Destitute Pensioners Lose Houses

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Hundreds of elderly and the disabled are out in the inhospitable cold weather of Windhoek – that normally dips to freezing this time of the year – because of a yet to be amended old South African colonial law, which could see them being evicted from their houses. This contentious issue was raised at a constituency meeting that was addressed by the Councillor of the Khomasdal North constituency, Margreth Mensah-Williams. The reason these elderly poor are likely to be thrown onto the streets is because they are unable to pay municipal bills. It turns out many pensioners in Khomas Region could be forced onto the streets for accruing huge accounts for water and electricity. Addressing residents at a recent meeting this week, Mensah-Williams said there is an urgent need to change this law. “The South African Magistrate Act 42 of 1944 is against our Constitution and violates the basic human right to shelter. This act must be amended, because whenever any elderly homeowner is unable to pay his water or electricity, this allows authorities to request lawyers to have the legal right to go to court and sell this property, without the occupant’s knowledge,” explained Mensah-Williams. She added that the bad twist to this issue is that it violates the occupant’s right to shelter and water, which according to the Constitution is a basic human right. What makes matters worse is that all the legal transactions of selling the properties are happening with the consent of the homeowner, who at the end of the day ends up homeless as a result. She confirmed she has encountered up to 20 such pensioner evictees, who have no other choice but to squat around in the city out of desperation. “Debts for water and electricity accumulate as high as N$30 000 and N$50 000 and while these old people think they are paying for water and electricity with their meagre pension, that money is in fact going towards rates and taxes,” she added. “One such elderly is Ouma Maria who ended up squatting next to RÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶ssing because her house was sold. There was even one incident in Mariental, where lawyers and messengers of the court came and evicted a woman from her house because she owed the municipality N$128,” explained Mensah-Williams. She questioned whether such a situation doesn’t just contribute to the mushrooming problem of squatters in the city. Most of the properties get sub-let or rented out by developers after being renovated and refurbished, leaving the pensioner homeless. Having taken up the issue several times during the course of last year with the City of Windhoek, Mensah-Williams described the situation as having been either delayed or postponed. It was just recently when she received a letter dated February 11 this year from the Chief Executive Officer of the City of Windhoek, Niilo Taapopi, who said that the matter was receiving the Council’s attention and he would come back to her with a response at an unspecified time. “The issue is taken up and the CEO will come back to you soon,” was the answer Mensah-Williams gave to the community over the weekend. Previously the City of Windhoek had a more lenient policy when a pensioner who was unable to pay for electricity and water would be spared by just having one service cut off and leaving the other one running. Butt two years ago this policy changed altogether, leaving occupants with both these municipal services cut off completely – if he or she is unable to pay up. However, this leaves pensioners in a predicament wherein the bill keeps on spiralling and authorities later hand the case over to lawyers, resulting in an eviction. Yet Mensah argues that just like a child maintenance defaulter gets the chance to explain his circumstances in court and an alternative payment is arranged, pensioners should also be given that opportunity.