While athletes around the globe use their talent to ditch the trenches of poverty, the same cannot be said for Namibian athletes. A year ago Namibian Paralympian Ananias Shikongo’s stellar performance on the track landed him the coveted gold medal in Brazil, but despite that, sports has not been able to uplift his standard of living. Shikongo is part of over 100 000 people in Windhoek that lives in an informal settlement, Goreangab. Shikongo has however not allowed his suffering to dampen his winning spirit on the athletics track. The Patriot paid a courtesy visit to Shikongo’s shiny zinc structure this week to find out how he spends his days. While driving through the dusty gravel roads of Katutura’s Goreanagab informal settlement to meet Shikongo, his popularity is instantly noticeable. As Shikongo meets us halfway with a relative, it came as no surprise that everyone greets him as he leads us back to a plot on which he resides that belongs to his brother. His fellow paralympian Johannes Nambala also lives there.
He leads us to the table where he was playing dominoes with relatives prior to our arrival, saying “this is all I do when I am not training.” “I keep myself busy playing dominoes because there is nothing else to do. Every movement out of the house requires money and I do not have that,” said Shikongo. Asked how life has been after winning gold and bronze medals in Brazil last year, Shikongo says it means a lot for the country but the success had no impact on his day-to-day life. “I do not know if it is pure ignorance or discrimination from our government, but it is not a good image at all. You do the country proud but you are not rewarded anything. How do they think we survive when we do not even have jobs to start with?” he questioned. He adds: “We are not recognized and we are treated differently. Some people are starting to feel sorry for us and provide assistance where they can but many remain ignorant. It breaks our hearts especially when you go to world competitions and compare yourself with the other athletes. They get their rewards straight at the airport after the Olympics. But with us, nothing is being mentioned about rewards. You are told to wait because there is apparently no money. But in the meanwhile, people are getting fatter salaries and I hear N$5 Million was stolen from the Namibia Sport Commission coffers. So it puzzles me a lot.”
Shikongo made reference to how long it took State House to recognize their victory saying “some things should not take so long.” Not long ago, the para-athletes aired their frustration when they did not get their rewards after the All African Games. The athletes boycotted and vowed not to not take part in any competition if they were not rewarded comprehensively. “I guess demonstrating and making noise in the streets about how we feel is the only way we can get government to listen to us. If government is really proud of what we did, they should at least show us. So far it was only Standard Bank and Bank Windhoek that showed appreciation of what I did for the country at Rio and I am truly grateful,” he said with a sad face. Following his triumph in Brazil, Shikongo said he was ashamed to go to his home village at Okankolo in the Oshikoto Region because he did not know how to explain to his parents that even though he was a world champion, he did not have money. He said he had to wait for the Namibia Sport Awards winning fee before going home. “Times are tough for me these days. The little I still have from last year’s sport awards, I share with my friend Nambala, feed and clothe myself. I only depend on the N$1100 disability grant that I receive monthly from government. From this money, I have to decide between buying food, clothes and sending money to my parents.
I also have to put fuel in my car to take athletes to the stadium for training, medical expenses and buy training equipment. It is tough,” said the 32-year-old. Being a father of a young boy, Shikongo considers himself lucky because both his parents are still alive and they take care of his son. “Even if you really now go and represent the country, what is the use of winning that medal if it does not bring you anything? There is no change in your life besides your name in the newspapers. When you hear what athletes from Kenya and even Angola get, you almost want to give up. In our country, medals mean nothing and they are only good for the wall. They add no value to your life,” he lamented. Shikongo also narrated how former para-athletes Elias Ndimulunde, Martin Alisius and others quit athletics because there are no rewards and support from the authorities is not forthcoming. “As much as my victory is motivating, no upcoming athlete will be inspired if there are no rewards for their hard work,” he noted. The para-athletes last weekend hosted a fundraising event in the capital that was aimed at soliciting funds for the national team. Shikongo said they are planning to start a foundation that can assist upcoming athletes. “We are done waiting for the government to fund us because chances are they will never do it, but we will not give up because we love sport,” he concluded.