Shack demolitions by the City of Windhoek
By Asser Ntinda
Only people who are not sensitive and humane enough would celebrate and rejoice at the demolition
of informal shelters in Windhoek and elsewhere in the country. The past few weeks have not been
particularly good. For many people, seeing shelters being destroyed by bulldozers commanded by
the City of Windhoek, armed with a High Court interdict, was indeed very inhuman.
Yes, we agree that there should be orderly development strategies, weighed and measured against
the City's capacity to provide services to such outlying communities. But using bulldozers to ravage
to the ground shelters which once were roofs over their heads is a poor decision that lacks moral
values and compassion.
True, laws are made to maintain order and ensure public safety. Laws, too, have an inherent
moral responsibility to ensure human rights and dignity - protected and guaranteed by the Constitution
of the Republic of Namibia. The Constitution is the supreme law of the country.
Any law that cannot withstand the test and moral responsibility of the Constitution with regard to
human rights can, once challenged, easily be rubbished and discarded. There are many legal precedents
one can cite to prove this point.
People have rights. The government has a sacred obligation towards the people, to "secure to all
our citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity." The Constitution says "all power shall vest in the
people of Namibia," who should democratically elect their leaders, and through their leaders, "exercise
More than that, and perhaps most importantly, Chapter Three of the Constitution has entrenched
and guaranteed fundamental human rights and freedoms, among them the "right to life and respect
for human dignity." The Constitution says "respect for human dignity shall be inviolable." What has
so far happened in Oshakati, Ongwediva, and now in Windhoek violates such sacred constitutional
True, laws are made to be obeyed. But every law has a moral element which - when exercised in
good faith and when such an exercise has no multiplier effects to cause public disorder and threaten
public safety - invariably acknowledges that laws are not cast in stones. That moral element calls for
dialogue to understand why a particular person behaves and acts the way he/she does.
The mash-rooming of squatters and their shelters in and around every town in the country is an
issue of concern. But demolishing them, without any degree of sensitivity, is no solution either. Examining
and understanding the causes which lead people to ignore municipal ordinances and build
their shelters anywhere has the productive potential to midwife a long-lasting answer.
Land prices have soared. Few people, especially the poor, can afford to buy land in any municipal
area these days. The pace at which local authorities address this issue is pathetic. The backlog is huge
and growing. For every serviced plot found in any municipal area and reserved for the poor, there
are a hundred rich people queuing up for it - and the wealthy business men and women manipulating
greedy municipal officials to kick out the poor from the list - for a dollar.
In this case, the needs of the poor are not addressed. The poor become poorer, and the rich richer.
Whether we like it or not, this is the practice which has led people to invade un-serviced land. This,
too, is what has led to a widening gap between policy formulation and policy implementation, a
trend that worries President Hifikepunye Pohamba, and which he also aptly tackled in his speech
when he recently addressed permanent secretaries.
The poor become soft targets. The richer get away with it. In short, the solution to illegal squatting
lies in exposing these malpractices. It is in this context that one should look at and examine the
current process of demolishing shacks and shelters of people in informal settlements, illegal as they
may be. An orderly process that preserves the human dignity is required.
These people have got children who regard such shelters as their home. Imagine a seven-year old
boy or girl coming back from school only to find that what she once called home has been ravaged to
the ground. Maybe her last dream in that shelter was that she would one day become an engineer.
She finds her mother helplessly weeping, with police on standby ready to enforce the order, should
any attempt be made to rebuild that shelter.
The negative psychological effect on that child will form and frame that child's outlook on and
about the world around her. Last year, government launched the Targeted Intervention Programme
for Employment Creation and Economic Growth, TIPEEG to, amongst others, create jobs and
build houses for the poor.
About N$9 billion was set aside for those projects in the last Financial Year. That money was
released from the Treasury and allocated to various ministries and government agencies for implementation.
When the Financial Year ended last March, over N$7 billion went back to the Treasury,
People know and see these things.TIPEEG is a public document. When people wake up from their
shelters only to hear that so much money has gone back to the Treasury unspent, they probably
think that their elected representatives do not care about their plight.
As NPC Director General, Cde Tom Alweendo, once put it, these people had high expectations,
and when they see so much money going back to the Treasury, they feel let down by their elected
representatives. Such frustrations can compel people to do what they have done.
These are some of the gaps between policy formulation and policy implementation that President
Hifikepunye Pohamba referred to when he addressed permanent secretaries recently. We must
admit that we have also been found wanting when it comes to implementing government policies
and programmes. We should equally demonstrate a high degree of compassion when our people
behave the way they do.
By ravaging shelters, we are fixing symptoms, not the causes. We should not go for short quick
fixes. We should go for long-term solutions, which have an inherent guarantee for stability. Let us
admit that people out there are frustrated and hopeless. Frustrations and hopelessness cannot be
solved by eviction orders. You can have all the police at your disposal, but as long as you address
symptoms, you are bound to fail.
Ask those people how they feel when they see money - released to address their plight - going back
to the Treasury unspent. There is nothing more depressing than being homeless. With rising costs,
high unemployment, falling wages and banks not willing to lend money in rural areas, the situation
looks more like a super tanker heading for an iceberg.
With land degradation in rural areas and soaring land prices in towns, we must acknowledge that
for the poor and the unemployed, squatting is becoming a way of life. TIPEEG may offer solutions,
but the snail's pace at which it is moving is very depressing. Our moral responsibility lies in devising
workable strategies and programmes not only to address the plight of the people, but also to protect
their rights and preserve their dignity.
The sense that they lack a permanent home is already depressing enough. Moving in with bulldozers
is disgusting and despicable. Those people did not choose to be what they are today. Circumstances
beyond their control have forced them to be what they are. They have no choice. Theirs is a
Hobson's choice. Blaming them is as good as blaming people with disabilities. Only decayed morals
will rejoice at that. Those people, poor as they are, have landed SWAPO Party unreserved landslide
victories over the years. They need our unreserved and unmeasured compassion to help them cope,
not bulldozers and police officers to destroy what they regard as their homes. People need roofs over
their heads to raise their children in. That is a right, not a luxury.
When you, as leaders, watch the Eight O'clock TV news at night, seeing those shelters being
demolished and helpless women pleading for help not to demolish what they call their only homes,
do you, in your heart of hearts, go to bed and pray that the day has ended well? Pause for a minute
and think about the plight of those souls. You may be the solution.