Windhoek — Despite the hype last year over the plight of many poor Namibians scavenging for expired food at the Kupferberg landfill and a few feeble, but well meant efforts to help them, over 200 people continue to frequent the dumpsite to feed themselves.
According to an employee of Enviro Fill, at the site, the number of people foraging at the dumpsite has increased dramatically and competition for the scraps has become more intense and even more aggressive, with an ever-present threat of violence hanging over the place.
According to the Enviro Fill employee who spoke on condition of anonymity, many of the people at the dumpsite are armed with knives and other weapons to defend their turf and a share of the spoils. According to him, last week Wednesday a fight broke out between two foragers, who stabbed each other with knives over food.
"We workers have a serious problem ... the scavengers are carrying guns and big sharp knives that we saw last week. Maybe there are troublemakers among them from the locations who decided to move here to hide," added the employee.
On Monday journalists from New Era witnessed first-hand how scores of poor people, among them young children who should be attending school, foraged for expired and discarded food. The children are often in a rush to be the first at the Kupferberg dumpsite, some 15 km west of Windhoek.
Although the Minister of Education Dr Abraham Iyambo and the Deputy Minister of Education, Dr David Namwandi, last year urged all children of school-going age at the dumpsite to go and register at nearby schools, it seems the message has fallen on deaf ears.
Yesterday, when trucks carrying rubbish and other discarded items arrived at the site, the young children were the first to rush towards them.
Thursdays used to be the favourite day for these impoverished residents, when trucks laden with stale and rancid food would arrived to empty their contents at the dumpsite, usually causing a deadly stampede. However, the day for dumping discarded food has changed to Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Everyone at the dumpsite was reluctant to speak to this reporter, and eventually started shouting at the news crew.
"New Era! What are you doing here please go, go!" they shouted in unison while covering their angry faces. The drama was quite moving, as people ran to pick up tins of beef, and yoghurt, chips, biscuits, juice and packets of tea and coffee.
The scavengers even make the effort of donning safety gear such as gloves and overalls before the trucks arrive, to reduce the potential health risks, given the very unhygienic conditions of the dumpsite. Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob recently proposed to establish a food bank through which affluent people could donate food.
The donated food will cater for the basic needs of impoverished people, who collect expired and discarded food from unhygienic dumpsites across the country. The Prime Minister was commenting on the level of poverty and hunger during a meeting with the outgoing Brazilian Ambassador, José Vicente Lessa.
Geingob said Namibia wants to copy the Brazilian example of dealing with poverty and has assigned someone to carry out a study of the Brazilian social welfare system to find ways of dealing with the problem.
The Prime Minister now has in mind a proposal that will bring together farmers, including himself, as well as fishing companies to voluntarily donate at least two cows or any other food items per year or per quarter, so that they can set up a food bank with the donations.
Geingob said that during a recent drive around Katutura, in Windhoek, he observed the abject poverty of many people and was disappointed that many of them are idle, not doing anything at all. "You cannot believe the face of poverty and hunger in the Katutura's of Namibia," he was quoted saying.
The main purpose of the food bank will be to alleviate hunger and provide for the basic needs of vulnerable people by soliciting, collecting and packaging food, clothes, educational materials and other basic necessities for needy people. "The biggest problem is not only unemployment, but poverty and hunger in the midst of plenty," Geingob had said.