Namibia: Community Helps Tackle COVID-19 Fight

The councillor of Olukonda constituency, Victoria Shikongo, fears rural areas will be extremely vulnerable to large-scale coronavirus infections if measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus are not strictly adhered to.

Olukonda constituency is located in the rural area of Oshikoto region, with an estimated 9 094 inhabitants who are mainly communal farmers, while some survive from businesses such as cuca shops.

The councillor said she had a mammoth task of not only ensuring that the entire community is timely and accurately informed about Covid-19 but also that law and order is maintained during the lockdown.

Narrating her experience, Shikongo said the news of the first confirmed Covid-19 cases in Namibia left her "paralysed" but she rose to the occasion.

"We were scared. Where do we start with communicating with the community? We decided to summon all the village headmen and educate them on the preventative measures. We grouped them in smaller groups; this was even before the ban of not more than 10 people," she said.

Shikongo's office further instructed each village headman to write a letter to every household in their jurisdiction, informing them of the request from the President to stay at home and adhere to lockdown measures while keeping strict hygiene standards. Additionally, making use of every means of communication, the constituency's public WhatsApp group also came in handy.

"We always post on the group for those who have smartphones," Shikongo said. The councillor said that even before shebeens were ordered to close, her office took initiative and visited the local drinking spots to advice the revellers not to share glasses amongst one another but to each rather have their own.

"The community was against this advice because, at the time, they did not fully understand that this was for their own benefit," she said. When lockdown fully came into effect, Shikongo noted it was a challenge to get everyone in her constituency to adhere to the new rules and regulations, citing that the youth were the most troublesome. "You would find the youth in groups. They were against the orders. But the elders, especially those who listen to the radio, heard that even doctors in Italy are dying, they got scared and took the virus very seriously," the councillor said.

Another challenge the constituency is experiencing is the illegal brewing of traditional alcohol. Fortunately, community members have reported these culprits to the constituency office, who then tipped off the police.

"We are trying to protect them but they think we are against them. But if you continue to sell alcohol at home, different people are coming into your house and they may infect you," she advised. After the lockdown was lifted on 5 May, Shikongo said she was pleased with the change in behaviour.

"Even the youth understands now that our actions can cost us our lives. Even though they are complaining, at least they are still wearing their masks. The pensioners were receiving their grant and they all had masks on. We went there to educate them on how to wear the masks correctly," Shikongo said.

In terms of how the lockdown has affected the economic activities of the community, Shikongo said considering that Namibia does not have enough health facilities to contain the virus, the health of its citizens could not be compromised.

"We have to understand that even developed countries are struggling with the pandemic. We do not have enough facilities to contain the virus should it spread. Yes, we used to survive on selling alcohol but we have to think of our lives," she said. Adding that the closure of shebeens also came as a blessing in disguise for her community, as the inhabitants worked hard during the harvesting period.

"People used to go to the shebeens in the morning but they worked hard this year. The elderly are calling our office to thank us for lockdown because they never saw so much productivity in the field before," the councillor said.

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