1 February 2013

Namibia: A Nation of Shack Dwellers?


Article Views (non — ONE in three families in the capital lives in shacks with an estimated 30 000 people in the capital living in such conditions. There is no doubting that these unsavoury housing conditions are replicated all over the country, in other cities and towns. With the capital only taking the lead in this regard having to absorb the heaviest of the urban influx burden that many a city and town has been experiencing since independence, partly a factor of the many liberties brought about by the newly-won freedom and independence in 1990, among them the freedom of movement heralded by the scrapping of the notorious pass laws which restricted the movement of especially Africans.

This acute housing backlog is a situation that the incoming liberating authorities had all along been aware of. And various mechanisms have been put in place, among them the national action plans dating back to 1996.

Fact remains that the situation, 22 years after, remains very much unabated. It may not as yet represent or be seen to represent a crisis, but surely the need for shelter in Namibia, if not addressed head on and by all and sundry, shall soon culminate in a crisis. In fact if one looks at the rate at which makeshift housing structures have been mushrooming, a factor of urban influx which seems to be outpacing the rate at which our towns and cities are capable and able to respond to the growing need for services, soon we may be sitting on a social time bomb. That is if we are not already sitting on it.

Albeit the recent research by the FNB, the situation has deteriorated drastically since independence when only four percent of the capital's residents had to resort to shacks as shelter or their homes. One needs not look any further than the growing daily struggle in which fellow citizens are and have been engaged, if not to acquire a plot for a shelter, having to wrangle with the authorities out to dismantle shelters that they have set up, and which are the only form of housing most, if not the majority of people in Namibia, can afford.

This group of the wretched is not necessarily those down on the socio-economic ladder but it is increasingly becoming apparent that few can afford a decent shelter, and rather than such a decent shelter being a basic need, for most Namibians it is apparent that it is more a luxury than a basic need.

As instructive as the FNB research may be, one only wonders whether it would be of any consequence. This is in view of the given seemingly usual complacency of our policy makers, or rather seeming inability, despite being aware of the situation.

One is reminded not long ago of a conference under the auspices of our national housing authority, the National Housing Enterprise (NHE), which I believe, must have been prompted by the acute housing shortage in the country, and the housing backlog that the country inherited at independence in 1990.

Also towards the end of last year during the nationwide stay-away from school by teachers in protest against their pitiful working conditions, including low salaries, this reality was once again visited upon the nation. It emerged that the hostel of the Augustineum Secondary School in Windhoek had become, as of necessity, a teacher's squatter dormitory of some sort. But the Augustineum's anecdotal evidence, and others aside, the FNB this week once again visited upon the nation this harsh reality of the nation's housing situation. And the picture is not reassuring at all, to say the least.

Not that little has been done since independence to reverse, or let alone arrest the situation. Since independence we have seen to two national plans of action on housing, one from 1996 to 1999, and the other from 1999 to 2000. And the objectives and goals therein could not have been more noble.

In the spirit of the Habitat II Agenda, the plans have been striving towards "full and progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing", and "sustainable human settlements".

A few years down the line the good intentions, as well as the government walking the talk, by committing 30 million Namibian dollars towards the National Housing Enterprise (NHE)'s endeavours in low-cost housing, amongst others, the situation nevertheless had been seeming far from being arrested. "The increased delivery rate however remains concentrated in the middle to upper price segments, which to date only accounts for about 7% of the national housing backlog," the recent FNB housing price index study states, pointing out the national hosing backlog as currently standing at 110,000 most of them hopefuls living in shacks.

This is the housing backlog situation. It is not so much what it appears because of political inaction, lack of resources or what-have-you as much as resources are finite. But it represents a complex housing shortage situation in the country.

One aspect of this complexity, has been the dearth of serviceable land in the urban areas, a situation that has been exacerbated by rapid urban influx. But wherever the finger may point, the fact remains that housing shortage remains as acute a problem today 22 years after independence as 22 years ago when the government realised the acute situation it had inherited.

The most worrying aspect is that the pace, if not the will, to in the least arrest the situation, seems alarmingly slow. It is also saddening that among the affected are people providing essential services like members of the police force and teachers and also other civil servants who cannot afford decent shelter other than shacks.

As much the FNB forecast for the future is positive, the situation for now, and the three years to come shall remain dire. What kind of pride do we instill in our civil servants if we force them to live in shacks? Your guess is as good as mine!

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