HOWEVER much the City of Windhoek was pressed for action it could not have chosen a worse time than winter to demolish the shelters of some residents living in informal settlements in the city.
Call it what you may, shacks, squatter houses, shelters or houses, but to their occupiers such is not only a necessary means of shelter, but the only shelter they have and can dream of given their circumstances.
Surely at least they have a roof over their heads and by demolishing their houses deep in the chilly Namibian winter, our City mothers and fathers without any excuse, and without any exception, have not only revealed how cold and brutal they can be but seem to be grossly devoid of any humanity.
They are insensitive to those towards whom they have a responsibility in terms of providing services, and have proven to be grossly oblivious to the human rights of a section of the residents of this city.
These residents have practically been thrown to the mercy of the extremes of winter without shelter, to simply die if worse come to the worst. Is it any wonder that none has in the process succumbed to the breezy mid-June weather when winter is at its peak.
Thanks to the goodwill of various residents, and organisations that are aware of their corporate social responsibilities, and have come to the rescue of the victims of the heavy-handedness of the City of Windhoek, through its demolition gangs - the worst may have been averted.
But should the worst have come to pass - as if the demolition of the houses of these residents in mid-Winter is not worse enough an act in itself already, there’s no way the City of Windhoek could have claimed innocence.
It could have been directly responsible for any mishap that may have been visited upon the residents whose houses have been demolished. While it is the duty of the City of Windhoek to provide for services for all those who find themselves within the borders of the City, which includes shelter, it has disappointed and continues to disappoint many in this regard.
Not only is land hard to come by for a substantial section of the City’s population, the so-called poor and disadvantaged or previously disadvantaged which is no more than a euphemism for the continued inequalities within the City and Society at large.
But land has also seemed to be more accessible to the moneyed that have been erecting residences for those who can afford with those on the sharper end of the socio-economic dispensation and its in-egalitarian and exploitative nature left to own devices at best, and at worst to the City’s caterpillars.
While having to still take full its responsibilities towards a section of its residents, the City fathers and mothers with little impunity, became onlookers as their residents fell victim to the City’s demolition caterpillars. Also it seems to condemn them at best to the vagaries of the free housing market.
In engaging in such demolitions at an inopportune time, the City of Windhoek, perhaps was blinded by the enormity of the problem that it has been shouldering with the ever mushrooming informal settlements, a factor of urban influx.
In the process it has been overlooking a very important factor. Article 95 of the Namibian Constitution on the “Promotion of the Welfare of the People” subsection (g) provides for “enactment of legislation to ensure that the unemployed, the incapacitated, the indigent and the disadvantaged are accorded such social benefits and amenities as are determined by Parliament to be just and affordable with due regard to the resources of the State”.
There’s no denying the fact that, among those currently living in our informal settlements, which have been mushrooming all over the country, are those who could be defined as “unemployed” and “disadvantaged”. Needless to say, among the social benefits and amenities that should be facilitated for them is the right to shelter.
The central goal of the National Housing Policy is: “To make resources available and to direct their use into the production of infrastructure and facilities so that every Namibian will be given a fair opportunity to acquire land with access to potable water, energy and a waste disposal system, and to have access to acceptable shelter in a suitable location at a cost and standard which is affordable to the individual on the one hand, and to the country on the other hand.”
Admittedly, the City of Windhoek, for understandable reasons like urban influx, on the one hand, and for other inexplicable reasons though, have not been making headway in terms of facilitating land for shelter. But the City of Windhoek is not alone in this lack of success. This goes for many of our towns and cities, perhaps with the exception of Omaruru that by the confession of one its officials over the weekend, has plenty of land available, servicing resources permitting. In view of this it is only fair for it to have a human approach to its demolition cravings.
And not to lose sight of the fact that before embarking on any demolition, in terms of international human rights mores, it needs to provide an alternative shelter for those whose houses it intends to demolish. But the pertinent question is if the City of Windhoek is having delays in facilitating access to serviced land, should it have the audacity to obstruct those who through own devices, are able to meantime provide shelter for themselves?
In view of this, demolitions of self-made and hardly-acquired shelter, is not only inconsiderate, but highly insensitive and inhumane and a travesty of social justice and a trampling on the right of people to shelter!
But one can also not lose sight of the fact that the problem the City of Windhoek is currently facing in terms of urban influx cannot be its own alone, but a national one that the central authority must also shoulder, and thus help the City.
Amidst the problems that squatters have been facing in the City of Windhoek, one cannot but take joy in the lead that towns like Omaruru and Otjiwarongo are taking in providing for their residents in terms of the supply of housing and electricity, amongst other amenities.