I WAS prompted to write this piece by a Bank Windhoek advertisement at Windhoek’s Maerua Mall that says “You can’t say you have a home until you own one”.
The disparity between the Namibian rural and urban populations continues to increase. The majority who migrate to bigger towns such as Windhoek and Walvis Bay are young people who come in pursuit for better opportunities, be it educational or employment.
With the official youth unemployment rate at over 60 percent and high school failures at 50 percent, the prospects for a better life for this group do not get any better. A lucky few who occasionally get employment manage only to erect shacks, also known as uumbashus. Even those with better educational qualifications and better jobs rent backyard garages or flats. Uumbashus have now become a constant eyesore in all major towns.
The housing crisis is one major reason for the recent teachers’ and other civil servants’ strike. Ordinary civil servants like teachers and police officers get a housing allowance of N$6 000 a year or a mere N$500 a month. They only qualify for a N$200 000 house while the cheapest formal dwelling in Windhoek goes for N$500 000 and above.
This housing crisis is a clear testimony that the ruling party, Swapo, has failed the people of Namibia, again and again for over 20 years while in control of the government.
Because of widespread poverty and high levels of unemployment in the country, the Namibian people continue to live in squalid conditions. Thousands cannot afford decent housing and sanitation standards mainly due to exorbitant land prices, particularly in urban centres.
Needless to say the majority of those who manage to own houses have to struggle to pay off mortgage bonds until they reach retirement age. This forces them to use their badly needed pension money to settle the debts with commercial banks.
The youth are the hardest hit. Seeing that there are citizens in their 50s living in shacks, the situation must surely be even more bleak for the young people, who are supposed to be the backbone and hope for the nation’s future.
The demographic category of ages 20s and 30s, in which many youth fall, is a formative one. It is a critical stage where pursuit of happiness in life, mostly characterised by efforts such as starting families and business, dominates. But, how exactly does one start a family when the chances of owning a home are close to zero? And what are the chances to start a business when you are homeless or spend half or more of your earnings on rent?
The current ban on land auctions in Namibia is not the solution. Also, the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) and the Build Together Programme do little to meet the demand both in terms of affordability and delivery. What is needed is a large-scale public housing construction or housing subsidy scheme for low- and middle-income groups. That is the only way to do away with proliferation of informal settlements and homelessness in general.
Large-scale public housing construction is where the State builds houses, based on demographics of location and income, which can then be acquired by first-time home owners. The subsidy covers the cost of purchasing land and installation of basic services.
Large-scale public housing construction will allow informal settlement dwellers ease to acquire formal housing. I believe this public housing subsidy must be done for both those outside and inside the public sector. This will give first-time home owners much-needed financial relief. It will also alleviate the current skyrocketing housing prices, which is caused by a deliberately orchestrated high demand.
Various countries have housing subsidies in place; an example is neighbouring South Africa, which has subsidies at various levels from individual and institutional credit line to the popular Reconstruction and Development Project – credited to have built over 1.1 million houses.
It is time for us, the youth of Namibia, to wake up and smell the coffee. Stop throwing around blind fists and start to seriously fight to secure your future.
* Jason Haufiku lives in Windhoek. He holds an Honours Degree in Media Studies from the University of Namibia.