authority to enforce laws.

There are squatters along Hage Geingob Avenue, opposite Trek. They stay there. Are there any plans to move them to an area adequate for living? They sell food yet use the same place as their toilets.

We have made plans to move these people to an industrial park-like establishment just across their current position. Following the flow of their customers, these people have resorted to squatting. But now make unrealistic demands such as an area conducive for their clientele, while council cannot control the movement of their customers and, at the same time, provide a perfect place for them. Unfortunately, the street is mostly privately owned and we cannot just move them around but with the new establishment, traffic will be controlled and there will be toilets as well as clean drinking water.

When will Kuvukiland receive electricity?

The process to provide electricity to some parts of Kuvukiland has commenced. However, contrary to public belief, it will not be the entire settlement as there are still no roads yet and we need to create enough access roads for any work to commence. Due to inaccessibility, crime has increased in the town, as many criminals use the settlement as a hide-out spot.

About three years back, the town council was indebted to a local contractor that was doing cleaning services for over a million dollars, has this debt been paid off and do you still use the contractor? If not, why has the town’s cleanliness dropped, because prior to this contractor the municipality did its own cleaning?

At the time we were under pressure to diversify basic services and to outsource some services. So, we decided to use a private company for our cleaning services, but the company did not deliver. And over a period of time, the bill got so high that we were paying close to N$500 000 per month and we just couldn’t pay so much for a service we were not even getting. The concept just didn’t work. They didn’t keep their promise, which was to buy additional equipment. They even ended up using our truck for services we were paying for. There was an interesting twist in the case as per legal opinions. We discovered that the contractor actually owes us and now all of a sudden they are silent about the issue but we have learned our lesson.

Why did you decide to spend more money on a private company to do a service you were doing for cheaper?

The difference was not that much.

Do you think since you took over the cleaning services, the cleanliness has improved because the town has heaps of refuse?

No. It has not improved. Yes, we were doing fine before we outsourced the service, although there were still challenges. Fortunately, we have made provision for new equipment and trucks. The machinery and resources in place are just inefficient they are many years old. Some were bought 40 years ago.

What is your situation with regard to staffing, are you understaffed?

No we are not. The resources are just not enough at this stage.

There are allegedly plans to put up a recreation centre just next to the old age home and move the elderly to the place next to it. Of course, with the bar that is already opposite it, do you think it is a good thing that the elderly of the town be placed in such an area?

We do have problems with the bar nearby and, therefore, council took a decision to not allow the developers to build any bars at the new development. At the time that our predecessors came up with the town plan, it was unknown whether today we would sit with such a diverse development in one area housing a bar across the old age home and around residential areas. Town planning structures have been put in place to avoid such occurrences in future.

How far is the new showground hall that said to be erected in the vicinity of the new mall?

Construction will commence soon. There will be a new fire station built also in the same area together with a new office block for the municipality that will also have conference facilities.

What are the key projects for this year?

Land, land, land! This year we are very focused on providing housing. It is long overdue, so definitely the construction of 1 500 low- and middle-income housing, in addition to the mixed developments that will take place in the affluent areas of the town.

Source : New Era