Namibia: Catfishing for Survival

About 40 kilometres from Ongwediva in the Oshana region is the Ulili (Ombuga) river. This is where flood water that flows through the Cuvelai river channel, Omvelo Wakasamane, Epalela and the Okandjegedhi bridge eventually comes to settle.

With the water catfish also comes through and settles at the Ulili river. The area was previously popular as a cattle post due to its abundance of grass and the only people found there were cattle herders.

However of late unemployment brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has driven hundreds of people to the Ulili river where makeshift camps of plastic bags, cardboard, sticks, grass and materials have been erected and fishing for catfish has become a way of life.

People as young as 20 and as old as 60 have flocked to river to fish for catfish. Fishing nets of all sizes are cast into the wide river where men and women spend the day in the cold deep water.

The day's catch is cleaned and dried before it is sold.

Victor Kambala (68) from Eheke in the Oshana region has been coming to Ulili since 1990 after leaving his job in Windhoek.

He says he became aware of the fishing opportunity because he used to herd cattle in the area when he was young.

"I started fishing here after I lost my job right after independence, at that time there were not many people coming here but now the place is congested. Sometimes there are more than 200 camps here. I think it is because people lost jobs due to Covid-19 and they have no other means to feed their families," explained Kambala.

Kambala who is the oldest person at the site also serves as the caretaker. The young people who set up camp seek his advice and help. He sells his fish at the open markets at Ondangwa, Oshakati and and Omuthiya.

"We can take care of our families through the fish we get here. I am glad that the government does not prohibit us from fishing here, they have just come to advise us on the types of fish to catch and sometimes they bring us medicine to purify the water so that we can use it to cook and drink.

"The biggest challenges we have here are clean drinking water and that when too many people gather at one place they sometimes do not get along, but we try to keep that under control," said Kambala.

A packet of five dry fish costs N$20 and if one works very hard they can make up to N$4 000 a month, Kambala said.

Protasius Ndapandula (32) moved to the camps from Ondangwa with her seven-month-old baby, boyfriend and mother in April last year when the Covid-19 lockdown was enforced.

She said before she started fishing, she earned a living through buying second-hand clothing from Angola for resale.

However that ended when the border was closed.

"After they closed the border I could not provide for my family because there was no money. I heard about the fishing prospect here and I decided to give it a try. I bought fishing nets, gathered myself and family and we have been here fishing since. I will be here until January next year.

"The only challenge is that we have one canoe to cast the nets in the water because if you want to catch large fish, you must cast the net where water is deep. There are too many people to be using one canoe though," adds Ndapandula.

Likius Kamati (25) came from Eenhana in the Ohangwena region. He dropped out of school in Grade 8. A relative encouraged him to join her at the fishing camp.

"I have been fishing here since June last year with my aunt although I work on my own and catch my own fish. I can now support my young daughter and provide for my mother as well. I would rather struggle here than be a burden to my family out there," said Kamati.

Okatyali councillor Joseph Mupetami said he was aware of the fishing activities at Ulili which falls under his jurisdiction.

"I have been there several times and I see no trouble with the traditional way of fishing. Fishing is providing people with food in these hard times. I am happy to see that people are earning a living What is important is that they conduct themselves in an orderly manner while they are there. I am pleading with them not to destroy other people's property and to be aware of Covid-19 regulations because people come from all over," said Mupetami.

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