Drought in the Kunene Region has not spared the Ovahimba people, who are forced to abandon their villages with high hopes of finding greener pastures in Opuwo. However, they get a rude awakening when they realise that life in Opuwo is just as hard as it is in their respective villages.
“To be honest with you, the livelihood of the Ovahimba people is a very difficult one,” says Muauaije Tjambiru, who was visiting his mother-in-law, Kauzupo Tjavara, at the Katutura informal settlement in Opuwo.
New Era visited the family last Friday where Tjambiru and Tjavara related how the drought has affected the family particularly, and the Ovahimba in general.
These semi-nomads live destitute lives with nobody to depend on now that the drought is posing serious threats to their livestock and field crops.
“Look at where these people are living,” Tjambiru tells this reporter.
Tjavara and her extended family recently moved to live near a maize field belonging to a relative in Katutura informal settlement. Tjavara, who hails from Okauua village in the Epupa Constituency, says the drought has forced her to relocate to Opuwo, as she literally goes for days without eating anything.
The old woman, who does not know her age, says, “We were registered to receive drought relief many years ago but until now we did not receive anything.”
She explains that the Ovahimba generally live as a large family unit, sometimes consisting of as many as 45 people. “We are 16 people living here together,” she says. A bag of 50 kg of maize meal only lasts them two days because large families have to eat from a single bag, Tjambiru and Tjavara explain.
Tjavara and her family have to walk a distance of about 600 metres to fetch water. “We pay 50 cents for water. It does not matter whether it’s a big or small container. If we don’t have then we are stranded and in that case we have no choice but to get dirty water. Three days can even go by without us eating anything. So in that case we just drink water. Some people go around asking for food. But who will I ask for help here in Opuwo?” she narrates.
Tjambiru, a young Himba man who has embraced modernity, is rather disturbed by the living conditions of his people.
He accuses councillors of generally doing little to attend to their needs.
“Look at this grass and the mosquitoes and this is where these people sleep so you can imagine their risk of getting malaria,” he says.
The drought has really affected the Ovahimba people, Tjambiru says. “Some people moved from their villages to come and survive here because they do not have anything to live for in the villages but even here they are struggling to survive,” Tjambiru remarks.
His dejected mother-in-law intervenes: “Look at me. I am dying of hunger. We live here because we are poor. We don’t even have livestock. I am dying of hunger.”
Tjambiru continues to explain the reason these semi-nomads have been deserting their home villages. “There are no shops at the villages where these people come from. Even a pensioner will find it hard to survive in a village because of the drought. Even if they have money there are no shops to buy maize there,” Tjambiru explains, before attending to his ringing cellphone.
His partner, the only surviving daughter of Tjavara, silently attends to their three-year-old daughter, who is crying during this interview. “I’m afraid my child will contract malaria from here,” Tjambiru’s partner says.
After attending to his phone call, Tjambiru explains that there are no roads in most of the remote villages where these people come from.
“People are now running away from death by coming to Opuwo where they can access health services and other basic services,” says Tjambiru.
He adds, “When they fall sick there are no motor vehicles or people to transport them to Opuwo to seek medical attention. As a result, they prefer to live in town where they can access basic services on time rather than dying in the villages where there are no clinics.”
Tjavara stresses that even the monthly pension grant is not enough to cushion them from the ravaging effects of the present drought.
“We are hungry. We don’t get maize meal, cooking oil or fish. We are really starving,” she said. When asked if she knows the pension grant has now been increased to N$1 000, Tjavara says, “We don’t know that the pension increased to N$1 000, we will see if it’s true.” This reporter then assures her that the pension grant has indeed increased.
“What can I say if that is what we are given. It’s okay, it’s not really enough but a beggar cannot be a chooser,” she replies when asked how she feels about the pension increase.
“The councillors don’t announce important and urgent information for the people to know some of these things and so the people are left in the dark with no information on how they can help themselves with the provision the state has for them,” adds Tjambiru.
Ovahimba are generally uneducated people, Tjambiru remarks.
“They don’t even know which is the best season to plant crops so that they yield the desired results,” he adds.
“They (Tjavara) just plant even now that winter is approaching and we are not expecting any rain,” Tjambiru adds. Tjavara interjects, “We are planting because of the hunger and we don’t know how else to survive.”
Meanwhile, the Governor of the Kunene Region, Angelika Muharukua, says she will contact the Office of the Prime Minister for assistance, as the drought in the region is a “serious one”.
“We have four years without any rain,” (sic), Muharukua says, adding that not everybody in the region gets drought relief food.
“They only give a few people like the old people and pregnant women, which is not good because how will the rest of the people survive?” Muharukua remarks.
The Executive Director of the Hizetjitwa Indigenous People’s Organisation (HIPO), Tjikunda Kulunga, says the most common problem that the minority groups such as the Ovahimba are faced with is the long distances they have to walk in order to get water. These people are all farmers so they are faced with grazing problems, Kulunga adds.
Their livestock and field crops are affected by the drought, he says.
“If their livestock are lean that affects their prices and hence the buying power. When it does not rain they are faced with extreme hunger and poverty because they sell their corn and they also consume it,” Kulunga notes. When the Ovahimba visit Opuwo to seek services, they often set up tents in public because they do not have houses where they can stay.
“They will not waste their money to pay on the luxury of a guesthouse,” says Kulunga.