For starters, I do not condone illegal business activities in whatever form but however urge that certain decisions that touch and affect the previously disadvantaged populace be handled with extreme care and its desired sensitivity so as not to disrupt and disturb the social cohesion, peace and stability that the nation has been enjoying and striving to maintain since the dawn of its independence.
Before I continue, I would like at this juncture to acknowledge that the City of Windhoek does indeed have many problems and challenges, among them the many illegal car washes, illegal taxis roaming the streets as well as the many illegal shebeens that have but for many years created countless employment opportunities for many young people that have further contributed indirectly to the formal economy through the purchase of goods and services from which the Namibian Government derives its taxes.
I would also at this juncture want to assume that the City of Windhoek does also indirectly derive income from the payment of water fees and other related revenues from the abovementioned illegal sectors that are now being targeted as a result of their decision.
Going forward, the challenge of abruptly closing down any of the abovementioned sectors without any sustainable alternatives sends a very bad message of insensitivity towards the historic background of the country and its failure to create massive employment and formal business opportunities for the benefit of the masses. And if we are not very careful, the City Police could as an institution become an entity that is used for the implementation of socially and politically insensitive regressive actions against the masses to such an extent that it will be reminiscent of the Apartheid-era special forces that were used by the previous dispensation to harass the populace for the benefit of a few.
This decision to touch the very fibre that employs many young people without any significant alternative employment opportunities could be rather regressive in the short to medium term than it being progressive in the fight against rising crime rates, in the reduction of unemployment and poverty levels.
This decision has henceforth unleashed a pro-active and productive section of the residents that were self-employed unto the jungle of unemployment and could potentially contribute further to the already high criminal activities to the detrimental social well-being of the majority of residents of the City of Windhoek.
The creation of the City Police was with good intention to maintain law and order due to the then high crime rates but it is now going forward being used as an entity to harass innocent citizens who due to the harsh economic environment have found refuge in certain sectors that do not contribute to crime. This decision for the benefit of the few could potentially lead to the review of the role of the City Police vis-a-vis its relation towards law-abiding citizens.
The recent decision by the City of Windhoek through the City Police to close down illegal car washes is therefore highly inconsiderate and very insensitive to the socio-economic challenges of many of those that are directly affected. This ill-advised decision by the City of Windhoek based on the water shortage crisis absolutely holds no substance and is simply punishing innocent people who instead of turning to crime have found refuge in an industry that at least puts food on their table. The fact of the matter is that people will still find ways to wash their cars and the same quantity of water will still be used for that purpose. This socially selective injustice decision to disrupt the livelihoods of many young people at the beginning of the year hence strongly sends a very wrong message towards the very peace, harmony and stability that we have enjoyed and maintained for so long. The lame excuse of water shortage should hence not be blamed on the poor young people but on those who hold and control the national resources of the country to find a long term lasting solution to the water problems facing the city and the country at large.
The city authorities have for many years known about the number of unlicensed car washes in the city to such an extent that they have now mushroomed to uncontrollable levels. These developments are caused by an ever increasing population size of the city, the migration of citizens to the capital and the massive lack of employment opportunities and as an alternative found refuge in the creation and setting up of car washes for their economic survival. This type of business activity is closely aligned to the massive number of illegal shebeens and shacks in most part of Windhoek to an extent that a disruption in one sphere will directly have a negative impact on the social cohesion of the others.
With that said, certain major decisions that intend to close down many illegal business activities in the City of Windhoek that are being undertaken by the previously disadvantaged citizens should hence be handled with extreme care as the current economic and political environment of Namibia does not at the moment offer any concrete and sustainable alternative business activities or massive employment opportunities for the benefit of those that are directly affected. However, if the authorities decide to venture in the direction of closing down illegal business activities, they should then be consistent and without fear nor favour to anyone move forward to aggressively close down all illegal businesses.
I just hope that we are ready to deal with the consequences as we move towards an era whereby the previously oppressed become the oppressor.
• Pendapala Hangala is a Namibian Socio-Economist