Struggle for shack fire victims

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Eveline de Klerk

Walvis Bay-Kuisebmond shack fire victims Hambeleni Nakale and Amalia Shidiwe are traumatised and severely stressed out following a recent shack fire that left them and others at the mercy of good Samaritans.

Nakale, a mother of two children, and Shidiwe the parent to a single child, are both unemployed.

They both make a living as vendors to support their school-going children. Recently they paid the price for living in shacks built with highly flammable materials, which resulted in them losing everything.

The two are currently trying to rebuild their lives and shacks after they lost all their belongings in a fire that destroyed 13 backyard shacks and left 30 people homeless on January 14 in Kuisebmond in Walvis Bay.

Nakale who hails from the Ohangwena Region, but moved to the coast five years ago for greener pastures, told New Era she and her two children slept for almost two weeks in the open, along with everyone else who also lost their belongings in the fire.

“We have been rebuilding our shacks since last week, but it is very hard to sleep in it.  We are scared that another fire might break out and we will be trapped inside. I fear for my safety and that of my children. I don’t have a problem living in a shack, but it’s the fear of fires that scares me to death, so much so that I can’t sleep at all,” said a visibly distraught Nakale.

It cost Nakale about N$3 000 to rebuild her shack, which is a tiny room she has to use for cooking and sleeping as well.  She still has to pay for the labour.

“As long as we have a roof over our heads,” she said.
Nakale explained she was assisted by family and friends to rebuild her shack from scratch.

“However, I still have to get the basics we need for our everyday lives. If only I could get a little plot or house for me and my children,” she said.

She explained that her children’s uniforms and stationery were also destroyed during the fire, but thanks to the Walvis Bay Municipality and Erongo Red they received new stationery and uniforms and are back in school.

According to Shidiwe, who is originally from Oshakati but has been living in Walvis Bay for the past seven years, she is more concerned about their deplorable living conditions which are a huge health risk, especially for the children.

“We are not allowed to use the bathroom inside the house and are using an open drain for bathing and as a toilet. We were told to move if we don’t like our living conditions here. But what we can do if we don’t have anywhere to go?”

She explained that they do not want to live like that but are forced by their circumstances.

“It’s definitely not by choice but due to the situation and circumstances we find ourselves in. That is why we really want the government, our councillors and municipalities to work hard and come up with a solution that can solve our situation as well. Until then we are dreaming of one day owning a house just like many others,” she said.

According to information availed by the Erongo Rural Constituency office at Walvis Bab, 141 shacks burnt down at Walvis Bay from November 18, 2016 to January 14, 2017. Which left more than 300 people homeless including 48 children. To rebuild their shacks collectively cost victims roughly N$700 000.

The mayor of Walvis Bay, Wilfred Immanuel, said that Namibians are currently living in a society of extreme poverty versus extreme wealth.

“We all know that the most vulnerable members of our community live in informal hosing structures and often suffer the brutal and undignified effects of shack fires. Ideally there should be no shacks, but the reality dictates a different picture,” he said.

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