OTJIWARONGO - Many people in Otjiwarongo still flock to the dumpsite outside town to forage for food in order to survive.
Years ago, the municipality stopped residents from scavenging on the site after a child was run over by a municipal truck.
Shelencial Gaeses, a mother of five, is one of many foraging for food, scrap metals and empty recyclable bottles daily.
Carrying a baby on her back, wrapped in a dusty brown blanket, she is accompanied by her seven-year-old daughter.
The mountain of steaming trash of Otjiwarongo dumpsite stretches as far as the eye can see. A dark cloud of flies hover over decaying vegetables, rags, plastic and metal objects deemed useless to residents. Hundreds of men and women riffle through the rubbish to find their treasure.
According to the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), more than 43.3% of the country’s population lives in multidimensional poverty. The incidence of multidimensional poverty is higher among female-headed households (with a rate of 46%) than male-headed households (with a rate of 41%).
When New Era arrived, foragers were loading their bags with aluminium tins, glass bottles and plastics of every variety.
Gaeses and her daughter wade through and tiptoe over the heaps collecting whatever useful material they could eat or sell to recyclers.
She said life is hard for her and she can only eat if she comes to the dumping site.
Her daughter dropped out of school earlier this year after she was evicted from a shack as an illegal settler in the informal settlement. She is now moved to the outskirts of town and cannot afford transport to take her daughter to school.
“I’m coming here for almost 10 years now and have been surviving from here. I sell metal objects to scrap yards and last year, I decided to collect the plastic bottles to supplement the N$30 I get from the metal things. All this is to pay my rent and support my children,” she explained.
A frail-looking woman dragging and trying to hold onto a tattered green bag, which was flapping against the wind caught the attention of the New Era crew. She doesn’t want to give her name.
The woman, covered in dust, says she’s been scavenging at the dumpsite for only two months. Having left her family in the northern parts of the country, she came to Otjiwarongo in search of better opportunities. She is unemployed and hasn’t reached the age to receive a pension grant.
The woman also makes about N$30 from the bag of plastic bottles she collects.
“It helps to buy bread and body lotion,” she said as she shrugged. Having no other means of income, she and others come to the dumpsite as early as 06h00 and leave late in the afternoon.
Another scavenger, Penoshinge Hafeni said she lost her job due to the Covid-19 pandemic and because of a lack of job opportunities, she is now making a living from collecting plastic bottles, old clothes and discarded food.
“This is not the best option ever but you have to come here because one has no other option and you need to eat. Some days I make N$200 to N$300 a day. But this is not the life I want. I want to go to school and do something better. I want baking skills or any other skills that enable me to start my business and be an independent woman,” she said while the Otjiwarongo constituency councillor Marlene Mbakera listened.
Hafeni said if a training opportunity is offered to her, she will grab it with both hands and prove her ability to whoever comes to her aid.
Councillor Mbakera reportedly took some children to school but they dropped out of school to come back to the dumpsite for survival. Some have made it a part-time job to help their parents collect more bottles so that they will have sufficient food to eat at home.
Simeon Negumbo said he has been scavenging for food at the dumpsite for the past five years, as he has no food to eat. The 17-year-old said he is a street kid who grew up with no parents.
“If I did not find food here. I will sleep on an empty stomach. The dumping site is a 24-hour business and business is booming,” said the boy covered in dusty worn-out clothes.
He said the councillor used to provide them with one meal a month, which cannot keep them away from the dumpsite.
However, another scavenger told us that the only solution to their problem is employment and nothing else.
Mbakera, who accompanied New Era to the site, said it is always a heartbreaking scene, every time when she comes back from the dumpsite, the image doesn’t fade away.
“It sticks in your mind. The biggest worry is that the number of scavengers is increasing daily. There are different organisations that feed them, including my office and that of the governor, but that’s just a meal for a day and they return just the day after,” she said
The councillor indicated that with the help from the nearby mines, they also give dry food once in a while.
“There are different categories of people here, including children who don’t want to go to school. There are those I have enrolled myself in school but they left school and are back. According to them, school is tough. There are those that are there because of unemployment and those that have given up and decided their lives are just fine here. There is nothing we can do,” she said.
“I have started profiling some young ladies. There are grade 10 dropouts, those that lost jobs due to Covid, and those that have never worked. I am busy engaging shop, and restaurant owners to secure employment for them. There are those that have indicated they want to work as domestic workers, through different platforms I will engage the working class ladies.”
“I believe everyone deserves a second chance and there is a possibility of a happy ending for some. Unemployment causes hunger, and then comes poverty.”
“As a government, we need to start looking at practical solutions and stop talking. We are talking as if we embrace the situation. When opportunities are created, it sometimes benefits those that are already having something. We need to become practical,” she explained.