Birthing makeshift settlements in Namibian cities

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As long as the rural-urban migration continues to not only exist but also spiral out of control as seems the current case, and inequalities in society in general manifest, we shall have in our seemingly affluent society backwaters of poverty and squalor.

More than anything else, makeshift housing structures – a result of that migration – are indeed a fact of the socio-economic situation we find ourselves in, characterised by high unemployment. It is an unpalatable factor that even among those earning an income, the reality, given the cost of living today, is that few people, especially those at the blunt end of the socio-economic ladder of our economic dis-equilibrium, can afford any decent shelter. It is a hard reality in today’s independent and free Namibia, that even among our uniformed men and women, the police, army, prison service, as well as teachers, and other civil servants at the lower end of the skewed and exploitative income regime, few can afford a house. Thus, besides for the reality of urban influx that has been condemning many to a pitiful state of existence with many of them fated to makeshift housing structures in cities, towns and settlements, there is also the hard reality of income inequalities and disparities.

Many of those living in such structures, whether some may want to believe it or not, are not necessarily economic migrants from our rural backwaters but working people who simply cannot afford decent houses.

The only decent houses they can afford are the makeshift houses made from all kinds of materials they have been able to assemble. While this is the reality, the official attitude seems that makeshift housing structures are much a nuisance rather a genuine housing need. While the housing/accommodation need in the country has time and time again been accentuated, and the acuteness of housing in the country is well known, more often than not the response to practically address the matter has many a time seemed just transient. Meaning the issue receives attention at one particular time, like immediately amidst demolition actions by one or other local authority, only for the matter to disappear into thin air before resurfacing again after yet another demolition.
The hard reality is that between one demolition and another, it is not as if the root cause has been addressed. Any single demolition, let alone hundreds of them for that matter, can and would ideally be expected to solve the real problem of the acute shortage of housing that our cities and towns are bedeviled with.

The problem needs a real sustained frontal attack. The mass housing project raised so many expectations that the housing problem of the poor would eventually be addressed. Such expectations have to this day not even been met a fraction. Whatever may have happened to this project is a million dollar question. Then came the Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement, which temporarily seemed to have put the issue of shelter on the national agenda. Only to be seem to be losing down the line.

One understands that law enforcement agencies like the City of Windhoek police need to enforce the law as it pertains to illegal squatting as if squatting can in any sense be legal. But any law is not in a vacuum but is meant to address a given problem in a given socio-economic situation and context and epoch. The mushrooming of squatter settlements in the City of Windhoek, as may be the case in any other town, is not without socio-economic realities and conditions giving rise to their existence. Some of these realities and conditions have already been enumerated above. Thus law enforcement agencies must be conscious of such socio-economic conditions and realities when enforcing the law. As much, the mothers and fathers of our cities and towns must and should equally be conscious of the laws that they make.

As much as such laws must equally be accompanied by conscious and conscientious efforts to ameliorate the plight of those against whom such laws are made and directed at. It is meaningless to ban squatting without not understanding the underlying factors of squatting. And without also dutifully striving at alleviating such conditions.

One can appreciate the efforts of the City of Windhoek in lessening the plight of the landless and shelter-less. But for one to appreciate such efforts, no less the landless and shelter-less, efforts at ameliorating homelessness and lack and shortage of shelter must be implemented with equal dedication, resolve, vigour, robustness and appropriation of the requisite resources in the same way the law enforcement agencies of cities and towns seem to be plunging on the houses of the houseless for being illegal squatting structures.

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