With its fire-prone reed houses, lack of decent toilet facilities and no potable water Aussenkehr continues to epitomise the abject living conditions of the poor in modern Namibia.
Despite being the heart of the Namibian grape industry with about 99 percent of grapes from Aussenkehr valley exported and employing 5 500 permanent and 6 000 part-time workers during the 2015 grape production season, residents say their living conditions are still deteriorating.
Residents New Era spoke to indicate that although there are job opportunities available for many, which provide them with some income, their social well-being has been neglected for too long.
With an estimated population of 30 000, which keeps increasing – especially during the harvesting season – poor sanitation, lack of housing and drinking water remains a huge concern.
Edward Haingura, 74, who came to the grape valley in 1981, is of the opinion that living conditions have deteriorated over the years due to the high influx of people. He points to the lack of toilet facilities as nothing new, but explains that using the bushes in the past was better than the present day, as back then residents could at least use the bushes without being exposed.
He calls the present day situation “shameful”, saying children often see their elders naked in the open areas, as there are no more bushes to hide behind, adding that the human waste and toiletpaper all over the open space is evidence that the situation is getting worse.
“In the past it was better, as there were bushes that people could go to when nature called, but all that has been cleared to make way for vineyards, so people just sit in the open areas” he said.
He adds that the lack of toilets poses a health hazard to many residents due to the human waste near the river that contaminates the untreated water that residents use for domestic purposes.
The pensioner further fumed over the fact that none of the residents have access to land, as it is privately owned, adding that residents are moved from place to place if the piece of land they live on is sold to private companies.
Another resident, Andreas Kambinda, 54, also bemoaned the poor sanitation and asked why companies are unwilling to assist their workers, who continue to live in such squalid conditions. He further asked how companies manage to set up proper toilet facilities in the vineyards for workers, but cannot set up public toilets for the residents, the majority of whom are their workers.
“They have toilets at their vineyards, because they have to protect their grapes, but what about after work? They don’t care at all,” he said.
Karasburg West Constituency Councillor Paulus Efraim concurred, saying sanitation and housing remain a huge problem at Aussenkehr, but he was quick to point out that government is hard at work to address the plight of the people.
He explained that for many years government could not bring any development or services to the area, as it is privately owned, but government has since managed to acquire a piece of land and with the area now declared a settlement, a smooth development process can follow.
On the housing issue, he stated that work to construct houses at the available 7 000 demarcated erven would start as soon as the water purification plant is completed, adding that grape companies are more than willing to build houses for their workers, although he was not specific about when this might happen.
“You can’t build houses without water, so construction can only start once the [water purification] plant is up and running,” he said. He, however, cautioned that this step is not an easy fix, as not all residents will be able to be accommodated in the town area immediately and thus called on people to be patient.