Gobabis mayor Elvire Theron is relatively not a household name in local politics. The councillor, who is serving on a Nudo ticket, however carries a massive weight of expectation, including proving doubting Thomases wrong. New Era’s Kuzeeko Tjitemisa caught up with her this week.
KT: It is almost three months now since you were elected as the mayor of Gobabis. How are you finding your new role?
EV: The new role is very exciting; I am glad that I was given an opportunity to serve my community in this capacity. Being a catalyst for real change is rewarding as I grew up in Gobabis. I have seen Gobabis through different seasons during decades. I have a passion for the people of this town and development is key to building a lasting legacy.
My vision for transformation would require every colleague and resident to play an integral part by taking up their civic responsibility towards Gobabis. It is important to note that transformation is a process and not an overnight change, however some changes are only a decision away. Pro-activity is of cardinal importance as there is a lot to be done in a short time. Rome was not built in one day, but we can build Rome every day.
KT: Now that you are the mayor of Gobabis, what are you planning to do economically, socially and politically, to make Gobabis, one of the top towns in the country?
EV: Whatever we need to make Gobabis one of the top towns in Namibia is within Gobabis. We need to discover our internal potential in this town, however we should also be open to outside investors. We should engage and put our heads together to rebuild this town. Everyone counts! We have current and retired experts in different fields in this town. Creating committees where experts can share their expertise, while involving the businessmen and women of the town to raise their ideas and giving them a platform to grow the town economically. Since we are Cattle Country it is important to see how we can produce different products from cattle that can be exported nationwide and beyond borders. Gobabis is situated very strategically in terms of the Trans-Kalahari Highway. With that being said Gobabis serves as a gateway to Botswana and other parts of Africa. Building a truck port can generate a lot of income for the town as many trucks pass by through the town. Also, making sure that our local youth get the priority of being employed in town can grow the local economy. Cutting down long processes to start new business in town will have a positive rapid effect on the local economy. Inviting and embracing investors will contribute towards economic growth. We should not just shoot investors off but be open-minded and see the economic growth it can bring to the town. It should never be what is in it for me? It should always be what is in it for the town?
We have many social challenges that need to be addressed. The street kids issue is a great concern and there are a few homeless people that can be taken better care of. There is no local psychologist in town and many young people are struggling with emotional issues. The social workers are really overloaded with community issues. Drug and alcohol abuse is one of our community challenges and it leads to gender-based violence. We must have rehab facilities available and deal with our community in a holistic manner. Educational programmes can be offered for social uplifment and capacity building. Recreational activities is a great challenge as there is not much a young person can do in their leisure time. We have to look into how we can keep our youth engaged in a productive manner as well making the necessary room for them to make a difference in the community. The voice as well as the involvement of the youth should come out loud and clear as we reform, rebrand and rebuild Gobabis. I am looking at creating an investor-friendly and attractive town for job creation through policy interventions, a clean environment and transparency. I am also looking at closer interaction with and the involvement of the community in council programmes, especially the youth and the business community, in order to foster understanding and cooperation. Our town has a deep-rooted culture of polarisation and victimisation along political lines. I want to positively engender the mentality that we can all work together for the better future of all of us. I want to take hands, share the stage with all and be inclusive of all residents of Gobabis.
KT: I know that as a mayor, you have many plans for your residents. Which are the most important ones?
EV: Top on the list of my plans are affordable land and housing, job facilitation and placement schemes to match young jobseekers, youth capacity building programmes, service delivery, agriculture programmes and debt relief for the poor; these and many more are among my top priorities.
KT: Can you elaborate on how ordinary citizens of Gobabis can help you realise your dream of a town where everyone enjoys a decent quality of life?
