While most of Namibia’s population of over two million is known to still live in rural areas, the movement of people from rural areas to urban centres is a reality that cannot be ignored.
According to the 2011 Namibia Population and Housing Census Basic Report, the majority of people, 57 percent, live in rural areas, compared to 67 percent in 2001, as per census that year, while the number of people living in urban areas increased from 33 percent in 2001 to 43 percent in 2011.Looking at this statistics, it is evident that more and more people are moving from rural areas to urban areas, and the //Kharas region is no exception, as people migrate to town for various reasons.
From some of those who have moved from their villages to urban centres, it is clear the intention is to get a better living, as many believe they have a better chance of getting an income in town than in the village. Andreas Swartz (27) is originally from Koes, and after failing Grade 10 in 2016, he remained in Koes but due to the lack of job opportunities he decided to move to Keetmanshoop hoping of getting a job. He says opportunities at his village are limited, especially for young people like him who did not perform well at school. He adds that after failing Grade 10 he just sat idly at home, his only job being helping with household chores. In the village even casual work for a day is hard to come by.
This situation, Swartz says, prompted him to move to Keetmanshoop last year, where he stays with his uncle although he is not entirely happy with urban life. But he is at least able to earn a little income doing casual jobs from time to time, and he is hopeful that he can land a permanent job soon. “It is not good, but it is better than staying at the village. Here I am called for casual work almost every week but back home I would sit at home doing nothing for the whole month, there are no jobs, those few ones that work do not even ask us to work for them, even cleaning their yards,” he says.
Swartz thinks although government has done a lot to develop rural areas, not much has been done to bring about social and economic change to rural areas, as there are no big factories or other big institutions where rural folks can be employed. “The only opportunity we have for jobs is the schools, or in the police force, and the few supermarkets and shebeens there, but this cannot accommodate all of us, so we are left with an option of working at the nearest farms where we are usually paid little, so we prefer to move to towns,” he states.
Keetmanshoop Rural Constituency Councillor, Elias !Kharuxab, in his State of the Constituency Address earlier this year, described the rural scenario perfectly, saying the area remains one of the poorest in the //Kharas region, as farming remains the main activity that residents can get an income from but only few are able to. He says many people remain unemployed, or dependent on government grants, while those that work on farms are paid low wages that can barely sustain them. “The majority of inhabitants are still left out of the economic mainstream, approximately 80 percent of our inhabitants are unemployed, with young people topping the list,” he says.
!Kharuxab adds that the few who are employed are mostly government employees, which mostly include teachers and police officers, while those who work on farms can barely make ends meet as they fail to sustain themselves and their families due to low wages. Annamarie Blokstaan 32, a resident of Aroab, who has been living in Keetmanshoop for the last two years concurs with the councillor’s statement, saying there is not much to do in the rural areas, as job opportunities are rare, especially for those without qualifications. She describes her life at Aroab as that of waking up, doing household chores and hanging around shebeens, without doing something productive.
Blokstaan says like her, many young women either work in the few local shops, babysit or do domestic work to earn a little income. But she adds that the opportunities are few as there are few people one can work for and the number of unemployed people far outstrips the available opportunities. She adds that lack of entertainment facilities is also a problem, as unemployed young people are left to wonder what to do to keep themselves busy with and hence, some turn to social evils such as drugs.
“Even getting domestic work there is difficult, there is not much to do, especially for young people and thus many resort to alcohol to keep themselves busy,” she says. Blokstaan who works as a domestic worker says the town is better as there are more opportunities. Back in Aroab, she would sit at home for up to seven months or more without getting a simple babysitting job, but in town she barely sits at home even after quitting several jobs to seek for better work.
Many of the people say although the government has built schools, clinics and brought some services to rural areas, much is yet to be done, especially in terms of economic empowerment, saying the lack of economic opportunities is driving many from the rural areas to towns. While many see urban areas as greener pastures, there is another side of this coin, as migration means local authorities are left with many people to provide basic services to, while informal settlements are set up overnight. As most of those coming to towns do not have a place to stay or cannot afford to rent or buy houses.
Keetmanshoop mayor, Gaudentia Kröhne, says while the municipality wishes the situation was different, the reality is that more and more people keep flocking into the town and as a result informal structures are set up overnight. Then it is left up to the municipality to provide services to these people, who in most cases stay in un-serviced areas. “Urbanisation is really a problem, it is a challenge and the municipality will now have to find ways and means to cater for these people, and this puts a strain on our already limited resources” she says. Kröhne is of the opinion that not much has been done to improve rural areas and make them as attractive as possible, adding that developing rural areas will ensure that people do not move to urban areas as is the case currently.
She urges regional councillors to work hard to bring development to their rural areas, by creating employment opportunities and bringing necessary services to the people adding that rural folks must not sit idle and wait for someone to make things happen for them. Rather they should be organised and come up with innovative ideas, which can create economic opportunities for them in their respective areas, which will then mean that they never have to move to seek for opportunities elsewhere.