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Home / Govt agencies ‘chicken out’ on homeless...’us we are not responsible’

Govt agencies ‘chicken out’ on homeless...’us we are not responsible’

2022-07-22  Loide Jason

Govt agencies ‘chicken out’ on homeless...’us we are not responsible’

The weathered skin on the face of Brenda Bock twitches as she narates her story. Despite a lifetime of hardship, she is hopeful for a better life, and that she could one day live with all her children.

Bock, a mother of three, has been on the streets since she was 16 years old. She is now 38. She has not seen her 22-year-old daughter for 20 years.

Relatively swift action by an array of government institutions saw homeless people moved to the Katutura Youth Complex and the Khomasdal Stadium in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19.

Bock is one of 900 homeless women, men and children who were rounded up by the government to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Windhoek. They were taken to these temporary tented centres to stay for the duration of the lockdown. 

Although it’s not perfect, they’ve since called the stadium ‘home’.

But there’s a growing sense of despair. Bock and her fellow Khomasdal Stadium occupants feel they’ve been abandoned.

Things can turn ugly quite quickly. When New Era visited the scene, the blood was still fresh on the ground. Last Sunday, one of the inhabitants stabbed and killed another. Fights break out regularly, and drug and alcohol abuse are rife.

“When we first arrived, they made us feel like we are also people, and that we don’t belong on the streets. We are here for three years now. When we arrived, I thought we would have a better chance or a better life. Maybe stay for a bit or get a bit of living space, or even just a government cleaning job,” she narrated.

“From here, where to?” she asked rhetorically as she stared over the tents.

“It’s so cold that dew runs down the side of the tent. The blankets are already thin. When they get wet, it makes them even colder,” said a worried Bock.

It seems none of the agencies involved in their placement at the stadium would take responsibility for their future wellbeing. The homeless people’s fear is fueled by the end of Covid-19 restrictions, as announced by government last Friday. 

The government institutions who brought them there are now sending the residents and media from pillar to post, passing enquiries from one institution to the next.

The key stakeholders in the rounding-up and moving of the homeless people were the ministries of health, defence, agriculture, urban development, gender equality as well as the Khomas Regional Council (KRC) and the City of Windhoek (CoW).

Health executive director Ben Nangombe said the ministry was only involved at the beginning of the sanctioned Covid-19 lockdown, and left the responsibility in the hands of the urban development ministry.

“I think you must ask the urban development ministry. We are no longer involved with those people at all,” he stated. The urban development ministry’s spokesperson Etuna Shikalepo referred New Era to the CoW, saying they are the ones
dealing with the people directly. However, the CoW’s communications manager Harold Akwenye said they are only responsible for allocating temporary shelter.

“Us, we are not responsible. We were approached to assess them, and make temporary arrangements for accommodation. Our responsibility was just to provide accommodation, and nothing else. We identified the Khomasdal Stadium to accommodate them for the said period,” he noted. 

Akwenye stressed that the responsibility for the homeless is with government. 

“We are just dealing with land,
and we gave them temporary land to be accommodated. However, talks are on the table to identify land
where these people will be accommodated permanently,” he continued.

The chief regional officer at the KRC, Clement Mafwila, also said the regional council was only approached after the people were already rounded up to distribute food that was kept by the health ministry, donated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

“We were not part of those who were responsible and moved those people. Those people were moved to Khomasdal under the CoW, and to the Youth Complex under the youth ministry. We were only approached to distribute food as a regional government through the constituency offices.

We were just responding to feed them with food from the OPM. We are not responsible for them. Even the food we were distributing was managed by the health ministry before they chickened out. We do
not have land to accommodate
them,” he stressed.

However, Mafwila said a post-Covid-19 strategy meeting was convened to discuss the current situation of the people.

“In that meeting, several issues were discussed between all stakeholders, including the health ministry. It was thus resolved that the group of ex-Koevoet members be repatriated back to the places where they came from. Defence and agriculture came in regarding transport issues, and we were again responsible for food parcels for
those who were willing to transport them,” he explained.

The gender equality ministry and the CoW were responsible for documenting the stadium
occupants for possible opportunities.

“We agreed to focus on the main group that was first moved there, as there are now a lot of people staying there who were not part of the original squad. That is where the land issues and social grants for
those who qualified came in. That is why those two entities are responsible,” he observed.

The last meeting regarding the homeless resolved that the CoW identifies land for the permanent resettlement of the people, but they have not convened another meeting after that. “Maybe they are still looking for land to accommodate them. Gender equality was busy registering them for social benefits, so I don’t know how far they are
with that process,” Mafwila added.

Queries sent to the gender equality ministry’s public relations officer Lukas Haufiku were not answered
at the time of going to print, and calls to him also proved futile as his number was not reachable.

The inhabitants now say they do not know where they belong, as they no longer see the presence of those who brought them to the site. They have also not received ‘Harambee food parcels’, as food bank beneficiaries no longer receive food, but a cash grant. 

Bock maintained that “they made us fill in forms identifying our skills and needs, but we never got feedback.”

While food used to be distributed regularly by different stakeholders, it has also become scarce.

“For those of us who are sickly with HIV or TB, there isn’t even a bit of instant porridge. I have informed the doctors, because you cannot take those pills on an empty stomach. They are very strong.

We are holding on though; we have no other way…” said Bock.

2022-07-22  Loide Jason

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