With a population of about 16 000, the Mariental Municipality can only do so much for the community amid parallel administrative and financial challenges. The administrative capital of the Hardap region, which lies on the B1 road, 274 km south of Windhoek, is not immune to complaints on service delivery to the people, land distribution, unemployment, growing numbers of illegal shacks and a bitter-love relationship between the municipality and the community.
A week ago, residents complained about the unfair distribution of houses by the council, delaying tactics and cited favouritism to the connected few. According to the Chairman of Management at the municipality, Johan de Lange, more than 800 people applied for houses but the municipality only has 28 houses. This leaves 772 people out.
“There will always be people who feel left out but some things are just as they are, there is nothing we can do,” said De Lange.
De Lange outlined that the town has a huge backlog as the demand for housing is growing by the day. As such, they have identified about eight extensions that they intend to service. “We do admit that people want land, and there is land available for the people. The only problem is finance to service the land and this means that we cannot operate at a pace that we wish. People want us to solve all the problems at once, but it is impossible. We can only push so far.”
The chairperson added that ‘red tape’ also delays progress in almost every municipality. He said as much as they want to speed up servicing of land, the administration around the process can be quite discouraging. “You need a signature for everything and we all know how this process can be when running from one office to another for approval.”
Furthermore, De Lange shares the same sentiments with the disgruntled community members, who have for the past year fumed over National Housing Enterprise houses that are complete but a year later have not been handed over to deserving owners.
“There are around 48 houses that are ready but have not yet been handed over to the people. We do not know what the delay is and it is very unfair for houses to stand empty while we have people without houses. We as the municipality do not have the mandate to give out those houses. Our (the Build-Together houses) were handed out to people as soon as they were done.”
De Lange dismissed allegations of favouritism when it comes to allocating houses, saying all they do is follow the list, scrutinise for eligibility and then hand over the keys.
Over the years, Mariental has attracted a number of people who come to the town in search for employment. As such, this has led to the erection of illegal shacks in town which has become a nightmare for the municipality. De Lange noted that this problem haunts the municipality, as it is difficult to communicate to the community to stop the practice.
“People just go there and start building houses. The consequences are that the shacks are not built according to a plan and, secondly, it is illegal. Without going to the extent of bulldozing their shacks, we try to speak to them, sometimes we ask the police to escort us and take down their shacks. But if you drive by the following day, you find the shack rebuilt. However, this may be frustrating for the municipality, it is also an indication that our people need housing and we should find a solution.”
Unemployment in the town is another issue with the number of people not equaling employment rates. De Lange also highlighted that the flood-prone town has also discouraged potential investors to come to the town as there is no flood insurance in the town. Year 2006 is a typical reminder of the flood that swept away businesses and houses in the town.
“People who could probably help with employing our people are afraid to come and set up businesses in the town. Their buildings will not be insured so there is a high risk,” De Lange said, adding: “There are only so many jobs in Mariental. For every job that there is, there are about six to seven people who are unemployed. Even at the municipality, we cannot employ anymore because we are full.”
A drive through the town’s informal settlements exposes heaps of rubbish waiting to be collected by the municipality refuse removal department. Community members have complained that they pay monthly bills yet still have to dispose their own rubbish.
De Lange did not deny this reality saying the municipality has been struggling for some time with cleaning the town making reference to the unavailability of the right equipment to carry out the task.
“If the town is not clean, it is not that we do not want to clean it up but we do not have the proper equipment. We are waiting for refuse trucks that will probably arrive by end of the month. One of our refuse trucks that we currently use is a 1972 model and that is expensive to service. We are not in the best of state yet but we are getting there.”
The municipality also has plans in the pipeline to equip the town with Wi-Fi so that they are able to install surveillance cameras to combat crime, said De Lange.
“Our priority will always be to provide service to the people and the town. Give them the service and quality that they want. We commit to build up good relationships with the people,” De Lange concluded.