Since the much-trumpeted deal between the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement and the government, things have gone relatively quiet, leaving one wondering whether this may perhaps be the ominous sign of yet another project doomed to failure. This was only a thought that occurred to me.
The thought had hardly subsided when the AR group expressed the same concern this week, given their perception that the process is going too slowly. Or alternatively, if this is not just another calm before the storm, as the realisation about the scale of the project sets in, combined with the scurrying for funds to service the envisaged 200 000 plots – while the hopes of those hopeful to get a plot start fading away, giving way to fears of a trust betrayed, yet again.
Yet one cannot but appreciate that despite the apparent quietude, some work has been going on to clear land. But therein exactly lies the worry: what comes after the land clearance?
The next important step after clearing the land (and one cannot but hail the youth who volunteered their services in this respect) is the real business of servicing the cleared land. Clearing the land was only a beginning, and the easiest and most straightforward of the tasks.
Now that it is done and dusted, as it seems, the next step – and by no means a negligible and unimportant one – is the actual servicing of this land. Local authorities seem hesitant to provide the necessary funds in this regard, not to mention that they may genuinely not have such funds.
But from where should such funding come? Where should the local authorities expect such funds to come from? That is the million-dollar question. Not only this, but somehow the servicing of land seems a matter that rarely enjoys priority in most, if not all, local authority councils, with the exception of Henties Bay Town Council that went on record last year as being on course in terms of servicing residential erven.
The servicing of land is essentially the function and duty of local authorities. There is no doubt in terms of the Local Authorities Act of 1992 that indeed the powers, duties, functions, rights and obligations of local authorities include the supply of water, under which falls the construction of water works, sewerage and drainage, and the construction of streets, all of which fall, or may fall, under the definition of land servicing.
Regarding the provision of housing, the Act empowers municipalities to establish housing schemes, as well as housing funds. But while the provision of housing in cities and towns is partly the obligation of local authorities most, if not all, local authorities seem over the past 25 years to have grossly neglected their duties in this regard, if they have not completely forgotten about and discarded it.
This would partially explain the huge housing backlog (said to be in excess of 120 000 units) that our towns and cities have experienced since Independence, coupled of course with the cumulative effect of urbanisation since 1990.
According to the 1991 Housing and Population Census urban Namibia was growing at a rate of 3.75% per year. While urbanisation is normally associated with economic growth, in Namibia it was shown to be due to push factors from the rural areas, such as the retrenchment of farm workers.
According to the 1995 Municipal Census, Windhoek was growing at a rate of 5.44% with 3.92% of the recorded growth attributable to in-migration. Windhoek had a population of 147 000 in 1991 and today has a population of about 300 000, meaning that over the last 20 years or so the city’s population has more than doubled.
There’s little indication that this rapid expansion is subsiding, or that it has been commensurate with economic growth in the capital. During the said period there is also little evidence that in terms of housing provision the City has been doing very much, even if only in terms of servicing land for housing developers to construct housing projects, however minimal.
The 1991 Census showed a backlog of about 35 770 housing units, but in view of the fact that the city’s population has since doubled, and in view of the problems of rapid urbanisation and other contributing factors, the housing need is a stark reality that requires urgent intervention, politically and otherwise.
The problem is much more far-reaching and deep-rooted than the recent deal with the AR, which seems to have been hatched in haste, and to which vigorous planning must be afforded to make it not only responsive to the current urban land hunger and the existing housing crisis, but sustainable in the long-term, because the prevailing crisis is far from being a transient one.