The poor need security
EVERY so often, and especially when there is a need to garner support for upcoming elections, you hear politicians the world over announcing in sanctimonious tones intentions to use the state purse to lift people out of poverty.
The slum dwellers generally represent a large voting population and politicians patronise them with promises to improve their lives without providing tangible or even practical solutions for getting them out of shanty towns and into proper municipal housing.
Latest data from the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia suggest that 995 000 people are living in shacks in urban centres of the country, while City of Windhoek officials revealed that 131 000 residents live in slum conditions in the city’s 87 informal settlements and proposed central government make available over N$1 billion to address the national humanitarian crisis of informal settlement living conditions and its extensive growth.
The report, which did not give a clear action plan, only scratches the surface of a much bigger problem that is an explosion about to happen if not addressed immediately.
While President Hage Geingob should be commended for addressing the issue of mushrooming shacks, albeit late in his presidential term, the truth is that government has created these environments that incubate horrible public health challenges, as well as social challenges, and should take a portion of the blame for the rapid growth that occurred while government turned a blind eye for decades.
Poverty in Namibia has persisted over the years, with the unemployment rate increasing and the income inequality gap widening.
The economy’s higher and more stable growth in the past decade has failed to raise enough jobs for the rapidly growing population and improve the wage rates of the employed.
The government has not taken serious efforts to directly and effectively address the problem of poverty. And even the recently created Ministry of Poverty Eradication that has been set up to address particular facets of poverty has not exhibited competence and dedication to fulfill its mandate.
We should first realise that life in the slum damages the dwellers’ very humanity… their dignity, their self-worth and their social identity.
The degradation is exacerbated by the nature of employment of slum families that earn their living by scavenging from dumps and other sources of garbage.
To make matters worse, our capitalist system has placed the needs of the poorest in this country on a back burner.
You know a country has serious problems and the poor are in serious trouble when a government is growing intolerant to the illegal occupancy without first offering living alternatives.
Unlike some countries in the world, there are currently no laws that allow slum demolition only if an alternative residence is available to the affected families.
There is also no substantial national or local government program for solving the slum problem through relocation and housing improvements.
To top it off, government has not shifted policies towards slum upgrading instead of its eradication, as it is easier and cheaper, not to mention more humane, to improve the conditions in slums rather than try to remove them all together.
If families in shanty towns can have their land titles recognised, or at the very least, secure certificates recognising their occupancy rights, some taxes can be levied and better regulations can be put in place to ensure some order in shanty towns, such as city point of household waste collection and demand for safer building structures to prevent buildings collapsing and being washed away by flood waters.
It would also attract investments for schools and even clinics, as well as playgrounds and shops for basic necessities.
Poor people need to be given a real sense of security and hope that their lives will improve for the better, instead of always having to look over their shoulder for City Police and bulldozers with eviction notices in tow.