8 January 2013

Namibia: Groot Aub Settlement At Crossroads

FOR the people of the Groot Aub settlement, situated some 40 kilometres south of Windhoek, life is characterised by a constant water and electricity supply shortage, as well as the questionable selling of plots and land on surrounding farms which is still being dished out despite a freeze on land allocations since November 2003.

In 2003 when Government took a decision that no person was to further be resettled at Groot Aub, the settlement had about 1000 residents. To date, more than 5000 people are settled there and the concrete on the latest piece of erven sold, despite the land freeze, is still wet.

Reports from last year suggest that the situation has been brought to the attention of the office of the Khomas Regional Governor, which has expressed concern about the influx of new people to the Groot Aub settlement.

Residents are pointing fingers at the settlement's councillor Frederick Arie for the unauthorised selling of frozen land.

Individually, Groot Aub residents have many different complaints. Together though, they are bound by their common complaint about what they say is Arie's ways of doing things within the settlement, whom they also said falls short of not only taking the settlement to developmental heights, but also fails to include them in the decision making processes affecting the settlement and their livelihoods.

Complaints stem from the one clinic in the area which especially the elderly citizens are saying is too far. The constant uncontrolled mushrooming of shebeens within the settlement also has the tongues of parents wagging, something about the readily accessible alcohol sold to youths being a step in the wrong direction.

The main water pipe supplying water to some of the households in the settlement burst two months ago and when The Namibian visited the settlement over the weekend, the pipe was still not attended to and the water that comes from the pipe had risen to a level where children are now swimming in it.

Arie, who according to security guards at his Groot Aub office last showed up for work in November 2012, was not reachable on his mobile phone to give comment.

"I will get back to you" was all that he told The Namibian when asked for comment on the matter.

"Everything that happens here is a one man show. The councillor makes all the decisions without consulting the community on anything," said a community activist residing at the settlement.

The City of Windhoek recently announced that Windhoek will extend its boundaries to a radius of not less than 30 kilometres in all directions. This will mean that rural areas currently outside the city, such as Groot Aub up to the Hardap Region boundary in the south, Seeheim to the north up to the Otjozondjupa Region boundary and Baumgartsbrunn to the west, will fall under the municipality.

The City of Windhoek's corporate communications and customer care manager, Joshua Amukugo, late last year said that the decision followed the realisation that land in the city was becoming scarce in terms of demand for serviced erven.

Amukugo noted that the City Council and the Rural Development Ministry decided to extend the boundaries to allow more residents access to affordable land.

In the case of the Groot Aub settlement, the municipality would be responsible for delivering water, sanitation, electricity, refuse removal and roads.

The municipality would also carry out proper planning of residential and industrial erven at the settlement.

Groot Aub residents are unsure whether they want to become part of the city, their biggest concern being the aspect of affordability of basic services.

"Some of us were born and grew up here in Groot Aub. Our great grand parents were born here and this land is all we have and own. What will Groot Aub becoming part of the city mean for us and our land. Many of us work on farms and cannot afford the extravagant life that comes with living in the city. Already many of us are struggling to pay the monthly N$30 for water, will we be able to afford water and electricity as will be administered by the city of Windhoek?" asked one resident.

Many Groot Aub residents make a living by working low to middle income paying jobs in Windhoek and on nearby farms. Some work at the primary and junior secondary school as teachers, others as clerks at shebeens and shops within the area, but the majority still remain poor.

The City of Windhoek last year announced it will be increasing water basic tariffs, sewerage tariffs, property tax, household refuse removal, whilst the solid waste management tariffs will also go up.

The city has also proposed a 15% increase in electricity tariffs. This means that an average low income household will have to pay an additional N$75, while an average middle income household will have to part with N$227.

For the average high income household, the current financial year of the City of Windhoek will translate into extra spending on municipal rates and taxes of 537 dollars.

The chairperson of the Management Committee of the City of Windhoek at the time, Agnes Kafula acknowledged that the increments might not be welcomed by all, but that the city was forced to make adjustments to meet the needs of the residents.

Glen Stumphe has been living at Groot Aub for the past 36 years and says he is not open to embracing the idea of the settlement becoming a part of Windhoek just yet.

"We feel we are not ready. Already we live in a community where anyone who has a Swapo membership card feels like they are the leaders of us all and they can do what they want. With the unauthorised selling of erven, we already feel like we are losing ownership of our land, the land of our parents. We feel like Groot Aub is owned by outsiders and not by us who have been residing here because we are not included in the decision making processes," said Stumphe.

Said yet another Groot Aub resident: "Not just anybody can afford to live in Windhoek anymore because it is too expensive. Sometimes we think we are bringing development to the people but we are actually just making life difficult for them because some of these big developments we believe are not pro-poor because the majority of the poor cannot afford them."

Petrus David has been farming and living at Groot Aub for the past 70 years and said he is concerned where he is going to carry out his farming activities once Groot Aub is serviced into a city.

"Where are we going to farm if the municipality takes over? Yes, we want development. We could do with a post office, a bank or ATM and supermarkets here in Groot Aub. It's a good idea for development, but not a good idea if the community cannot afford the services," he said.

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