Unaffordable, decongested tool sheds

The government has launched an ill-advised decongestion plan. This plan is supposed to curb COVID-19 infections by moving some people out of the overpopulated tin shack suburbs. Human beings are supposed to be shoved into these quickly built, un-serviced structures that are little more than large tool sheds. Now, we learn that there is no money to continue building them – the ‘emergency’ decongestion plan is without funds.

The minister of rural and urban housing has sent a letter to local authorities. He is asking them to find money to take up the decongestion project on top of finding land to build them on. Of course, municipalities have no money for this project unless something else is defunded.

How was a program to ‘decongest’ peri-urban areas for pandemic prevention started without funds to finish it? Is this a demand of the ministry of health foisted upon the ministry of rural and urban housing? Are we witnessing passive aggressive bureaucratic push back?

De-populating impoverished shanty towns is a humane housing goal, regardless of a pandemic. But, Namibia has failed to provide low cost or government subsidized housing at any time in the country’s history. For lack of political will before and after independence, the task has been left largely unattended.

Building proper affordable homes has not been a priority. The Mass Housing Project fell flat. Government chose any number of billion dollar projects to fund instead of housing. There have been major scandals that diverted billions in state funds that could have been spent on housing. Now, with the supposed ‘need’ for decongestion to battle the pandemic, there is no money left for it.

It is unfair to thrust the national government’s decision about ‘decongestion’ onto the municipalities. If local authorities were supposed to pay for it, then they should have been present when the decision was taken. The ministry of finance should have attacked all budgets to find money for this supposed emergency housing plan. If there was still not enough, then the project should have been scrapped.

If building these structures is such an emergency, then cut it from civil service salaries for next month. That should be enough to finish the cheap ‘houses’.

Here is the real Waterloo with the entire decongestion program. There is no housing plan approved by engineers and structural experts. There is no regulated occupancy plan. How many people are allowed to live in each space per square meter according to existing regulations? Who will pay to move these people to the new locations? Where will they find running water so they can regularly wash their hands?

There is no legal framework regarding ownership of the structures or liability for accidents. Are there checks-and-balances when the keys are handed out or will officials give house keys to friends?

Quickly-built cheap houses will fall apart in short order. Who pays for repairs? Who supervises each development to slow down intentional destruction?

Will people receiving the structures, move back to the tin shack suburbs and then, rent out the new places to earn income? What stops others from migrating to peri-urban areas and simply re-occupying the decongested space? The constitution allows free movement. So, what is the plan?

What is the sanitation and waste removal plan; other health issues can flare-up. Where is the safety and security plan or shall more women and girls be raped as they wash and relieve themselves in the open?

Will the structures be registered to an individual? If there is a registration, will the usual sexism prevail and only men will benefit? Female-headed households must be empowered first.

What is the plan for when families break down or the person to whom the house is registered is dies? What are the domicile rights for all who live in a property?

We ignore these major questions at our peril. The entire decongestion project is a class action law suit in the making.

We urge the government to scrap the decongestion plan before it blows up even further. In any event, the disease is already loose in the general population of the areas where the decongestion structures are to be built.

The government announced its shift in the pandemic tactics to serving those infected. There is now emphasis on protecting our heroic healthcare workers. People are encouraged to maintain the preventative measures that are possible. Until there is a vaccine, unaffordable, decongestion tool sheds make no sense.

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