Huge win for Okahandja squatters

11 September 2019 | Local News

The residents of the illegal Vergenoeg settlement at Okahandja have achieved a victory after several community meetings and pressure, driven mostly by the Okahandja Residents' Damage Control Committee.

The Roads Authority (RA) will now “realign the route of the new (bypass) road to minimise the impact on the community that has illegally settled on the portion of freeway proclaimed road”.

According to the RA, with the new realignment, only approximately 20 families will be affected. In its original design, the route would have caused the relocation of roughly 300 households.

The RA did not provide further details or whether there would be cost implications of the route change.

The announcement was made to the community at a meeting at Vergenoeg on Sunday afternoon by regional councillor Steve 'Biko' Booys.

He addressed the crowd and first informed them of a list of what he described as his achievements, including improvements at the Okahandja hospital, a school in Vyfrandkamp and upgrades and developments at Gross Barmen resort.

He would not field any questions in this regard and told Namibian Sun that only questions pertaining to the route of the bypass would be answered.

“Only residents can ask questions and we are not here to discuss the past,” he said.

According to Hileni Fillemon, the RA's corporate communications manager, “several consultative meetings were held with the leadership of the Okahandja town council and Otjozondjupa regional council.

“The Okahandja municipality has made a commitment to allocate land for the temporary relocation of the affected families.”

It is not certain how many households will be affected as Booys told Namibian Sun that only 12 families would be moved.

The chairperson of the town's management committee, Gideon Uwu-Khaeb, who also addressed the residents on Sunday afternoon, told Namibian Sun that between 12 and 20 households would have to move.

The families will not be compensated as they are illegally on the land, but will be assisted with relocation.

Fillemon told Namibian Sun that the RA was working closely with the councillor of Okahandja constituency and the leadership of Okahandja's municipality “to resolve this matter in the earnest, in order to avoid any delay in finding a solution to relocate the illegal squatters in the proclaimed road reserve”.

The bypass veers west, just south of the Omakunde River, bypassing the town on the southern and western fringes, and reconnects with the B1 to Otjiwarongo as well as the B2 to the coast. Construction at the end of the dual carriageway A1 has already begun.

A 17 August meeting, called by the damage control committee, was addressed by Wilfred Goaseb. At the time he told the community that the road was “unnecessary”, adding that it would turn Okahandja into a “ghost town”.

There are concerns from the business community that the bypass will take traffic out of the town and a few business owners have informed Namibian Sun that they would be engaging the municipality in this regard.

Goaseb agrees. “People will not come into Okahandja anymore. Jobs will be lost and eventually, our municipality will be downgraded. What about the wood carvers and their livelihoods? Our leaders are not taking this seriously. The interest of the people will always be more important than any development.” On Sunday, he said they would fight to have no households relocated.

The town's CEO, Martha Mutilifa, would not comment on the formalisation of the settlement, saying only that “the meeting was under the supervision and chair-controlled by politicians”. She did not respond to earlier questions regarding the concerns of the business community.

A resident of Vergenoeg, Sara Ngairo, said when they eventually learned of the new road, roughly in June or July this year, as they had “never been consulted or informed”, they wrote a letter to Otjozondjupa governor Otto Ipinge.

Ipinge responded, saying that he would meet with the community on 2 September. “That is very far,” she said, adding that the governor clearly “does not take it seriously”.

According to Goaseb, they prepared for the 2 September meeting but that Ipinge “did not show up”.

Ngairo added that they turned to the councillors too, who “said they would come, but never did”.

On 12 July, Ngairo said they handed in a written submission at President Geingob's Otjozondjupa town hall meeting in Otjiwarongo. She said he undertook “to attend to it”.

Nampa reported that Geingob, after having received several written proposals at Otjiwarongo, said “he would establish a team that would critically look into them”.

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