“We have been cut off because everything is just in Rundu. The town has literally nothing, from services to employment or any other benefits from government. There is no hope for the youth and we just do not feel like we are Namibians to tell you the truth”. These are some of the sentiments shared by some residents of Divundu when The Patriot visited the town over the weekend.
Exactly 200 km east of Rundu, on the south-eastern banks of the Okavango River lies a strategically located town of Divundu. Strategically located but deprived of development and people showered with poverty. As services, the town has one supermarket, a clinic, a police station, four schools, two ATMs (most of the time out of order), a filling station and a few Chinese employing the youth on low wages. The town is a gateway to neighbouring countries like Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and on the north-western banks of the river lies a village called Kakutji in Angola and a further two villages linked via a nearby border post. And while it is supposed to be a fast growing community, all that the residence has are promises which are never kept. Highly visible are the traits of inequality made more evident in the over 8000 population town with an alarming number of unemployment. The recurring narratives on the ground are that of residents feel left out and the persistent frustration that the local authority gives them nothing but promises and the political waiting game.
The Patriot met up with Mukoya Kavindja, a father of four who is also the sole bread winner for his parents and the children of his sisters who are in his care, he said. Kavindja, a former employee of the Aussenkehr sits between a rock and a hard place after losing his job in 2010.
“Life has been rough for me since my contract ended at Aussenkehr. I had to come home hoping I will get something here, but I am unemployed to date,’ he said.
Divundu is home to tourism establishments such as Divava Lodge, Divundu Guest House, Nunda River Lodge, Shametu River lodge, Rainbow Lodge, Popa Falls Resorts and other attractions such as the Bwabwata National Park through Mahango.
Thus far, the only employment opportunities is working in the lodges around. The only jobs are found working for the Chinese or in the shebeens.
“The lodges are all we have as possible jobs that one can live off, but those are the few opportunities thousands have to compete for. There is simply nothing in Divundu.”
There is almost no hope for young people who fail to make the grade 10 and 12 pass mark. A drive through the town after sunset exposes the high number of youth who are hooked on alcohol. Kavindji says the majority of the youth who have become alcoholics are those who have failed grade 12 and have nothing to do. The girls have taken up jobs of working in the shebeens while the rest sit at home waiting so something to come their way.
This reality is coupled by the lack of day-to-day services which makes life even harder. The town only has two ATMs which they claim are out of order fairly often. There are no shops, which forces the residents to make way to Rundu, adding another cost item.
Residents who wish to take step into the entrepreneurial route get little to nothing from the village council’s office. The residents, very aware of provisions government make to provide funding for the youth through constituency offices says theirs is a dead end.
“We speak to the leadership but they continue telling us to wait. We have young people with business ideas but the council does not want to help them. Youth in other towns are benefiting greatly from their town or village offices but ours is just different. At the end of the day, you hear that the money reserved for us has been returned,” said Kavindja.
“It is a waiting game and the only time they want to talk to us is during elections. They have promised us development long ago but to date, there is nothing besides the road to Katima Mulilo and Rundu. The Swapo Party dominates the village council’s leadership with a single representative of the All People’s Party. The Patriot, while in Divundu reached out to the representatives in the village council but none cared to respond with most dodging responsibility. This journalist has been referred to three representatives all claiming that they do not have the authority to speak to the media.
The river is our life
Be that as it may, the towns population continues to rely on the Okavango River for both drinking water and food. The residents recently got a warning from Environment and Tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta who said residents who are attacked by crocodiles and hippos will not be compensated by government. Shifeta urged the resident to stay clear of the river.
Residents of Divundu say the river is their life and can at no point stay away from the river as it is all they they have until government provides an alternative.
“All of us here get water from the river. We need food so we will need to fish in the river. Not everyone has a tap at home so want or not, you will have to go to the river. Of course we cultivate mahangu, but we also need to fish. So if you are caught by a crocodile, the ministry must pay. There cannot be an excuse,” said Kavindja.
Far from everything
The few who are lucky to be absorbed by the nearby lodges have to spend their salaries to buy everything. The residents say it is better to work for an N$1500 to N$2000 salary than staying at home. However, since the ATM’s are half of the times out of order and the town does not have any shops, they are forced to fork out N$240 to drive to Rundu. The frustration of the lack of basic services such as banks and shops is not only with the employed.
“With a N$1000 salary, N$240 is for transport to go and withdraw that money in Rundu. In the end, you basically have nothing left but it would have been a relief if we had banks here. You simply cannot buy anything here, not even a shoe or clothes. Everything is just in Rundu,” said Ngundura Mutjumi who is also a church elder.
Others are forced to get passports to drive to Shakawe, a nearby town in Botswana through the Muhemo Border Post for shopping. They still have to pay border charges for everything they buy.
Mutjumi adds; “the population is growing and we cannot keep depending on Rundu. It has been like this for a long time and nothing changes besides promises.”
The youth who are unable to find jobs have been forced to alcohol while a few have turned to crime.
Although crime is not much of a problem in the town, Mutjumi highlighted that those who steal do it out of hunger.
“These are crimes such as a person entering your house to steal food to eat or something from your room to sell so that they can but food. The situation will get worse if nothing is done,” said Mutjumi. Although the church continues to play a vital role in the spiritual shaping of the village, Mutjumi says the government needs to serve the people of Divundu to enable them to escape poverty.