Lack of decent housing continues to be one of the most contentious issues in the country, while living in shacks has become a way of life for most people in rural areas and on the outskirts of urban areas. However, the cost of living in a shack continues to escalate as even rental fees for these makeshift dwellings continue to rise unabated.
Speaking to residents of 8ste Laan on the outskirts of Windhoek it became evident that location and access to basic amenities such as electricity and water can exponentially increase the cost of renting a shack. While some shacks can be rented for as little as N$300 a month, this figure can go as high as N$2 000 a month depending on how close it is to a main road and if the shack has its own sanitation, water and electricity services.
“Renting of shacks makes us unhappy as a community. If people don’t own the property then there is not much they can do to improve their living conditions,” said National Facilitator of the Shack Dwellers Federation, Edith Mbanga. She added that shack dwellers can be afforded some dignity if they are provided an opportunity to develop the plots on which they stay. “Upgrading committees must be established to work in conjunction with the City of Windhoek. The city should take the example of the Gobabis Municipality that recently embarked on informal settlement upgrading in consultation with the people who actually live in these informal settlements,” said Mbanga.
Even the construction of a shack can be difficult for lower income groups. Milka Baisako, who lives in a one-bedroom shack in Havana informal settlement together with her husband and three children, says she had to spend at least N$3 000 just to erect the makeshift dwelling. “I paid N$1 500 for the material and had to pay someone another N$1 500 to build the shack,” she explained. However, with no electricity or water, Baisako says living in a shack is not easy. “It is very difficult because in winter it is very cold. In summer it is very hot and when it is windy there is dust everywhere in the shack,” she narrated.
While government’s ambitious mass housing initiative aims to deliver 187 000 houses by 2030, this programme is still currently on hold and is expected to resume sometime in the near future. Government still remains committed to the provision of decent housing for all and has welcomed pledges from the business sector to assist workers in obtaining housing.
In addition, part of President Hage Geingob’s Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) aims to construct 20 000 new houses nationwide, develop 26 000 new residential plots and 50 000 rural toilets to eliminate the bucket system by 2017.
According to the National Household Income and Expenditure Survey of 2009/10 (NHIES), some regions such as Ohangwena, Omusati, Kavango East, Kavango West and Zambezi are more affected and will be prioritised. Poor sanitation is also a problem in rapidly urbanising areas such as Windhoek and Swakopmund, and the HPP will prioritise these areas. It is expected that part of the sanitation challenge will also be taken care of under the HPP’s land servicing and housing programme.
The private sector, in particular the banking sector has also agreed to increasingly direct its corporate social responsibility to housing for the poorest. In this connection, in conjunction with the Shack Dwellers Federation an initial target of 500 low income houses is set for completion by March 2017 and will be escalated on an annual basis thereafter.