Kalkfeld’s future on the line

The village of Kalkfeld in the Otjozondjupa Region is a picture of despair and official neglect.

26 May 2017 | Life Style

With more than 90% unemployment at the Kalkfeld settlement in the Otjozondjupa Region, many inhabitants say the future looks bleak and they fear not only for the survival of their families but for the town itself, which is crumbling into oblivion according to residents.

Despite some improvements in the town, specifically since last year, and attempts to draw the spotlight to the town’s plight, residents worry these efforts are not enough to prevent the town’s rapid decline into a bona fide ghost town.

A long-time resident, Emmanuel Kutako, who was born near Kalkfeld close to 80 years ago, describes the town as a forgotten “island” that has been left behind since independence.

“No one can live on an island, set apart from everything and everyone else,” he says. He feels that despite many attempts to get their problems recognised and addressed, very little is being done to help Kalkfeld.

Where is Harambee?

Lack of jobs, lack of local representation on the regional and national stage, little development and investment, and the inability to buy property because of the settlement status were all cited as the underlying causes for the town backsliding into a ghost town and the fact that very few pay attention to the desperate plight of the town.

Elizabeth Harases (40), a Kalkfeld resident who was born and raised there, says the settlement is overrun with problems and the effects of ‘Harambee’ are still to be felt.

“There is overwhelming unemployment. Most of the young people drink too much. And it continues to worsen, because there is very little development. Things are not really improving at the rate we need it to. There is no Harambee here,” she says.

Although Otjozondjupa regional council chairperson Julius Neumbo last week told Namibian Sun that he had taken numerous steps to improve conditions at the town since his election one and a half years ago, residents says the pace of improvement is too slow and they fear for the future of the town.

A common complaint is that political interest in the town dies down once elections are over.

“They come and sit underneath the trees and talk to us. And then they are suddenly gone,” Harases says.

She says if residents could elect men and women who live in the settlement, it might improve the way in which Kalkfeld’s issues are prioritised and handled.

Alexandrina Geises (40), who was clearing land in front of Kalkfeld’s primary school in exchange for maize meal last week, agrees about the treatment from elected officials who address the town’s issues from far away.

“They only know us when elections are happening. But when we struggle, we are not seen,” she says.

She says although 50 flush toilets were installed at selected houses last year and 50 more are being installed, more than half the town are still without proper sanitation.

She says she and others use “the bushes” across the railway line.

The town, which has about 5 000 inhabitants, including communal farmers from the surrounding area, has no tarred streets and very few brick structures, except for a few houses and the multimillion-dollar new tourism and business centre, as well as the fuel station.

Crumbling old buildings dating back to the pre-independence era are dotted alongside the only tarred road, the C33, which dissects the town and connects Omaruru and Otjiwarongo.

Many of the buildings have been occupied by squatters and their livestock, such as chickens and goats.

Smaller and smaller

Kalkfeld was once officially a village, but it was downgraded to settlement status in the late 1990s because of slow economic growth - a sore topic among disgruntled residents.

The inability to purchase property due to the settlement designation is bad for investment and business, they say, and has inadvertently slowed down economic growth even further.

The only new structures in the town are the tourism business complex and fuel station, which many claim has done little to improve the high unemployment and poverty.

Jobs are hard to come by, with only a few businesses, including a small shop and bakery, a hair salon and barbershop, a liquor store and a few home-run businesses ensuring a trickling of income for some residents.

Some are employed by TransNamib and NamWater, or at the clinic and school.

For many inhabitants the lack of shops necessitates expensive shopping trips to Otjiwarongo.

No jobs, nothing to do

Twenty-four-year-old Chris Divanga lives on the same property as his elderly mother, Adelheid Divanga, and at last eight other family members, none of whom have a permanent job.

Chris told Namibian Sun that he has Grade 10 and that he and many other young people are forced to “zula” for money. He said this could mean anything from collecting wood or water for a small fee, or in more desperate times, theft.

“There is no other work available. We’ve heard that a mine is opening, but nothing has come of that. There are many young people in Kalkfeld that have nothing to do. Many start stealing because they and their families are hungry,” he says.

Sometimes he does casual work at one of the nearby farms. Divanga says he is unable to leave Kalkfeld, because no one else would look after his family if he left.

He says the lack of job opportunities and recreation can lead down a slippery slope, especially for the youth.

“This place is very boring. There is nothing to do except to drink.”

His mother, Adelheid, has witnessed the town’s decline over the years.

“As a child it was different here. This was a large town; there were shops and more. Now there is very little left. We have just been left here. Everything closed. We need to rebuild the town. At the moment it looks like we live on a farm. There is nothing here,” she says.

She says the lack of shops forces the family to incur the added expense of travelling to Otjiwarongo to buy necessities such as clothing and household goods.

A trip can cost more than N$200.

“Life here is very difficult. There are very few jobs and money just comes in and goes out,” Adelheid Divanga says.

A game of survival

Hilda Kamaturiri (25), a mother of two and pregnant with her third child, says her only source of income is to zula for money, which means collecting recyclable materials or collecting wood or water for others. She charges N$5 for six pieces of wood or for fetching a bucket of water.

Kamaturiri lives with her parents and says the town is populated by a lot of people “who struggle for money, because there is no work”.

Errikson Haishonga (22), one of the few employed young people at Kalkfeld, describes himself as lucky to have a job.

He was given the chance to apprentice at the small local bakery while still in school and began a permanent job there this year.

“Many, many of the young people here don’t have jobs,” he says.

His friend, Daniel Homateni (20) works at the small chip shop and says the lack of jobs is one of the main causes of crime and alcohol abuse at the town.

“We need more projects or development in this town to help with employment.”

He says he doesn’t see a future for the town, and if he becomes a father he would rather send his children somewhere else. “There are no opportunities for them here.”

No land, no interest

One of the main issues raised during a daylong visit to the community last week was the fact that the settlement is run remotely by the Otjozondjupa regional council based in Otjiwarongo.

Many say their input in the town’s government is limited and frustrating.

“We need someone from Kalkfeld to represent us on a regional level,” says Wilfried Nuwuseb, a local businessman, who was born and raised at the settlement.

Residents say they should be able to elect local representatives to ensure the town’s interests are protected.

A lack of investment is partially blamed on the fact that properties can only be leased, and not bought, at the town.

“With investors, job opportunities will arise,” says Kennedy /Uirab, a self-proclaimed community activist.

Although they expected to be rapped on the knuckles for speaking to the press, Nuwuseb and /Uirab say silence from the community will only accelerate the decline of Kalkfeld.

“If we don’t speak up, who knows what will happen to our community and to our children? The elected officials are placed in office because of our votes, they are supposed to look after us but we feel that very little is happening to help us.”

While praise is scarce, it isn’t absent. Inhabitants praise the government’s drought-relief initiatives, the installation of flush toilets and the allocation of land for the construction of houses.

Nevertheless, hope on the ground is spread thin.

“Kalkfeld needs to become self-sufficient and independent in terms of leadership. We must be able to manage our own finances and determine our own future. Many of us feel neglected and forgotten,” /Uirab says.

Nuwuseb says at the moment there is little hope for a better future unless drastic changes are made.

“If we continue as we are doing now, with decisions made on our behalf somewhere else, I don’t have much hope for the future. We fear for the future of the town.”

JANA-MARI SMITH

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