We applaud the nobility and the purpose of food banks as a part of the Harambee Prosperity Plan.
Many have food to take home where they had nothing weeks before, and this is a good thing for those whose income is low enough to benefit from the programme.
But even with the positive aspects of welfare programmes, we, however, do not think that in the long run, free handouts from food banks, cash give-aways or free houses are a viable plan for sustainable poverty alleviation for Namibia. We are concerned that freebees tend to discourage work.
The previous TIPEEG plan to invest government funds in massive capital projects in order to create jobs was a large step in the right direction, i.e., create employment opportunities for able-bodied Namibians to earn a living wage.
We remember the comment from former President Hifikepunye Pohamba that we cannot give people money for doing nothing. That sentiment was quite appropriate at that time and now.
It seems as if Namibia has moved away from job creation programmes with projects located in every region as its anti-poverty priority, with focus now on handouts of food in Windhoek, BIG grants (should this ever be institutionalised), monthly salary donations from high ranking national officials and the like.
In this context, we worry of the potential influx of people from farm jobs and other rural employment into the city in search of these freebees. After all, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
Why work to put food on the table if someone is handing it out to you for nothing at all? This is the drawback of any social programme that involves handouts and donations as opposed to job creation and training.
The lure of free food in Windhoek can be a clarion call that drains the rural areas of the workforce needed for increased development and business expansion in those areas.
Additionally, the influx of these freebee hopefuls will put enormous infrastructure pressure on the few urban centres in Namibia, particularly Windhoek.
When one drives out of town towards Daan Viljoen, the entire area up to and beyond the turn-off for Otjomuise, has a sea of tin shacks and rough life as far as the eye can see. Ten years ago, this was not the case.
The environmental damage, sewage and effluent challenges, social pressure and conflicts, land and property ownership conundrum, and municipal services necessary for the people living there are straining reality.
The rise in water and electricity costs for the city’s rate paying residents is likely connected to the increase in the amount of non-paying service users in the ever-expanding marginalised suburbs surrounding the city.
We are clear that those who need support and assistance should get it. We are in full support of free food for children distributed through the elementary and secondary State schools across the country; the infirm, with their free meals distributed from State hospitals; and the elderly with their free food distributed through the State sponsored pensioners’ homes. Those who are unable to provide for themselves must be accommodated.
But, for the physically able, no handouts should be available that block their obligation to roll up their sleeves and work for a living.
The clarion call about the ‘better life’ in the cities as opposed to rural areas started at Independence. Urban migration has always presented a challenge for Namibian decision-makers and social services planners.
Free movement for all citizens is guaranteed in the Constitution and this is correct. But, it is up to government working with the business community to invest in the rural areas to provide better employment opportunities.
Food banks as a part of the Harambee Prosperity Plan could end up being an additional lure for the poor to come to Windhoek in search of free food, leaving jobs in rural areas and on farms, unfilled.
Let’s consider rural employment challenges and find innovative solutions to create jobs in areas where people are already located.
There is always the legal choice to move about and live wherever one chooses in the country. But, incentives to decentralise authority and empower and develop rural areas are linked to the availability of a workforce in those areas.
We would want our planners to consider this issue of free food, and possibly free/subsidized houses, land and cash handouts very carefully.