Residents Protest Over Debts

Residents at the copper mining town of Tsumeb in the Oshikoto Region took to the streets last week Friday to protest against what they say are high water bills that are “unrealistic”.

A crowd of more than 50 pensioners and other residents marched to the Tsumeb municipal offices to hand over a petition demanding that their high water debts be cancelled and that the water meters be removed from their homes as they can no longer afford to pay skyrocketing water bills. Some pensioners have lived in the municipal houses for over 30 years.

The angry pensioners said they could not understand why water was so pricey while the town has plenty of ground water. “In Tsumeb tap water costs more than mineral water sold in shops, this is unacceptable, these are our own resources. Remove the prepaid meters if you cannot reduce the price of water,” said 89-year-old Justus Thomas.

Group spokesperson Ferdinand Schuster, 46, told New Era a young man had recently attempted suicide due to pressure from the municipality to settle his deceased father’s municipal debts. His furniture was reportedly auctioned following tremendous pressure from the municipality to pay off the debt incurred by his late father, the bulk of which he is still paying. The young man allegedly swallowed a highly toxic substance in the botched suicide attempt.

“We cannot pay the debts of dead people. Please remove those debts,” read one of the placards

New Era caught up with the suicidal debtor and Shoprite employee Terrence Mulike who said he had been at work when his property was auctioned. “They were going to kick us out onto the street and sell our home. I did not see any other alternative, the walls were closing in on me, death was the only path I saw before me. As it stands all my furniture is gone all of which I’m still paying off, I know they will be back. It’s just a matter of time,” said a distraught Mulike who owes the municipality N$80 000.

“We are being forced to pay water bills as well as lawyers because the municipality has handed us over to the justice system,” lamented Alleta Olivier a pensioner who was also not amused with the high bills.

Rosa Petrus, 66, owes the municipality N$8 065.65 and makes monthly payments of N$517.69 from the N$600.00 she receives as a government pension, leaving her with only N$82.31. The N$517.69 monthly payment excludes lawyer fees that she also pays monthly. “The only way I have found to survive is by selling sweets and food to make a little income on the side from which to survive,” said Petrus. According to Gawas Susanna, 71, she and her family are being forced to pay the debt of the previous homeowner. “I am currently paying N$200 per month for the house. I have no peace of mind because the debt of the previous owner is looming over me waiting to be paid,” she said distraughtly shaking her head.

“My debt stands at N$80 459.70 with monthly payments of N$600.42. This is impossible to pay, how can I survive? With a debt as high as N$80 459.70 even if we pay N$600 every month it would take over nine years to settle,” sobbed another pensioner Somaeb.

Tsumeb mayor Linekela Shetekela thanked the demonstrating pensioners for voicing their grievances in a peaceful manner telling them their grievances are taken seriously by his office. “I never knew about these concerns, I was out of the country and did not have access to this information, I will forward this to the prime minister,” said Shetekela.

“The mayor is lying through his teeth, he has known all this for years now, he was re-elected and everyone knows about the situation in Soweto because it keeps showing up in the local media,” said one of the angry pensioners.

Source : New Era