Windhoek — Poverty is compelling an increasing number of unemployed people to take to fishing in the highly polluted Goreangab Dam despite the significant health risks associated with the activity.
The dam contains pollutants such as sewerage and domestic waste. Every day people descend on the Goreangab Dam to catch carp and tilapia for sale to residents of the adjacent impoverished informal settlements just to sustain their families. David Nekongo, who travelled all the way from Okalongo to Windhoek in 1993 in the hope of finding a steady paying job now catches contaminated fish from the dam as a means to make a living and to sustain his family.
The Windhoek Municipality says the fish from Goreangab Dam is unfit for human consumption and people are prohibited from catching fish from the dam, because the water is highly toxic from the pollution. Disregarding warnings by the Windhoek Municipality that the fish in the dam is contaminated and not fit for human consumption, Nekongo made it clear he has been catching fish in the dam for almost 20 years now, but the fish never caused any health problems for him or his family.
"This fish is very fresh and healthy. They are just normal like other fish we eat from the river. We catch about 70 to 80 fish per day and eat them all the time and sell them, but we did not yet receive complaints from our customers that they got sick," said Nekongo. When New Era arrived at the dam it took close to two hours to get to the spot where two men were busy fishing, because the area is almost inaccessible because of the thick vegetation and the riverine reeds. By 11h00 when New Era got to the two fishermen, they had already caught about 17 fish. They live in the section of the Ombili and Havana location called One Nation, not so far from Goreangab Dam.
Another fisherman Shikongo Kagola who came to Windhoek in 2004 and started fishing in 2005 said poverty forced him to engage in illegal fishing at the dam. He said he spent an entire year looking for work and after his job prospects dwindled he resorted to illegal fishing at the dam where he catches carp. "When I learned that people are getting fish without any permit from Goreagab Dam I decided to join and it has improved my life," said Kagola.
Kagola explained that the fish sells for between N$3 and N$20 depending on the size. However, they have to compete with the Chinese who tend to catch more fish from the dam, because they use modern fishing equipment, including nets and fishing boats. "Our process is very slow because we have to put bait on our hooks for us to catch them. But the Chinese nationals only put their large nets in the middle of the dam and catch more fish," they say. The Chinese flock to the dam, especially over weekends.
The internal communication officer at the Windhoek Municipality Scheifert Shigwedha said the ban on fishing in the Goreangab Dam is still on. He warned residents not to catch fish from the dam, because the fish in the dam is not fit for human consumption.
The municipality has deployed a security officer to patrol the dam, but his patrols are only confined to the recreation area although plans are underway to deploy another guard to monitor the dam in order to prevent illegal fishing.
Shigwedha said the municipality has also erected signs that prohibit people from catching fish and swimming in the dam, because it poses a health hazard. "Anyone caught catching fish or swimming in the dam will be dealt with accordingly," Shigwedha warned.