The Face of Urban Poverty At the 24 Years [opinion]

THERE is a street, crossing the Otjomuise Road, at the edge of Katutura Township.

Following it would lead you to the suburb of Otjomuise, connecting to sprawling informal settlements – sometimes referred to as squatter camps, shacks or shanty towns – of communities at the periphery of urban development.

This is Moses Garoeb Street, named after the late Secretary-General of Swapo. As we celebrate our country’s 24th anniversary, it is in order to ask what Moses Garoeb would say about the prevailing conditions under which the informal settlement residents find themselves in Windhoek today? Is he perhaps turning, in disapproval, in his grave?

The face of poverty in Windhoek is primarily women, children and young people found in the informal settlements. Today’s informal settlers are also students (from rural areas) attending IUM (International University of Management), Polytechnic and Unam because they cannot afford reasonably comfortable accommodation.

An informal settlement is quite a disturbing place to live in. It is over-crowded and lacks electricity, water and other basic services. It has poor sanitation, high unemployment rate, and many unregulated shebeens.

For many here, climbing out of poverty is almost impossible because most of them do not have regular employment. Nor do they have the necessary education required to land steady-paying jobs. If employed at all, these would be your security guards, cleaners and domestic workers.

Walking around, I noticed piles of dirt, water-filled potholes and streams of smelly running water from the communal pumps. The roads are not tarred with no safe walkways, and residents have to fork out N$18 in taxi fares (or walk) from home to the city centre where most of them do odd jobs.

Some of the informal settlements have communal toilets and water points but not enough to be shared by these many residents. One toilet or water pump can cater for up to 15 or more shack dwellings. Even the early childhood education centres have to resort to using communal toilets for the pre-primary children in their care.

I also observed a heavy burden of women and children carrying water containers from the communal water points to their shacks.

In some settlements, residents are required to pay for the water and electricity. But, I am told, that since many cannot afford to do so, at times residents of informal settlements find themselves without water or electricity because they have been cut off.

In conversation, the residents bemoaned the seemingly lack of interests (let alone during the election campaign) from politicians and people in top government positions to frequent the informal settlements in order to acquaint themselves with the situation on the ground.

On the other end of Katutura, there is a Greenwell Matongo informal settlement. That is also where you connect to Independence Avenue, the road which connects with the Windhoek city centre.

I understand that Greenwell Matongo was a gallant Plan (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia) combatant who sacrificed his life for a better Namibia. In death his name is still guarding and protecting the residents of Matongo informal settlement. But here as well as elsewhere, there is no insurance against poverty.

Therefore, for the residents of this settlement, it is a different shanty town but the same depressing socio-economic conditions. The same drill goes for other informal settlements in the surroundings of Katutura.

According to the Google areal image of Katutura, the informal settlement is fast outgrowing the formal settlement, and that is what is probably prompting the City of Windhoek to demolish shacks. But if the battle between the Goreangab residents and the City Police is the new Old Location, what does it make of the municipality of Windhoek?

Therefore, the public policy or urban development policy question is what do we do with these shack cities? They can either represent hope to many or utter despondence to a fast growing population of the capital city.

One might be sympathetic with the City of Windhoek’s action because it is trying to promote lawful and planned settlement. However, the City of Windhoek should not use police but rather should use policy to address its mushrooming urban problems.

The problem with our urban development is twofold: Twenty-four years after independence a clear and coherent formulamodel for addressing Windhoek’s (or Namibia) informal settlement has not yet emerged at citytown, government or community level.

Secondly, the government intervention though the mass housing scheme and Tipeeg are too grandiose ideas to make any tangible effects in the lives of the people living at the fringe of Windhoek city.

The truth is that the proposed mass housing project is not for the informal settlement because they have no regular jobs or assets to qualify for a house or maintain them even if they were given for free.

Not sure about you, but for me, comes Independence Day, I will answer the patriotic call to join the gatherings in the African sun. But I must also admit that I am frustrated at the pace of our urban development. And I am depressed about the level of poverty in this country, especially among the youth population. You too should be concerned.

*Ndumba J Kamwanyah is a lecturer at Unam in the Department of Human Sciences-Social Work. His work examines the intersection between policy and governance. The views expressed are entirely his.

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Latest comments

Well stated, Ndumbah J Kamwanyah. Simply, the Namibian government, especially those in position of power, have no clue on how to better all Namibian lives. It is surprising that whilst many Namibians have no roof and proper livelihood, GRN keeps spending on non-essentials things as if there was no tomorrow, as seen with various motivations from the budget. If anything, those informal settlements will keep mushrooming and serving as “hot spots” for criminal activities and probably some surprises – who knows what frustrated people can do? Your true exposure of the status quo is quite shocking – hope someone will address the dire situation with the urgency needed. Thank you for the revealing article. – Mulife Muchali | 2014-03-20 08:45:00 || Comment id: 29010

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Source : The Namibian