By Charles Tjatindi
The award-winning Tutaleni housing project in Walvis Bay, which is the brainchild of the Walvis Bay Municipality, is at the centre of a row between residents of this informal settlement and the municipality.
The housing project was initiated by the Walvis Bay Municipality in an effort to curb the growing number of shacks at the town, a concept that earned the municipality the coveted Dubai Award for Best Practices in 2002.
The project involves the construction of low-budget housing units on open land, now commonly referred to as Tutaleni. The units are then allocated to former shack dwellers in the community.
The chronology of events however depicts a seemingly total deviation by both residents and the municipality from the initial modest aim of the housing project. Pitted on one side are angry residents, who are irate at not having the power to purchase their houses, but shall merely remain tenants as per municipal stipulation. Residents allege that the municipality never made them aware of this condition and are adamant that the municipality wants to intentionally prohibit them from owning property.
At an emotionally charged gathering last Sunday, where residents convened to share their concerns, it was evident that the residents were not giving up on their demands to purchase current units despite the municipality’s insistence that such properties are not for sale.
What appeared to aggravate the situation is the municipality’s warning of evictions of those either owing rental charges or for contravention of clauses in the agreement.
One resident noted that she now faces eviction from her Tutaleni unit after she got married and moved to her husband’s house in Kuisebmond. She claims she left her unit for her children, saying the house in Kuisebmond was too small to accommodate all of them. To her surprise, she related, she was issued with a month’s eviction notice last Friday to voluntarily vacate the Tutaleni premises or face forced removal.
Her daughter, Liisa Haipinge, related the story to New Era: “My mother is currently in the north. Myself and some of my siblings are the ones staying at the Tutaleni house at the moment. I just received a notice addressed to my mother that we should vacate the house in a month’s time, because our mother is married and has another house. The letter said we do not need the Tutaleni house anymore.”
A property clerk at the Walvis Bay Municipality’s Community and Economic Development Department, Gustav Garincha Nyau, dismissed as untrue the residents’ stories. Nyau, who has been working on the Tutaleni housing project since its inception in 2002, said residents were informed that acquisition of the units was on a lease contract, and not “ownership contract”, as they claim.
“Residents signed a normal lease agreement. There is nothing sinister about our operations. They signed a lease agreement, thereby agreeing to lease the property and pay rent to the municipality. There is no mention of them having an option to buy the property,” he said.
Nyau explained that allowing residents to purchase their property would defeat the purpose of the initiative because the project aims at assisting those that are not well off and cannot afford other forms of decent housing.
That is why, said Nyau, residents are encouraged to give up their property once they have secured alternative accommodation or are in a better position to do so.
“The idea is to provide accommodation to people who are really in need of it. If you find another house, you should give up your Tutaleni unit so that we can give it to the next deserving resident in line,” noted Nyau.
According to Nyau, some residents are subletting their units. This contravenes the lease agreement. Clause 5 of the lease agreement, which is in possession of New Era, states: “The lessee shall not transfer this agreement nor may the property or part thereof be subleased.”
“The specific case of the married lady now staying in Kuisebmond with her husband is one such example of people subletting property. It is not her children staying there – we made an inspection. Her rental account with us also has outstanding arrears, yet she sublets the Tutaleni property and pockets the money herself,” he said.
Committees have been established by the Tutaleni residents to address the issue with the municipality since 2003. Memos of meetings held between the municipality and these committees in New Era’s possession confirm the issue of buying the units has been raised with no solution. Interestingly, once efforts to convince the municipality to sell off the units fail, such committee fades into oblivion, before another new committee comes up.
Although part of Tutaleni’s aim was to eliminate the shack problem at Walvis Bay, residents renting these units have now constructed shacks around their units to cash in on them. The municipality disapproves this practice.
Residents remain convinced that they are entitled to purchase their units and have vowed to continue with their demands. The municipality on the other hand has issued notices to those with outstanding rental charges and other contraventions to vacate their property.
Tutaleni has 1 093 residential erven divided amongst families of approximately four people per household.