Bypass cuts deep

There are fears that the bypass will turn Okahandja into a “ghost town”.

19 August 2019 | Infrastructure

Residents of Vergenoeg, an 'illegal' settlement on the western outskirts of Okahandja, held a community meeting on Saturday afternoon. The purpose was to discuss the construction of the Okahandja bypass, which cuts through the settlement.

According to Theodolfine Tjaronda, a community activist and Vergenoeg resident, about 300 homes will have to be demolished to make way for the roughly two kilometres of dual carriageway that will bypass the town through the settlement.

The meeting was called by the Okahandja Residents Damage Control Committee and was addressed by Welfred Goaseb.

He told a crowd of roughly 100 people that the road “is unnecessary”, adding that it will turn Okahandja into a “ghost town”.

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.

“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,” Goaseb told the crowd, to loud applause.

Business people in the town agree, in particular the small row of curio, biltong and coffee shops flanking the Three-Way Shell service station opposite the wood carvers. Speaking informally to Namibian Sun over the weekend, but declining to be named, they expressed their worry about the diversion of traffic past the town. It appears that the business community will engage the municipality on the issue.

Another resident of Vergenoeg, Sara Ngairo, who also addressed the crowd, pointed to the graveyard and said: “Here lie our forefathers. Is this not our land?

“Why are we referred to as 'illegal' and not the 'electorate'? Enough is enough. We must learn to stand together. This is why Okahandja looks the way it looks.”

She quoted from article 16 of the constitution, which guarantees all persons the right to acquire, own and dispose of all forms of property in any part of Namibia. The right to own relates to keeping the property for oneself, for whichever purpose, including the right of use and enjoyment of the property.

Ngairo said that once they learned of the new road, roughly in June or July this year, as they were never 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”.

She said they then went to the councillors, who “said they will 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 will establish a team that will critically look into them”.

On Saturday afternoon, the residents of Vergenoeg said they would move, if provided with an alternative place to stay. There is very little the residents can do, as the road has been proclaimed. According to section 22 of Roads Ordinance 17 of 1972, as amended, very little can be done once a road is proclaimed. Moreover, the 2015 moratorium on all land sales in Okahandja, which is still in force, further compounds the movement of the settlement. The municipality has already informed the residents that there is no available land.

The contract for the construction of the bypass is for roughly 20 months and it has started on the A1. Surveying has been completed and the surveyors have marked the route. The poles can be seen in between homes in the settlement.

Many residents at the meeting spoke to Namibian Sun. Some showed letters in which they asked to be allocated a plot, with some dated as far back as 2009. The community has also engaged the municipality and the regional council as far back as February 2018, in a bid to formalise the Vergenoeg settlement. Many did not receive a response. And those who did were informed that there is no available land.

Okahandja CEO Martha Mutilifa did not respond to requests for comment, but the town's mayor, Congo Hindjou, told Namibian Sun that a site visit was conducted to see how the community will be affected. Earlier this month, Mutilifa told The Namibian a council meeting would be held to discuss the matter.

YANNA SMITH

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