Ongwediva — Ongwediva is one of the fastest growing towns in Namibia. Yesterday senior New Era journalist Helvy Shaanika interviewed the town's Chief Executive Officer Damian Egumbo, who shared his views on the successes and challenges facing the town.
Briefly tell us about yourself - who is Damian Egumbo?
Damian Egumbo is a country boy, who happened to study engineering in Cape Town and graduated from the Cape Peninsula Technikon. I started working at the Ministry of Works and Transport in Windhoek. I also had a short stint with the Department of Water Affairs where I was acquainted with the design of water supply and distribution networks. I then moved to the Tsumeb Municipality, where I joined the Engineering Department and finally ended up here in Ongwediva where I was initially tasked with the establishment of the Engineering Department, until I was appointed CEO.
When did you become the CEO of Ongwediva?
I was appointed almost 14 years ago in 1999.
Looking back, what are your most notable achievements since your appointment?
First and foremost, I must tell you that I have been a member of the Executive Committee of this institution under the leadership of my predecessor, where we laid a foundation in terms of the future of Ongwediva as a town. During my leadership, we consolidated our strategies by establishing Ongwediva as a lead service and commercial centre. We encouraged the growth of local businesses where there were none. Today we have excellent accommodation facilities, shopping malls - those are a few of the successes of my tenure.
Informal settlements and shacks are mushrooming all over the country in almost every town. How has Ongwediva dealt with this challenge and what are the problems associated with this phenomenon?
It is not entirely correct that we don't have informal settlements or a squatter problem, but our strategy, right from the begining was to ensure that we formalise the town by locating people to areas that are first and foremost planned. And secondly to locate people to areas that we envisaged to introduce services to. That is why we had informal settlements such as Shikopi in the beginning, but we relocated the residents of Shikopi to what we call Reception Area Phase 3. We have also relocated the Mandume informal settlement to what we call Sky. All those places are planned and in our vocabulary and the way we look at it, we don't refer to those areas as informal settlements, because we have plans for these areas. We have layout plans. For example, when you go to Sky, people do not live randomly. We have defined streets, we have defined erven.
Flooding is a seasonal problem in the north. How are you dealing with that and how far are you with the construction of the planned bridge to mitigate flooding and to facilitate movement?
Since the initial floods, we have put measures in place and invested in infrastructural development, to the extent that an outsider would say that we are not affected by floods. Even this year we will be affected by floods at Etapala Nangonyoto. During heavy rains that is one of the areas that is prone to flooding, but we have put measures in place to deal with the problem. During flooding people could not cross to the other side, but now the bridges that we have are a direct result of the floods. We are also busy to relocate and compensate people at Etapala Nangonyoto, who are affected by flooding.
What is the unemployment rate in Ongwediva and what job opportunities are here?
Ongwediva is within the Republic of Namibia and the Republic of Namibia is faced with the challenge of unemployment. So we are no exception in terms of that problem. And more so, by virtue of the rate of development of Ongwediva, many people are flocking here with the hope of finding jobs. That in itself is increasing our employment rate. What are we doing to help the youth? We have the Sam Nujoma Multi-Purpose Centre where young people are engaged in different activities to prepare themselves for employment. Small contracts like the cleaning of the town during the rainy season, bush clearing are allocated to organised groups of unemployed people - not only young people, but all unemployed people. Thirdly we emphasise that when businesses like Fresh Produce are established, it is a government project by the way, when they set up here we provide them with land on condition that they employ local people.
Over the years, Ongwediva has been more of a residential town than a business town, however, these days we see quite a number of businesses emerging. Iin terms of investment do you think your town has potential?
Ongwediva has great potential for business - where you find a lot of people and there are a lot of people residing in Ongwediva, there would obviously be a need for services.
What major development plans are in the pipeline for Ongwediva, especially TIPEEG projects?
We are beneficiaries of the TIPEEG programme and for that we are grateful to the central government. Our first allocation under TIPEEG was N$20 million, which we have invested in infrastructure such as the bridges at Sky and sanitation to those locations. For the current financial year 2012/2013, we received N$26 million. Projects underway include the establishment of the new township, that will be known as Oshiko Proper, compromising of 300 residential even. The construction of stormwater infrastructure and also the rehabilitation of our oxidation ponds. Additional projects will come on stream with the new allocation of N$17 million in the third year and we are planning to complete phase two of servicing the Oshiko residential area.
It has become trendy for a number of people to build on the outskirts of towns - aren't such informal and unregulated developments a threat to your town's expansion?
It is certainly a threat, because towns are growing, in particular Ongwediva is growing rapidly and the demand for land is skyrocketting. That is why we have put in place aggressive strategies to ensure that we acquire sufficient land and cater for our needs far beyond 2030.
Your town council has been accused of catering only for rich people, while ignoring the poor in terms of providing affordable land and housing. Are these allegations true? How do you cater for low- and middle-income groups?
Those allegations must have come from the people who don't know the town. But if that is the case, I will be the first to admit that we have failed in terms of informing people adequately about what is happening in Ongwediva. If you look at the people residing at reception areas and the Sky location, you will find people leasing land from the town council for N$12.20 per month, which is N$150 per annum. And once we have declared those areas townships, there are possibilities that these people would not need to pay to acquire title deeds, because of the status that we have afforded these areas. Secondly, for people in areas such as Extension 14 and 15, that is old Ongwediva, we are selling land in that area for N$5.50 per month and we are also servicing an area for the Build Together Programme.
For sometime now, there has been disagreement between the Ongwediva Town Council and the Omatando villagers as far as relocation is concerned and the issue of land grabbing. How far is this case?
We regard Omatando as part of Ongwediva. We will continue to pursue strategies, obviously with the involvement of people living in that area to find a lasting solution, but we will certainly have a different approach. So Omatando, here we come! Omatando is the only area where the town can meaningfully expand. If we just sit back and watch over what is happening in Omatando - history will judge us harshly.
Talking about relocation, last year, your town council carried out a survey. Based on that survey, it emerged that quite a number of villages in Ongwediva Constituency now fall within the boundaries of the town. Quite a number of homesteads are affected. How do you plan to create a balance between development and improving the livelihood of these people?
I must admit that that is a very sensitive issue and any relocation exercise is a process, specifically for those who have been residing in those areas. We duly recognise their right of occupation and that in itself says a lot in terms of our approach, which is aimed at ensuring that when we reach a certain area, people are given adequate time and people are reasonably taken care of to continue with their lives. We are not pushing people, we are not forcing people. People are given time so that the impact of relocation is not that severe.
What are the greatest challenges in managing a town like Ongwediva?
The delivery of land, which is a common challenge across the nation, but for us the challenge is even more acute. Since the demand is very high the price to be paid to make land available is way beyond our capacity. In view of the fact that our government does not have a formal way of subsidising local authorities, this represents a definite and huge challenge for us. And once we can overcome this obstacle, everything else will be fine.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
There are many demands on us as a council to deliver, and it is the right of people to do so. Wherever you go people are complaining that they are not getting land, but we also have to look at the availability of land and where to get land. We have to get land from the people who have been living here. And as you asked previously, you don't just develop land at the expense of people who have been there and have to make a living out of that land. And before we start demanding land as developers and business people, we need to recognise and give credit to the people that we found here - the homestead owners.