Monday 19 April 2021
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Freedom in Poverty


…Urban slums provides a home to the poor

Africa Tongaoshili informal settlement, a 20-minute drive from the opulent Windhoek city centre, is home to almost 1000 poverty stricken citizens who struggle to make a living. Urban slums in the city are mostly a result of poor economic opportunities, unemployment and high housing prices but of late the concept of informal settlement has become so notorious that an estimated 100 000 Windhoek residents resorted to seek shelter on the periphery on the country’s administration hub. The settlement was created in 1997 as a temporary measure to house families moved from the old Single Quarters, but 19 years later the residents remain embedded in the trenches of poverty while navigating their way through the sea of squalor and destitution.

Urban slums have become a  common sight in Windhoek of late, but the most eye-catching part of it all is undoubtedly the extreme destitute conditions these settlers have to endure. This include water and sanitation woes, high unemployment rates and safety concerns. The noises from jukes boxes blast from as early as the rooster wakes nature to the concluding hours of the day at 00h00, making it the only time learners can attend to their books a few hours before they go to school. The settlements, according to those who live there, is a breeding ground for crime and a safe haven for criminals because police patrols in the area is a rare occurrence. Informal settlements are said to be the biggest contributors to the high undernourishment figures in the country. The 2015 State of Food Insecurity Report released last year by the United Nations (UN) states that at least 966 000 of the 2.3 million Namibians were undernourished in 2014, compared to 621 000 in 2002.

Toilets, nature and health hazards
Adequate sanitation continues to be a challenge for many Namibians living in informal settlements, many risk contracting diseases such as cholera. Last year 14 cases of cholera were reported in Windhoek. While it may be normal to see children defecating near a dumps site in the early morning in an informal settlement, the odor in Africa tong’ oshili will direct you to the dilapidated toilets. As if this is not enough, the sight and scent of ‘sh#t’ next to someone’s house make one wonder how they go to bed, do not even think how they have dinner. The countable toilets in the community are also part of the rate and taxes monies that the community pays for, of which half have pad locks on their doors to greet the dear nature client.

As a results, residents are left with no choice than to water the toilet walls when the call of nature is low or use the nearest corner to go on their knees. The sight of uncollected rubbish with waste in mountain heaps is a phenomenon on every corner. “So how do we pay for waste removal when we remove our waste ourselves unlike those who live in town and have the municipality do it for them? What are we paying for?” asked community member Josephine Daya. More than half of the community is made up of children who can always be seen wondering around the dusty streets enjoying childhood.

Parents said they are worried on a daily basis over the health of their children who play outside because of the polluted water lying around the settlement. This is water running from the broken toilets and the burst water pipes that are waiting till ‘kingdom come’ to be fixed. “This water comes from leaking water pipes. We reported the situation more than a month ago to the municipality but nothing has been done. This is also one of the reasons why our water bill is so high, simply because the municipality take their time to attend to leaking pipes,” Daya added. A longer walk in the streets explores long water streams from both the toilets and leaking taps that have come to rest just in the door steps of some residents’ houses.

These water dams have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and one can only wonder what children will do in the absence of the parents’ eye. Since there is no drainage system, residents said they are forced to disposed dirty water in front or behind their houses when they are done bathing. “One tries their best to clean their house but the outside remains decorated by dirty water running by your house and heaps of rubbish inviting flies at the corner.

Sanitation has never been our friend.”
There are less than 10 water points for the entire residents living there, a situation which residents claim results in long queues in the mornings and afternoons. “You need to wake up at least at 04h00 if you want to beat the lines because people come fetch water to bath to go to work and to bath their children,” said Shikongo. The toilet situation is just as worse, she narrates. “More than 150 people share one toilet, if you come here in the morning you will find a long queue of people waiting for their turn to make use of the toilet, it is disgusting and unhealthy for us-especially women, but we have no other choice,” Daya said. Safety on the line The toilets in the settlement are a double-edged sword.

Those who stay as far as 100 meters from the toilets risk their safety at night by walking to the toilet. On several occasions, members of the community have been victim to crimes. Because of the setting of the toilets, criminals have made them their hunting grounds because it is guaranteed that one or two people would use the toilet at night. “A few weeks ago, a woman, while using the toilet at night was surprised by a man with a knife at the door. She shut the door and screamed for her life in the toilet until the neighbours came to her rescue. It is not safe for women at all,” said Daya.

The safety with regards to toilets issue has poked many to visit the not-so-long-ago days of apartheid’s bucket system. “Since I do not want to risk my life, it has become safer for my family to use the bucket when nature calls at night,” said community member Nicolene Jansen. Jansen said the Municipality often spearheads campaigns of gender-based violence not realizing that they could solve this problems directly. “Their shitty toilet system is one of the contributing factors leading to the loss of lives in this community. Women are grounded in their houses at night when nature calls because monsters of society await for them at the toilets. We want our own toilets in our houses just like the rest of the voters in this country,” said Jansen.

In eternal debt
With most of the residents are unemployed, money in the settlement comes mostly from occasional work on the construction sites on the opposite end of town, shebeens and those running stalls selling small basic commodities. The settlement has seven toilets. Their separate water bills have surpassed the N$700 000 mark, a value the masses cannot pay at any stage in their lives “Where will we get money to pay this bills that are a cause of problems they refuse to come fix? As you can see, most of the people here are unemployed. The municipality must come up with a payment system that we can maintain,” she lamented. Another community member who opted to remain anonymous showed his outstanding debts to the municipality that amounted to the value of N$13 000.

Asked how he intend to pay off the debt, the member who is a cleaner showed a recent receipt of N$250 that he paid to service the bill. “I pay in bids so that the municipality can at least see that I am doing something to settle my account before the totally close me off. But you can obviously see that this is a lifetime debt that I will never be able to pay off with my type of job. If only they came to fix their leaking taps and burst pipes before slamming us with high bills, then we will not be in this predicament,” said the member. The community member also firmly believe that if every household had their own services, only would they pay for what they use as a single household.

Absent land owners
With 168 erven in the area, residents are cramped two each on the 300 square meter erven and sometimes even more. “We pay rates and taxes on these plots but we are not allowed to build permanent structures on these plots. What then are paying for if the erven do not belong to us?” questioned Maria Shikongo. Shikongo, who moved into the settlement 14 years ago, said she wanted to build her house on the plot but municipal laws prevented her from doing so. The residents also complained that absent land owners continue to rake in thousands through rent and through their shebeens. “Some of these people include government officials bought erven solely to rent them out. Most of the shebeens you see here are owned by people who stay on the other side of town, now we must suffer at night due to the noise from the bars while they are sleeping peacefully at night,” Daya lamented.

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