Housing shortage – Namibia’s Achilles heel

Windhoek – Shanties sprouting like mushrooms on almost all of un-demarcated zones on the western outskirts of Windhoek have become a big intractable problem facing the Namibian government and the City of Windhoek. The natural need to have a roof over their heads has forced homeless Windhoek residents to grab pieces of land to build their own places where they can call home. However chaotic and dramatic the situation evolves, it is a highlight of numerous unresolved problems of the majority of black people in Namibia, more so those who have trekked to the country’s metropolis, attracted by the city’s bright lights with hope for a better living. Blame it on empty political rhetoric or city fathers’ evident failure to come up with a housing policy for the poor of this city, residents have taken it upon themselves to grab every vacant lot they come across, erect a corrugated shack of their choice and call the place home. Most Windhoek residents, those in the low income bracket, actually prefer to build their own shacks, the only option available to them to escape the exorbitant rentals which residents in the greater Windhoek are now grappling with on a monthly basis. The City of Windhoek, whose response to the housing crisis is clearly akin to micro managing a problem, is fighting running battles with residents who have decided to build their own settlements in Havana, Otjimuise Sewende, Agste, and Neende Laan, among others. To the City of Windhoek, the burgeoning squatter camps are an ‘eyesore’ to the metropolis; they are a blemish, a monstrosity on the reputation of the cleanest city in Africa. They are like a fly in ointment and the sooner they are done away with the better for the City of Windhoek. The City of Windhoek has not hesitated to send in its storm troopers to deal mercilessly with these ‘bothersome bunch of homeless’ Windhoek residents. The reaction of the city to the so-called squatters is like they do not or should not exist at all. The City of Windhoek’s uncouth way of dealing with the housing crisis and lack of understanding that we all need a roof over our heads has resulted in shacks being destroyed and in endless pitched battles with angry homeless residents. Even Windhoek Mayor Matheus Shikongo did not mince his words when he labelled the recent spate of land grabbing by homeless residents as ‘illegal.’ His Worship told all and sundry that those building their shacks outside demarcated zones are ‘illegal squatters’ causing ‘anarchy’ in the city before calling in heavily geared up city storm troopers to march in and raze the shacks down. The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) last year accused the City of Windhoek of continuing to apply an archaic 1985 Squatters Proclamation Act to sow misery amongst the already frustrated and now impatient homeless Windhoek residents. Whether that solves the problem remains to be seen as shanties continue to mushroom on every open space on the city’s outskirts. The honest truth is that the previous apartheid government formed a pact with the devil and criminally neglected black people, relegating them to second class citizens. The apartheid government motif was that a roof over a black family’s head is a luxury reserved for only deserving people of a particular skin colour. Two decades after independence, disparities in wealth distribution in the country have narrowed somewhat, but the country’s income distribution is still among the world’s most unequal. Alongside displays of prosperity rarely seen in most African countries, more than 80 percent of Namibia’s majority wallow in grinding poverty and while official unemployment rate is given as around 37 percent, unofficial estimates place the figure above 50 percent. The culprits in the city’s housing crisis are not only the City of Windhoek and the government, the private sector; mainly banks equally shoulder the blame. We do not need empirical evidence to conclude that the poor of this country are being sidelined from owning their own houses by sky high property prices. High mortgages are not uncommon in Namibia. Surprisingly sufficiently capitalised banks loathe lending to low income earners citing insufficient client credit history. Most Namibians have been frustrated by their failure to access a mortgage simply because they are at the lower end of the income spectrum, a segment almost all banks gladly avoid. Government, City of Windhoek which should develop the land for housing and bankers who refuse mortgage because they think poor people are not bankable should equally share the blame for this misery in housing. “We admit that we erected our respective structures without consent or authority of the City of Windhoek, but we are desperate for some form of housing. “Many of us have applied for housing from the municipality as far back as the year 2 000, but to date I am yet to be informed of any available plots,” Petrus Shaanika said in an affidavit in 2009 challenging the City of Windhoek’s eviction of Havana Extension 6 residents in the High Court. Informal settlements are said to be growing at a rate of 9 percent annually. Do the city authorities have a solution apart from their heavy handedness handling of the escalating situation? The Rehoboth Town Council took a pro-active approach to tackling the housing problem by providing free erven to its residents. The Rehoboth council says that it plans to service 5 000 erven in the first phase of its programme to avail 32 000 stands to residents.

April 2010
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