By Wezi Tjaronda
The residents of the small village of Otjivero in the Omitara area have their hopes pinned on the Basic Income Grant (BIG).
The poverty-stricken village, 115 km from Windhoek, will be the first beneficiaries of the BIG, a monthly cash grant aimed at reducing destitution, poverty and inequality.
With dwelling units made of remnants of other building materials, old tents, iron sheets and plastic sheeting, the first impression is that poverty here rules the game.
Most of the 1 000-odd residents of this village, who are former farm workers evicted from the farms surrounding the area, have no source of income of their own. The only people with a regular income are those working for the primary school, the clinic, the police station, NamWater and Telecom. Others have to use their brains and hands and other means to survive.
The Public Police Relations Committee (PPRC), school teachers, elderly residents and shebeen-owners say poverty is the biggest problem among the 1 200-strong community.
The settlement started in 1992 when the first group of around 40 evicted farm workers moved from Omitara and settled at Otjivero. They had nowhere else to go. Gradually the population grew as many more farm workers were evicted, and other people settled there as well.
Aggravating the poverty situation is the fact that most children do not go beyond Grade 7 because their parents cannot afford to send them to other schools, 115 km away. With only Grade 7 and no certificates to their names, their only chance lies in menial jobs on nearby farms. Unfortunately, the people of Omitara are haunted by their reputation of being “cattle and fuel-wood thieves.”
“Farmers follow the youth to their farm gates with guns, saying people of Omitara are thieves,” remarked Steven Eigowab, a former principal of Otjivero Primary School, who had decided to settle at the village to try and help the residents. Eigowab is also the chairman of the PPRC.
The residents are then left with old-age pensions and remittances from their relatives elsewhere as their source of survival. This situation also affects the school in that children go hungry to school and cannot gain knowledge on empty stomachs, says Principal Rebecca Jeremiah, one of the longest-serving employees of the school. To keep the children in school and to improve their performance, the school – through the Ministry of Education – offers the children one meal a day. Although this is not enough, Jeremiah says “It is sometimes the only reason that children come to school.”
“Most of them do not even come for extra classes in the afternoon because there is no food,” she adds. Poverty has also led many young girls into prostitution. Jeremiah says that because many parents live from hand to mouth, they cannot afford to spare any money for their girls.
“Prostitution is rife here because of poverty, and you know the consequences,” said Eigowab. Efforts by the school to keep the girls busy at school do not yield much because of lack of leisure activities.
“Everything here is a just a problem,” says the principal.
Some parents are heartbroken because of their inability to educate their children for them to have a better life than they are living in Otjivero.
But, without an income, “what can we do,” says Emily Garises, a widow and mother of four.
A few in the village have small businesses such as repairing and painting cars, selling liquor and collecting firewood and water to sell; others live on poaching. Poaching and illegal harvesting of firewood remain the main cause of disputes between the community and the surrounding commercial farmers.
Residents say the drought relief food they used to get made their lives easier in that the little money they got from casual jobs would be saved for the children’s future, said one elderly man.
“This is why the children are always lagging behind,” he said.
“Now that we don’t get this food anymore, we have to poach for a living,” said Garises.
News of the forthcoming grant in December this year, or early 2008, has given Otjivero people hope. The 1 005 residents from infants to age 59 years, which the BIG Coalition registered on July 31, will receive N$100 per month once the project kicks off.
“It seems like manna from heaven,” said Garises.
Views on BIG
” I steal wood from farms for a living and for firewood for my 11-member family. I am sick, as we struggle a lot. We will be able to earn a living with the money. We can then also afford to buy and not steal the wood anymore.”
(mother of five):
“We don’t have anything – not even maize meal. I have nothing to support my two sick children. I will use the money to buy food and send them to kindergarten.
Max and Elizabeth Smith (jobless parents of nine):
“There are no jobs and we are always looking for small jobs to do. We will use the grant for food, clothes and school fees”
(shebeen-owner with 12 children:
“I am very happy they’ve decided to give the grants. It will uplift my clients who are very poor. Many times I have written off their debts because they cannot afford to pay.”
“Problems here do not come to an end. There are no projects – nothing to earn us money. We will see what we can do with this money.”