Housing: Namibia’s never-ending crisis

25 January 2019
As 2019 begins, we are faced yet again with the never-ending spectre of the housing and land crisis. 
The status quo of housing backlogs, urban migration, unused yet completed mass housing, municipal failures to service the land, and government paralysis over the matter has become ‘normal’ in Namibia.
The reality faced by tens of thousands of Namibians who work for basic wages at low skilled or manual labour jobs, is that decent, affordable, low-cost housing is unavailable.  Shacks are now the low cost housing standard in Namibia. 
Where do the vendors selling kapana, tourist souvenirs or fruits and vegetables live?  Can we continue at nearly 30 years of independence to accept that shacks are the only housing option for the working poor?  The time for making speeches about this problem has been over for decades; well-funded projects, actual home construction and servicing of land at a fast pace is needed now. 
People who live in the apartheid era tribally segregated houses now use their backyards to provide shacks for rent or for a place for their adult children to live.  Housing is so unaffordable and unavailable, that adult children stay at home and live in shacks behind the places where they were born. 
Where then, do those coming into towns from the villages and rural farms stay?  The idea of staying for free with distant relatives in town is gone with the times. Those spaces no longer exist and if they do, the rental rates charged for slum shacks is out of reach for the unemployed or unskilled labourers.
Various towns and villages around the country are experiencing another spate of land grabbing and shack demolitions.  The frustrations of those in need of housing are mounting.  There is a desperate couple renting a space in Windhoek for their bed in the open in someone’s backyard, using a tarp to cover them when it rains. 
There are people whose names have been on lists for municipal plots for nearly a decade with no results.  Do the authorities think that citizens have no idea of what an empty promise is?  Why put so much effort in placating people with useless waiting lists for land and threatening them with bulldozers.  Use that same energy for taking consistent, decisive action to provide housing and land. 
People are being thrown off of seized, un-serviced land with alacrity with no alternatives offered.   Throw them off to go where? Destroy their shacks to what end?  Viable alternatives should emerge before demolitions.
Are those who participate in grabbing land, criminals?  Are they disloyal to this country?  We think not.  They are desperate people driven to the brink of sanity because they do not have a safe, decent place to call home and they are tired of enduring this situation year after year.
When the Hep E breakouts were in full swing, the president while visiting an affected area, made a statement telling people who needed to defecate to do so away from homes and somewhere ‘else.’  We see his comments as a concession to the reality that people need toilets and that there is nothing readily available in many areas to cater to their basic human needs.  So rather than a laughable declaration that people should not defecate, he made a plea to do so in other places.
Having a place to live is also an unavoidable human bodily function.  There is no option; everyone needs a place to live. Where then shall people who have little, go to find a home?  There is no place to live out of sight or behind a tree. 
We do not support grabbing land and we remain against anything that speaks of chaos and selfishness (who decides which person has a claim to a piece of state land versus anyone else).  But, at the same time, we cannot condemn people who have tried to do the right thing and put their names on forgotten waiting lists over the years, who go out every day and work to earn pennies for their bread and yet, they remain unserved and marginalized.  What are their legal options to secure housing?
We look at housing unoccupied in Walvis Bay and other areas because they remain too expensive for the working poor.  How would a lady selling fat cakes and kapana at a construction site ever obtain bank financing to buy such a home at any ‘low-cost’ price?  Private sector construction partners are promised the right to make a decent profit and recoup the costs of building each house. How can those living in shacks pay such market prices?
Was the purpose of state-funded housing programmes primarily to provide lower cost homes for those who could obtain bank financing and bonds?  Or, was there an intention to primarily build government-owned free/subsidized housing blocks for those with nothing, disbursed according to a fair system yet to be decided? 
We urge the government to tell the truth to the nation, that all who want houses and land will never receive them; expectations must be lowered.  Then, they must set a reasonable time line for housing availability and serviced plots.  The National Housing Enterprise (NHE) must receive maximum funding (and well-policed performance targets), government must commit to slowing down urban migration by investing in industries that provide jobs and services in rural areas, and move faster on low cost or subsidized housing.
This is an election year when promises tend to be bandied about even more.  Housing solutions are needed, not speeches.  To slow down the never-ending housing crisis, the country needs leadership to encourage the people, efficient use of available resources and community ownership of the process.
If nothing moves beyond where we are now, we could reprint this exact editorial in January, 2020 and it would still be applicable.  How long will people continue to wait?


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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