San Living Like Flies

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By Surihe Gaomas GOBABIS “We live like flies, constantly hungry and moving from one place to another in search of food until it falls and dies in the milk.” Gripping sentiments like these describe the abject poverty still engulfing the San people of Namibia. Not knowing where the next meal will come from is an experience that most San communities in around the Farm Skoonheid in the Gobabis district have become accustomed in their daily struggle for survival. Sitting around the crackling fire on the bare ground, for Anna Thomas and seven orphaned children, life is an uphill battle. A few steps into the small mud hut all one can see is a bundle of old clothes crumbled in a corner. “We have not eaten anything today. Please give me a dollar to buy a mielie next door?” asked Anna in a soft-spoken voice. Although some of the San have managed to grow small mielie crops in the backyard, much of the mielie cobs are taken off before it even gets ripe, because of hunger and poverty. For many years, the San have been singled out as being particularly vulnerable to poverty because the backbone of their livelihood in the country today consists of the availability of wild fruits and labouring for long hours on other people’s farms for a meagre wage. Children under the age of 15 years are also used as child labour and end up getting paid only N$10 a month for their services. By the looks of things especially in the reserves in the Gobabis district, much of the San depend on others for survival. According to the National Planning Commission’s Poverty Bulletin of September last year, the almost “invisible” San speaking communities “have little or no reliable income, no remittances, few or no production assets, no employment, limited education and skills and they lack means to educate their children and pay for health services for their sick family members”. Huddling together on the street corner under a small tree are four San brothers who had hoped to find a better life in the town. However, much of their hopes were shattered when they only found themselves struggling even more than before. ” Life is a struggle here and there’s no life here, no job for us, please help us,” said young looking Paul /Hoxobeb with his brother Rudolf sitting close by. When asked why they came to the town area, sentiments from the older men were that some of the farm owners whom they worked for do not want people around who have many children. ” Where are we supposed to send our children, school places are few?” said Jacob Langman, adding that this is an impossible situation since the San are a very close-knit community. They felt that provided they are given their own livestock, they would be able to become self-sustainable. As is common in any town area, most of the poor people resort to living in informal settlements or squatter camps on the outskirts of the town in shacks. Based on the NPC’s latest Poverty Bulletin these people “cannot afford municipal services and therefore do not have adequate sanitation…no access to electricity and may have to buy water from neighbours, making this basic necessity far more costly.” One such family staying in the squatter settlements of Gobabis are Magdalena Araes and close to 10 orphaned children. “We have to buy 5 litres of water for N$10 at that house over there,” says Araes pointing in a far off direction. For the day she managed to get pieces of fat that the children can eat with thick porridge. Sometimes, the children who are all not attending school have to walk long distances out in the field to dig up wild potatoes from the ground. “Poverty is really pressing us here and all the furniture I used to have has been damaged by the rain water that went into our shack. All that remained are our clothes, go inside and have a look,” she said. Problems and more problems of poverty started to unravel at this household when Lucia !Gobases and her husband Isaak came round to complain about their homeless situation after being unfairly evicted by a farm owner at Somasores reserve. “Where do we go from here,” asked the couple shrugging their shoulders. For them the future looks bleak. Magdalena Araes’s shack is situated just opposite the graveyard in Gobabis and as if sounding as having given up on life altogether, she said that their struggle to survive would most likely end up in the graves. A sad prospect for the invisible San people of Namibia.

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