Windhoek-Government’s failure to make use of all its unoccupied houses in Windhoek has attracted homeless people, some of whom were found selling drugs during a police operation this week.
The police inspected several houses around Windhoek, some of which are privately owned, but the majority of which are government property and are being used as shelter by the homeless.
Worn-out beds, pots, baby cots and piles of blankets and clothes had been moved by the illegal tenants into these properties.
One particular house along Robert Mugabe Avenue shelters about 20 adults, who illegally occupy the property.
Most of them come from rural parts of the country and have an array of stories to share as to why they ended up living there. The dilapidated large house is in close proximity to a school and offices and accommodates, amongst others, a 59-year-old man, who said he was homeless.
During a police operation at the house in question, the police arrested one 26-year-old and a 34-year-old man after they were found in possession of 15 mandrax tablets. One tablet has a street value of N$60.
Police Inspector Christina van Dunem Fonsech wants government to do something about the situation, as these occupants could create a much bigger problem if left unchecked.
“If they don’t want to use it they must give it to people. Let people buy, or rent it out to people, because these unoccupied houses are bringing problems in town. You have seen how people are scattered in that house and sell drugs,” remarked a concerned Fonsech.
The police on their part have tried to address the problem by evicting and chasing the squatters away, but to no avail, as the homeless keep coming back.
Fonsech said the Ministry of Works and Transport must either fence off the houses or deploy security guards.
An illegal occupant at one of the houses along Robert Mugabe Avenue, 59-year-old John-Hendrik Cloete, said had been living on the streets since he was released from prison in 1999. With nowhere to go Cloete and his son decided to occupy one of the vacant houses.
He said he was in prison for various crimes, such as housebreaking, shoplifting and attempted murder.
“When I came out of prison my people (both parents) had passed on and I had nowhere to go. I was in and out of prison since 1976 until 1999,” stated Cloete, who has also been unable to obtain the necessary national identity documents.
After his release from prison, Cloete said, he developed a drinking problem, but he kicked the habit after he became epileptic.
“I go to church every Sunday at Pastor Kisting’s church. I also get food there,” he responded when asked where he gets food to eat.
He said he also gets food from a fellow housemate, who goes to collect food from dustbins and shares it with Cloete and his son.
“I didn’t expect my life to turn out this way. I have no other way. I try not to think about it,” he said.
While the police were searching the house they chanced upon one Adriaano William Diergaardt, aged 37, in the company of his girlfriend, Charlene van Wyk, who were apparently smoking a cannabis joint, which the two hastily discarded when they saw the police approach them where they sat in a secluded area with a strong stench of dirt and human waste enveloping them.
When asked why they lived there, Diergaardt said: “It’s life that pushes us to these boundaries. We have family. We don’t deny that, but we can’t cope (living with them). They have other perceptions of us, which doesn’t go with the life we live,” replied Diergaardt, who left school in Grade 11.
He has been living on the streets for 16 years and said he dropped out of school because every other month he was in prison.
He now goes to a nearby mall every morning to collect fruit and clothing that he sells in town. He then uses the money for his sustenance.
Van Wyk, who hails from Keetmanshoop, told New Era she came to Windhoek in search of employment after her contract at a restaurant at the southern town ended.
She found domestic work for two days in Khomasdal and was paid N$100 per day.
Van Wyk rewrote her Grade 10 exams through Namcol and obtained 24 points, but could not continue her studies, as no one would pay her school fees.
Diergaardt and van Wyk both said they did not want to live there forever: “We want to move out, but don’t know how or where to go.”
Ministry of Works and Transport permanent secretary Willem Goeiemann said he was aware of unused government property being illegally occupied by the city’s homeless and jobless.
Goeiemann said they have no mandate to evict illegal occupants, but there a plan was developed with the assistance of the attorney general’s office and the police to address the issue. He said sometimes they call directly on the police to evict illegal occupants.
Regarding the house along Robert Mugabe Avenue, Goeiemann said that particular house had been reported to him, adding that the house was due for demolition as the premises were earmarked for new offices for former president Hifikepunye Pohamba.