EV: As mentioned before every resident is very important to the dream. When everybody takes responsibility, we can definitely turn Gobabis into the Eastern Jewel as per our strategic plan. Being open towards the ideas, concerns, advice of the community is important as we all should share the same common goal of transformation. Transparency is key when engaging with the community and service delivery will produce effectiveness. When people understand and share your vision, they start reacting positively and patiently. I plead for patience from the community side. We are trying to transform minds and behaviour and turn around a negative culture that is cemented over many years, and a town without significant development for many years. If people choose dialogue and engagement over public protests and marching, we can do so much more.
KT: How do you plan to eliminate corruption and nepotism within the municipality that have been the talk of the town for many years?
EV: In short, through ‘internal transformation’, transparency, clear and simple policies, segregation of duties, review organisational structure, strict enforcement of policies and regulations, regular staff engagement and sensitisation.
KT: How do you plan to deal with issues of poor service delivery and lack of housing at the town?
EV: An organisational change is needed which will influence the organisational structure and cultural change. Proper supervision is a key to prompt service delivery. Each department must come on board with the goal of providing proper service to the community. We as a newly elected council share the same sentiment of prompt service delivery and we will make sure where we need to speed up processes to improve on our services. We are already in the process to conduct land audits where undeveloped plots will be repossessed by the municipality. It will be made available to new possible buyers. With the flexible land tenure system title deeds will be given to people living in the informal settlements. They can have the opportunity to have ownership in order to develop their houses. Servicing of erven is a priority, however we need to see how the community can play a role in achieving this goal in terms of manpower. We as a council are also looking at re-engineering of business processes in order to shorten turnaround times. We are also looking at staff training as a motivation.
KT: Good governance at any level requires the strong support of residents. To get this support, what values, policies and virtues do you espouse in your own town and what programmes do you have (or are planning to have) to apply them?
EV: Inclusivity and recognition of the diverse society in which we live. No one must feel left out and discriminated against. Positive attitudes rub off on others and snowball into more people changing. Get positive cluster groups in the community who can influence others, especially the youth and work with these groups on a regular basis. Cultural groups, prayer groups, sports groups, women groups, etc. Inculcate a culture of hard work, involvement and appreciation, as opposed to handouts and entitlement.
KT: There are many child beggars in the streets of Gobabis. How do you propose to help them?
EV: There are already established and active stakeholders addressing this problem, like the ministry of gender, office of the governor, schools and NGOs. My office will consult and engage these stakeholders to see how we can complement and strengthen their efforts.
KT: Your town, Gobabis is widely regarded as one of the least developed towns in the country as far as the creation of jobs and industries are concerned. What kind of economic and social developments can we expect in the town under your mayorship?
EV: We have to utilise the competitive advantage that our town holds, and through deliberate policies and improved service delivery encourage long-term investments that will create jobs. We have ample land for both affordable housing and agricultural projects, a strong cattle farming industry, proximity to an international airport, and strategic location along the Trans-Kalahari Highway, among others.
KT: I understand the municipality has plans to transform or formalise the Informal settlements of Kannan A, B, and C. How do they want to implement low-cost housing programmes at these settlements?
EV: Well, Kanaan A and B are already formalised and Kanaan C is in the process. However, there are still many challenges like new arrivals almost daily into the informal settlements, illegal land occupations, multiple landowners, and some people who refuse to cooperate with the formalisation programme. Gobabis is one of three pilot sites (Windhoek and Oshakati are others) where the Flexible Land Tenure System has been introduced. Through this system people in the informal settlements can easily and cheaply obtain title to the land they occupy and start construction of formal and low-income houses. Council is planning to roll out a brick-making project involving the youth in order to create jobs while availing building material at affordable prices to residents of informal settlements.
KT: Anything else you can add?
EV: You are talking of three months in office but official council business actually only started three weeks ago due to the festive break and thereafter induction workshops for councillors. We know that expectations are high, and we promise to do our best. But in all fairness, some of our predecessors had more than 20 years to decide on their preferred policies and influence development. Five years is a short time in comparison but there will definitely be visible transformation and development. Finally, we ask for community cooperation in achieving this dream.