A People Left to Rot

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By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

OTJINENE

Left to rot. Used, abused and dumped. This is how one could aptly describe the situation of Koos Marenga, a 100 years- plus old pensioner, who is literally rotting away in his shack at the informal settlement here.

Home-bound by age and infirmity – a condition worsened by lack of means – the only means being the Government pension allowance, which he also hardly sees, let alone benefit from in any sense, Marenga had had little to eat the day New Era visited the settlement. The only thing he tangibly could attest to getting from his pension allowance is a 10-kg bag of maize meal. The rest of the money disappears into thin air with those who collect it on his behalf.

New Era learnt of a syndicate of young people, presumably close relatives or children of these pensioners, timing the payout each month, collecting the allowance, buying one or two basics items and then disappearing with the rest of the allowance. This is the lot of Marenga, for how long, no one knows. His situation is but only a glimpse into the man-made fate of the San community here, about 30 or so.

New Era also came face to face with Willem Tsomkao, cooking a fistful-measure of maize on the fire in a cup. This would be their only meal for the day. Where the next day’s meal would come from was not only a puzzle to Tsomkao but also a disconcerting and discomforting prospect.

From this, one would say that the San community here is living a day-to-day existence. Not at all as this would have been the case if there are prospects for the next day. For the San people here such a prospect is from zero to nil. It is days, sometimes months, before the sun shines on them.

In this age of scarce rain, wild fruit is even proving a futile endeavour. Tsomkao had on this particular day just returned from the forest to look for wild fruit. But for how long can Tsomkao survive on wild fruit?

“Hunger is our weakness. When you set out to do something you cannot because you are weak because of hunger,” comments Tsomkao who admits to having been reduced to a life of a pauper having to beg for food from his neighbours – most of them equally do not have much to offer. This is besides scavenging for wild fruit that at times takes a day in the forest with the children along.

Not that it has been all doom and gloom among the San community here. Courtesy of the Ongendo Development Trust that provided seeds, the community briefly engaged in cultivating the land.

However, man-made fate reared its head again when the local government office that has been the source of water for this agricultural initiative cut off this important water supply line. Thus yields from this project were below par and had already run out with a single pumpkin just about to be served as lunch, among one of the households of this community the time New Era visited the settlement.

Where and when the next meal for this household would come from is anybody’s guess.

Lack of water is today among the pressing problems of this community that goes about its daily life begging for water, among others. It is close to a year or so after the community here registered for food rations from the Government through the office of the Otjinene constituency councillor here, but the commodity still remains unheard of. Only the authority itself knows what happened to the registration process and the much-awaited food aid.

One of the San community members here is also a beneficiary/participant in the revolving animal (goats) husbandry scheme but the big question before him is how he can supply his goats with water in view of the fact that he has no other income? Add to the poverty, hunger and squalor, the community is in erratic access to such amenities as health care, and you have a community that is near to extinction with the periodic interventions of the Ongendo Development Trust (ODT) providing but a temporary reprieve. One such reprieve has been their relocation to the current informal settlement on the outskirts of Otjinene from the centre of the village where they had been living under crowded conditions. According to Max Kao, a San plumber at the local government office here, five children succumbed in 2004 as a result of the overcrowded conditions.

The other hope was the cultivation project for which the ODT provided seeds and negotiated for water with the local government office. But due to budgetary constraints of this office, the flicker of light the cultivation of land seemed to provide seems to have been dimmed, at least for now and until when, remains a big question. Even water for domestic use is a struggle with them having to walk miles to siphon water leaking from the local State clinic about half a kilometre away.

Yes, the war has not been won yet with a good contingent of San children in schools and school hostels here.
A soup kitchen caters for 10 of the San children.

A clay house where especially the infirm San elders could be housed under one roof is in the pipeline. Attempts at keeping some of the children of this community is proving an uphill task in view of the fact that nurseries are community institutions here with the community complaining that it cannot afford to keep these children in these nurseries.

Among the offices that have been approached for assistance is none other than the Office of the Prime Minister, especially with regard to the resettlement of this community.

The ODT is still awaiting a response from this office. Most worrying to Kao and fellows are their children roaming around bars here and falling prey to sexual predators from outside on gold digging expeditions for the Devil’s Claw.

Reportedly because of the San children’s contact with these foreign elements some have tested HIV-positive.

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