Miserable, hopeless life

Our roving journalist Ileni Nandjato has uncovered conditions of unimaginable domestic squalor and neglect in the Ohangwena Region.

17 February 2017 | Social Issues

About ten destitute elders and 12 ailing young people are living among other San people in a small community close to Oshipala village near Omundaungilo in the Ohangwena Region.

Some of these people do not leave their makeshift rag tents, which they call home, for months due to old age, blindness or chronic illness.

The hidden community, which is home to about 900 people, faces social exclusion. It is now the rainy season and they are exposed to the full force of the elements.

Many of the elders and the school-age children do not receive pensions or social grants from the government and the community lives in total isolation from the rest of the world.

Not one member of the community knew their age and Namibian Sun could only determine this from those who have documents.

Speaking from her rag tent, providing only partial shelter and covered with a tattered blanket, Shaambeni Mushati, 94, told Namibian Sun that she had been blind for many years now.

She spends all her days and nights in her little room and says she cannot tell the difference.

“The only time I get out of my house is when people are repairing it for rain. I am old and blind and I cannot go anywhere.

I was not born here, but we came to this place many years ago. I get pension through my children,” Mushati said. Next to Mushati's structure is that of the completely hapless 97-year-old Namatembu Haixuxua. According to Mushati, Haixuxua is very old and doesn't talk.

“I am better off than her. She doesn't talk and she only spends all the days and night sleeping.

Her children and grandchildren feed her,” Mushati said.

Rusia Hamukanda, 97, told Namibian Sun about her 26-year-old grandchild and namesake's condition. The young Rusia cannot walk and she spends most of her time in her little structure.

According to Hamukanda senior, she fell sick eight years ago while she was pregnant.

“She was taken to Eenhana hospital, where she was diagnosed with polio. Due to that, doctors helped her to give birth through an operation. After giving birth, both she and her child, Aily Kamati, were diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and they became disabled,” Hamukanda said.

Kamati is now a learner at Okahenge Combined School, but Hamukanda said the child has some kind of diaphragm deformity.



'Nothing we can do'

Approached for comment, the Ohangwena regional councillor for Omundaungilo, Festus Ikanda, said this San group was one of many living in his constituency.

He acknowledged that they live in very harsh conditions, but said there was not much his office could do for them.

“We feed these people through a special food relief programme through the office of the vice-president,” he said.

“Each person living in those communities receives an allocation of food individually and not per household as other people get under the drought-relief programme. We take care of their health, including transporting them to hospitals.”

Ikanda said he was aware of their need for shelter, but his office had no means to help them.

“We have no place to take the ailing and elderly. That is why last year we supported the bill that proposed construction of old-age homes in all the regions. We could take them there,” Ikanda said. Community leader Casada Amupolo acknowledged that they get food aid, and that a few elders receive pension payouts, while some receive vulnerable children grants. However, she said, this was not enough for them. Most members of the community were issued with identity documents stating incorrect or estimated ages, as they were unable to provide their dates of birth.

Those who have no documents cannot receive any assistance. He said when the government food runs out, they depend on hunting and wild fruits for survival, but people who fence off land prevent them from going onto their land to look for wild fruits.

“There are few people who care for us. They come here and offer us a little domestic work to do, and then they give us money, food or clothes. That is how we survive,” Amupolo said.

ILENI NANDJATO

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