By Engel Nawatiseb
Life has never been fair for 32-year old Ernst Khaebeb of Soweto Township in Nomtsoub. He and many others such as Gerson //Umub (45) and Alfons Useb (45) were seemingly born to brave the challenges of poverty and hunger since childhood.
Most of them have never been formally employed but have looked to the refuse-dumping site for employment, where no qualification is required.
They stream to the site on a daily basis, hoping to land their hands on fresh food to ease pangs of hunger in their stomachs.
The industries trading in fresh produce keep the food on the shelves only to dispose when rotten or expired.
For Khaebeb and his peers, the dumped food is heartily appreciated because it is only at the dumpsite that such an offer is ever forthcoming. So precious it could be at times to swallow a semi-decomposed product just to suppress the pain in one’s agonised abdomen.
When he (Khaebeb) walks through Soweto and Nomtsoub to beat the rest and be the first to arrive at the site, the only thing that matters is to relieve the pain in his stomach, but if late, he loses out to early comers.
If he loses out on the rotten foodstuffs that means the whole chain –
children, wife, mother, grandparents – would spend the night on empty stomachs.
Together with his mother and family, Khaebeb live in a shack dwelling in Soweto, the oldest township at the copper town, since his birth.
“I am devastated, haven’t I suffered enough? Why me? I ask God what I have done to deserve such punishment.”
Khaebeb describes his role as the sole breadwinner for his household as a challenging task considering his situation.
“It is very rare and occasional to come across eatable stuff here. Most of the food is not fit for human consumption. At least adults around here are able, through experience, to distinguish between expired and eatable products,” said Khaebeb.
Khaebeb said he does not mind adults trying their luck at the dumpsite, not children because they stand the risk of eating expired food.
He appealed to parents to ensure that their children do not frequent the dumpsite due to the health risks that they could be exposed to.
“I do not say this out of jealousy, we do not have time here to watch and train children on the selection of consumables. Parents should come and search for food to help their children, as we are doing the same under difficult circumstances.”
//Umub is another regular at the refuse-dumping site. Unemployment forced him into such a life.
Khaebeb and Useb collect scrap metal at the dumpsite for re-sell to scrap metal dealers at the town.
They generate an average of N$100 a day per person depending on the weight of the scrap parcel on the scale.
“We are calling this site the battle of the fittest. You do not survive unless you are very observant and able to spot the “big fish” first. We eat together with baboons. We don’t speak the same language but we don’t fight each other, there is peace among us just like the peace that the rest of the citizens in the country enjoy. We are, however, ready to leave the site behind for them (baboons) if we can find jobs elsewhere. Most of our people are operating here against their will,” Khaebeb said.
He says each day differs from the previous one in the search for food and other useful collections such as metal pieces and clothes.
The food reaches the target groups at home on a lucky day but sometimes it is only enough to feed the “breadwinner”.
Ironically, however, Khaebeb says, the scrap metal and clothing can find their way back at the dumpsite if misplaced at the township and collected by municipal refuse collectors.
“Sometimes, we recognise them and take them back home, confron-ting our wives and children for wasted effort. We possess special skills of identifying what belonged to you at first sight and in that event colleagues unhesitatingly return such goods to you. That is the kind of peaceful collaboration that I earlier related to.”
Khaebeb told New Era that the community ran out of patience at promises made about investors coming to establish employment-creating factories such as the Italian initiative involving Aquaculture and Hydropronics.
He added that such projects are long overdue, but the Government has not shown any commitment.
The elderly people who cannot walk to the dumpsite and women are tasked to look after the family while the husband is engaged in his “part-time job” to bring food to the table at the end of the day.
“Why do people like us have to suffer like that, when the population of this country is so small and not too demanding to maintain unlike other countries that are overcrowded yet their economies can sustain them?”