Windhoek – Out of sight from the busy Clemence Kapuuo Street at the residence of the late OvaHerero paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako are scores of makeshift tents.
These tents accommodate destitute former South West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF) and Koevoet soldiers and their families in Katutura Central.
The group travelled to Windhoek from Opuwo in Kunene Region and have been camping at Commando since last year in protest of government’s refusal to recognize them as war veterans – an honour that would have seen them receive a war veteran grant.
There are over 100 tents and about 1,000 people living inside the yard.
Several tents are ironically erected inside the main house and there is an elder who placed his tent inside the bathroom of the main house.
Overall, during a visit to the camp last week, inhabitants complained of hunger and expressed disappointment in government’s failure to take care of them.
The residence has no electricity and no running water. The group fetches water across the street from the Nudo office.
Their representative body the Namibian War Veterans Trust (Namvet) provided them with two portable toilets that are used by both men and women.
It was a Friday morning when New Era visited the site and the first encounter was with a Himba woman Riakoua Ngombe with a Swapo Party cloth wrapped around her one wrist.
Ngombe and others from Omaapa village in Ruacana Constituency postponed their trip to the Swapo offices where they wanted to go register their problems they face back in Opuwo as party members, when they heard the reporter was visiting that morning.
She sits on the ground under a tree outside the yard complaining of hunger as she chews on pods that she collected in the riverbed.
She explained the hunger at the camp forces her to resort to eating wild seeds.
Asked how they survive at the camp, Ngombe responds, “How am I surviving if I am eating these?” as she takes the seeds from a plastic bag placed on the ground.
“I spend the day in the riverbed looking for these seeds,” said the mother of eight school-going children. Ngombe said although she has reached pensionable age, she is left with
“nothing” from the pension as they send money home and to her children at school. She adds that she also sends the wild seeds to Ruanca for her children to have something to eat.
When asked how long she plans to stay in Windhoek, Ngombe said she would stay as long as she can.
“If I die, I die. If I survive, I survive. I will see what government will do for us,” stated Ngombe, adding that the pathetic living conditions are the same as where she came from.
She said the few goats she once had had died from the drought, adding that they don’t get drought relief aid.
“The reason we came here is because of hunger. Our children are hungry back home. We are hungry and our cattle are hungry. Some tribes, especially Hereros and Himbas, are being left behind. Can’t you see how we look?” she responded to a question.
Another person in her company said they collect discarded cow bones or bones trashed by some households which they re-cook to make sauce and feed their children.
The reporter proceeds inside the yard and a forest of tents greets her.
Everybody is going about their own business. Two men help stir a big iron container of animal fat on the open fire, which they will consume once ready.
As the reporter makes her way past the crowded tents, an old man is still sleeping in his tent but wakes up when he hears people talking.
The reporter greets and asks him if he is fine. “I am weak from hunger. I haven’t eaten today. I just ate a bit yesterday,” responds Kavari Uamburua.
The reporter gets called to look at a man who has scaly hands and feet. He does not know what condition he is suffering from. The 48-year-old Kaipiririke Tjiveze who has to visit the hospital for follow-ups complained that it is difficult to do so as he does not have taxi money.
“If I call the ambulance I am told I have to pay N$800. I already have no food. The porridge doesn’t have oil and salt and I am ill and need to eat nutritious food,” said Tjiveze who recently collapsed at the camp.
Namvet chairperson Jabulani Ndeunyema told New Era their members complain of hunger because they only eat once a day.
“The situation we find ourselves in is beyond politics. You see they only eat once a day. Our money we use is almost finished. We depend on good Samaritans’ donations and elders who are getting their pension. Those who gets pension contribute N$130 per month for food,” said Ndeunyema.
He said there are about 200 pensioners in the camp, adding that OvaHerero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro sends them food every month.
Visitors from churches and different organizations all stated that the situation in the camp is beyond politics, he said.
According to Ndeunyema, since last year they have spent N$255 750 to feed people. He said they spend about N$750 per day to buy food, which comprises of a 50kg bag of maize meal, packets of soup and 10kg of sugar. He explained that they have no choice but to only feed the people plain packet soup and pap as it is cheaper than other food.
He stated that the majority of former fighters need help from the government because it is not for them to camp in that manner and for them to eat once a day.
“What do you think goes through their minds when they go sleep? Their intestines make sounds when they sleep on empty stomachs. What do you think they are thinking? They think that death and poverty are the same.”
However, Ndeunyema stated that even if their money is almost finished they will not surrender. “People who understand our cause will help us. We will not give up.”
Furthermore, he said Namvet had a meeting with President Geingob in November last year and things do not look bad. He added that they are waiting for government to invite them again for meetings this week.
Ndeunyema invites former SWATF and Koevoet members to make sure they are registered with Namvet as the organization need to give government an exact number of its members.