New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Number of Destitute People Growing Rapidly in Keetmanshoop

Keetmanshoop — The number of destitute people begging for food on the streets, in parks and at shopping centres in the town of Keetmanshoop is on the rise.

This scenario is also reflected in the growing number of people foraging at dumpsites in Keetmanshoop for scraps of discarded food and other items, which can be salvaged and resold for a few dollars. The majority of them are unemployed men and young boys.

Most of these people, the majority of whom are from the location of ≠Oabate  also known as Ileni and Soweto, say begging and foraging has become their only means of survival. The desperation of the circumstances often drive many of them to alcohol and drug abuse, compounding an already hopeless lot for many.

The few men interviewed by New Era refer to their activities as 'zula', which is in fact slang for hassling and the expression 'zula to survive' has gained widespread popularity. Nineteen-year-old Paultjie Titus, who hails from the small settlement of /Koës in the Aroab district, said it is difficult to make a living in a town like Keetmanshoop without a formal job.

"I would like to have a job," he said, "and not be here," referring to his station in life. He said he is prepared to start his own business should the opportunity present itself and wants to see government pay more attention to supporting young people to start their businesses. Paultjie is the sole breadwinner in his family.

He is aware of the town council's waste cleaning programme and is just waiting to be hired as a street cleaner. A 30-year-old woman, who is also a beggar in the town's only park, says she has no choice but to beg and will only stop if she can find employment.

The retailers Spar and OK are like a magnet for the growing number of people begging for food on the streets of the town. Thomas Kaleb, a 54-year-old father of five, is also among the growing army of beggars.

Kaleb, who claims to be a former employee of the diamond company Namdeb and also served in the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) a couple of years ago, decided to become a beggar, because he has run out of options to earn a living.

He claims jealousy and other problems have driven him from home. "I'm serious. I'm just stating the facts. I could not bear the hardships I endured at the hands of my own family and decided to move out and prefer to stay in the bush."

Health Inspector with the Keetmanshoop Town Council, Rudo-Whan Benade, says he is aware of the circumstances under which many of the beggars live and invites them to join the Waste Cleaning Programme initiated by the town council. According to him interested individuals are hired for two weeks on a rotational basis to allow as many people as possible to benefit from the programme.

"This programme is open to all members of the public. If you have noticed the majority of these people who are begging or eating out of garbage bins have no disabilities.

"They have the right to look for work, but they choose to either beg or eat from dustbins," he says. "It's against the dignity of these people to have to look for food in this manner," he added.

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