Reports that Walvis Bay officials intend to use state funds to build cheap houses with no toilets, are concerning. Further statements fail to identify the materials that will be used to make these structures. This situation is alarming.

Such a building project must be reconsidered. Our people are not animals in a zoo and government funded houses must not resemble cages. The goal should not be to build something fast, but to efficiently build homes for families.

It is de-humanizing for government to build a place for human beings to live which, by design, has no toilet. Claims that the city will bring in portable toilets, “later” give new meaning to the term, ’empty promises.’

Even if these structures are completed, those living there will begin complaining from day one. When the wall cracks show, the roofs leak, the cheap fittings fall off, and people tire of relieving themselves in the surrounding areas, the complaints will pour in. Perhaps Hepatitis E or other poverty-related diseases will surge. The repairs that will likely be required on these quick fix ‘dwellings’ could end up being more costly than if a properly planned and serviced home was built in the first place.

Couples that split up will fight over who has the right to remain living there. Families will seek to cast out wives when their relatives who were husbands in such houses, die. Some will rent out those ‘homes’ and build tin shack rental hovels in the garden. There is huge legal quicksand for state-funded houses handed over in no vetted order, without enforceable rules, no structures for monitoring and unclear ownership contracts.

We will withdraw our criticism of the no-toilet homes if those who authorized building these cages, go live there. If such facilities are supposedly viable for others, then let those who espouse this, be the first to take up residence.

It is easy to say that “something is better than nothing” if you are not the one forced to take on the ‘something.’

There is substantial political pressure to ‘thin’ out the tin shack suburbs in COVID hotspots. This is in order to slow the spread of the pandemic. But, the construction of any kind of fast-track ‘dwelling’ is also normal political posturing.

Local and regional elections are set for November. There is pressure to show that those in power can ‘deliver’ and increase the ‘houses built’ statistics column. Campaign speeches will mention large numbers of houses that have been ‘built.’ These slapdash, no-toilet structures will be counted in that number. The push to ‘tick-the-boxes’ before the polls could be a strong impetus behind building anything and calling it a ‘house’.

We can and must do better. Consider a once-off reduction in the salaries of any official who thinks state-funded houses with no toilets is an acceptable idea. Then, use that money to pay an architect to design a simple, but well-built house. Poverty must never mean a loss of humanity. Government funds must not be used to build something that contradicts its own long-stated decent housing goals.

If quickly providing any sort of living space is the only goal, then take earth moving equipment and scoop out deep, wide holes in the ground. Then provide ladders for our people to climb down in the hole and live there. They will be socially-spaced. They can be given tarps to shade them from the sun. Certainly, that can be done very fast and very cheaply. Of course, right-thinking people would rebel at such an idea regardless of the pandemic or political aspirations. State funds must not be used for de-humanizing housing.

The fight for decent housing did not start with the Walvis Bay plan and it won’t end there. With the heavy influx of people to urban areas, free housing is in demand. But, that is exactly what cannot be provided. Namibia has no money or political will to build a free home for every citizen who wants one. It is time to admit that and adjust planning and expectations accordingly.

The old adage, “haste makes waste” is in full swing with this Walvis Bay housing plan. Whatever is built must not be made of materials that are chosen for cheap prices rather than durability. It is wrong to raise the people’s expectations and then step on them. It is dangerous to promise a starving man a nice, hot meal and only deliver a single stale brötchen.

Government funds must only be used for building decent houses for human beings to call home.