Former Shack Dwellers Lift Themselves Up

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK STEPPING out of her dark green corrugated iron shack, Johanna Iipumbu was pleased to leave this makeshift shelter behind and move into her newly acquired three-bedroomed brick house. “This was my kambashu, now I have a proper house of my own,” said the young woman, opening the front door to her new residence. The smell of fresh paint fills the air as she sails around the place she calls home or “egumbo” in her mother tongue Oshiwambo. Although there was no furniture inside, Iipumbu is glad to have at least the basics of drinking water, electricity and a toilet. She is one of the 98 first-time homeowners who officially received their keys from President Hifikepunye Pohamba in the Omusati settlement area earlier this month. Housing is a basic human right for every Namibian, and the Government together with other interested groups have been hard at work to provide affordable decent housing to thousands of the homeless poor. One such organisation is the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN), that through its own savings and the assistance from the Government and donors such as the Kingdom of Spain, has managed to turn around the lives of people in lower income groups to also have a place they could call their home. Instead of sitting back and waiting for the Government to spoonfeed them, poor people, especially women at the grassroots level have strived against all odds and have managed to turn their lives around from being shack dwellers to first-time home owners. This year has therefore been memorable for the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia, through one of their greatest achievements where hundreds of families in disadvantaged positions have gained ownership by having their own property. Currently, there are 70 000 households living in shacks in Namibia and there is a great drive to rid the country of the mushrooming make- shift structures in the country. On her part, the national facilitator of SDFN Edith Mbanga outlined the achievements of the federation, which she found remarkable in as far as they reflect a sense of self-reliance on the part of the poor. “We as low income people are organising ourselves through savings to improve our lives. We are building our capacity by learning from each other how to work with money, while also building trust amongst each other,” she says. “Many people are surprised that we can build for so little, but that is because we are managing our own project. We negotiate with the suppliers; the builders amongst us and do some work ourselves,” added Mbanga. With generous sponsorship of just over N$2 million from the Kingdom of Spain, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia managed to provide 98 houses to its members in the Otjomuise settlement area in the city. Besides that the federation managed to build over 210 houses this year, of which 120 were built in Windhoek alone. Through its savings groups countrywide, over 1 000 houses have also been completed with financial support from the Government. One third of the houses were built with Build Together money through the decentralised Build Together Programme. Mbanga added that from the total of 11 000 members the organisation has saved N$2,7 million. Training on how to address the housing shortage crisis is also part and parcel of their operations. “We are not asking for money to have training workshops in the hotels. We are learning under the trees while sharing our limited accommodation with each other,” she added. One of the challenges facing the federation however is that the high proportion of household areas in urban areas do not have secure tenure yet. This is mainly because poor communities cannot afford the costs of developing land the formal way and smaller local authorities do not have enough funds or capacity to develop these plots of land. Of its 11 000 members only 2 500 have land. Voicing concern about this situation, Deputy Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development Kazenambo Kazenambo is quoted as saying that “as long as land with basic services is not accessible and affordable to such a large portion of the urban dwellers, they will continue to be vulnerable, living in unhealthy conditions and remain poor”. It is against this background that a collective effort is needed to address the housing shortage in the country and efforts by the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia are seen as a step in the right direction.