The Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia (SDFN) has reached a record 23 000 membership split among its 700 savings groups across the country and saved over N$25million which has enabled the construction of 5000 houses for its members to date. According to Co-Director of the SDFN Heinrich Amushila over 7000 shack dwellers now have land.
However, the battle continues to have it serviced for inhabitation. “Whenever we get land, we make sure to ask local authorities for unserviced land as it it cheaper for us to bring water and sewage services to our plots with the approval of those local authorities,” says Amushila.
Namibia has over 250 informal settlements occupied by 500 000 informal settlers, where the capital Windhoek has the largest number of informal settlements (24).
The SDFN was established in 1998 to advocate for the cause of the poor. To date it has received N$37.6m from central government since the year 2000 and has led shack dwellers to construct 1445 house through that funding.
“Quarterly we present our financials and account to the line Ministry of Urban and Rural Development (MURD),” says Anna Muller, Director of the Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG). Most Namibian shack dwellers are not formally employed but through the savings groups, they receive funding to start businesses where a small contribution goes back to the group to boost the financials of that group and enable money for land acquisition and construction of houses.
Money is kept in the savings group accounts of the members and becomes a home loan facility when it is issued to members on the provision of land.
This because many a Namibian bank do not provide home loan facilities to the low-income earners of Namibia due to affordability. One such shack dweller is Ronnie Romanda Hochobes, now promoted to Community Land Information Program Facilitator.
She says the federation is not just about houses and elevating people from shacks. “It’s a network of living conditions of the people. Sustainable housing development becomes one of the pillars, but our success lies in shack dwelling communities working together, collectively.”
The group has learnt the lessons of shack dwelling in Namibia but remains resolute that informal settlements can be eradicated.
“It’s complicated when you do not have a toilet as a family. It’s even worse when a toilet that is shared by more than 10 people is a walking distances from the housing structure. Women do not feel safe to go out at night. There is a lot of risk in people living informally, particularly for single mothers with children,” interjects Muller.
The Federation has signed partnerships with three local authorities in (Gobabis, Karibib, Helao Nafidi) and quantity surveyors in Namibia to upgrade informal settlements where few architectural companies are offering free services to help with the re-design of informal settlements.
One such project is the City-Wide Campaign of the Freedom Square Project in Gobabis where 1000 plots are being re-blocked into existing structures.
All hands-on deck can get us to a shack-free Namibia,” says Melkisedek Namupolo Community Land Information Program Coordinator, NHAG.
He adds, “With the funding from the line ministry, we begun servicing land in Freedom Square where community members (shack dwellers) serviced the land themselves, having received training on the laying of pipes and installation of water and sewage infrastructure…
…Besides the shack dwelling community, we have used students from local universities, as well as other stakeholders.
Through this process, residents tell us what they want their community to look like and it is designed as such. Time to work in isolation on housing needs has passed.”
Over the years the federation has succeeded in granting very low income earning residents access to security of tenure and placing their desires upfront.
“ It doesn’t help to upgrade a settlement and yet the people do not have the right to develop the land,” adds Elizabeth Amakali, Khomas Regional Facilitator for the SDFN, furthering, “give us the right to develop the land.”
However, that right to develop land has met obstacles in towns like Windhoek where the SDFN says the City fathers are now placing stringent standards on high density suburbs like Otjomuise yet low density areas like Klein Kuppe are built at almost no tougher restrictions.
“Why demand a certain pan-handle on small land in the high-density areas where plans are changed daily because of issues like a wider road network. Should cars take more land space for the people really? Windhoek for instance focuses more on applying rules than on planning with the people. Their guidelines for the poor are becoming too much,” argues Muller.
With First Lady Monica Geingos as its Patron, the Federation is positive more private sector support is imminent. This after Standard Bank set the tone ten years ago and has supported the Federation.
Lately, Ohorongo Cement, Pupkewitz Foundation and FNB have joined the bandwagon of providing the security of tenure to the very low income earning groups of Namibia resident in the shacks.
With more funding from government, SDFN is positive it can assist over 10 000 of its members with houses.
Amushila Concludes, “We need more informal settlements upgraded through community driven approaches by having an understanding of the community driven process to scale up housing delivery process. A shack-free Namibia is possible, with all hands-on deck.”