Many pensioners whose monthly government pension grant is often the only income in their households, are struggling to feed themselves and their families. To ease their burden, Dordabis pensioners have resorted to taking food on credit, plunging them into a deeper debt hole.
Following good rains, the Disaster Risk Management Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) suspended the distribution of drought relief food that helped the households with basic food items and stretched the pension grant a bit. As pensioners were queuing up to receive their grants recently, debt collectors were lingering to collect the money that pensioners owed them.
The OPM and the Khomas Regional Council both absolved themselves from any responsibility for the issue. Dordabis resident Wilbard Shuutameka told New Era last week that their situation is desperate.
“Food has become expensive, and we cannot afford to buy enough with our grant as we also need to buy cosmetics and support our grandchildren. I took 25kg maize meal, cooking oil and canned fish, and I now owe the debtors N$500 that I will give today,” he lamented.
In the past when food was distributed by the government, they were only buying cosmetics and settling a few needs, but now the situation has become critical. Another pensioner, who refused to give her name and who owed N$300, explained that she has five people in her household who depend on her N$1 300 monthly grant. “With all those people at home, food gets finished before the next payday, which is why we end up taking on credit to survive,” she stated. Another Dordabis pensioner said she opted to take food on credit because she does not want her grandchildren to steal because of hunger.
The executive director in the OPM, I-Ben Nashandi, explained that the drought relief distribution was suspended in March last year as everyone had a good opportunity to grow food, based on the good rains received.
“The programme was suspended countrywide last year, and we have no food to distribute. But the government has other support in place, based on the vulnerability of the people,” he added.
“The regional council is supposed to conduct assessments on the vulnerability of those people, as some of them have more dependents. The council needs to register them and determine the way forward, based on the assessment results,” he reiterated.
Approached for comment, Windhoek Rural constituency councillor Piet Adams said the drought relief was only distributed when President Hage Geingob declared drought as an emergency. It was stopped when Namibia received above-average rainfall.
“I am not the one who stopped the food distribution, and I will consult the regional council to present the situation to see how we can help the pensioners. We are encouraging our people to develop backyard gardens. It is important, and we need to do it for food security,” he noted.
Oscar Hiskia, the Khomas region’s disaster and emergency field coordinator, said the drought relief programme ended in March 2020, and the region has no food to assist those in need.
“The region has no food. We were helping the people with the donations we received, but now there is no single donation at the council,” he added.
Rinaani Musutua of the Economic and Social Justice Trust said the only solution to the problem is to implement the unconditional Basic Income Grant (BIG) that has been scientifically validated to be by far the most efficient step towards reducing poverty and inequality.
“An unconditional BIG will also help relieve pensioners and poorly-paid working Namibians from the African trap of having to financially support unemployed family members in order for them to start investing in their own future and escape generational poverty. The UN recommends the implementation of BIG to encourage people to also stay home to curb the spread of Covid-19,” she observed.
“One could easily say that the entire population is in need. Two-thirds of the Namibian population live below the poverty line, of whom 800 000 are stressed about where to get their next meal. Namibians are poorly paid, as 75% - 80% of the population earn less than N$1 400 per month. Namibia is among the countries in the world with the highest living expenses, as Windhoek is 34% more expensive than Cape Town in South Africa. BIG has been scientifically proven by the Otjivero BIG pilot project and many other international studies to be by far the fastest and most cost-efficient way through which to reduce poverty and inequality, which is a prerequisite for economic development for any given nation”, Musutua stressed, adding that the food bank initiative was not sustainable.
“We cannot rely on the food bank as it has failed at reducing poverty, inequality or hunger amongst the two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line. There is no evidence on what impact the food bank has had on poor Namibians. A person who says they do not understand the universal BIG concept has a vested interest, or is happy with the levels of poverty and inequality in order to maintain the lavish lifestyle of the rich, the ruling elite and their cronies.”
Geingob cautioned the nation in July against the universal BIG. Answering questions on whether the government had the capacity to implement the BIG project, he said the economy is already reeling from the depression, and it made no sense for a BIG to cater for everyone, even if the government had funds. During his state of the nation address in April, Geingob said the ongoing food bank initiative, marginalised grant and feeding scheme would instead be consolidated into a modified basic income grant, “with clear eligibility criteria to determine qualifying beneficiaries.”