One million live in shacks

A new study has found that close to a million Namibians live in shacks, at least 327 000 of them in Windhoek alone.

01 November 2019 | Social Issues

The latest count by Namibia's largest community collective has found that close to 40% of Namibians live in shacks - amounting to close to one million individuals and 228 000 shacks in countrywide.

On-the-ground profiling by the Shack Dwellers Association of Namibia (SDFN) found that in Windhoek alone more than 327 000 individuals live in 71 300 shacks in dozens of informal settlements.

The SDFN noted that over the past 11 years, shacks have increased by more than 60% from 135 000 in 2008 to over 218 000, excluding the 10 000 backyard shacks in Walvis Bay.

Since 2008 the number of people living in shacks in small to large urban areas has doubled, from half a million in 2005 to 953 937 now.

The SDFN says this number rises to 991 700 if the Walvis Bay families living in backyard shacks are added.

Anna Muller of the Namibia Housing Action Group (NHAG), which supports the SDFN, told Namibian Sun recently that “access to secure shelter and water and sanitation is a basic need” of every Namibian, but those living in informal settlements struggle to access these on a daily basis.

Experts warn that at the current rate of new shacks being erected as the country rapidly transitions from a rural to urban society poses a real risk that more Namibians will live in shacks than brick houses within less than a decade.

This will entrench new forms of poverty and inequality for generations to come.


“Many stakeholders are showing their willingness to work together, but the challenges remain huge. It is approaching a situation where half the population is living in informal settlements,” Muller said.

She added that government faces “a huge and increasingly growing challenge”, and while the country's leadership stands out as actively pro-poor, “the scaling-up of existing initiatives are facing stumbling blocks.”

The solution presented by the SDFN and many other non-profits is to provide land and minimal services, and allow people to build their homes incrementally over time.

“Shacks are not the problem. The problem is land or tenure security,” John Mendelsohn of Research and Information Services of Namibia (RASION) told Namibian Sun.

He said the steep growth in urban informal settlements is due to the influx of urban migrants, but “the problem is rather that central and local government have done little to accommodate people moving to towns.”

He said to date, despite increased focus on the issue following the land conference last year, in which the conditions in which Namibians live in informal settlements was declared a national humanitarian crisis, government has not addressed the issue in a meaningful way.

“Government has not responded in any significant way to the massive demand for secure land on which rural migrants can begin a new and better life, and build houses which become very valuable assets for them and their children.”

He added that despite the promises “nothing more than superficial words and projects” have been initiated to address the crisis.


The slum-like conditions in which close to a million Namibians live have been identified one of Namibia's biggest developmental challenges and a national humanitarian disaster.

In January, the Windhoek municipality, which estimates that just 131 000 residents live in informal settlements - substantially fewer than the SDFN counts - warned that the squalid conditions in which residents live qualify as slums.

“The informal settlements in Windhoek are on a downward spiral, if left unattended,” the municipality warned, adding that without urgent intervention “we are headed to one of the biggest urbanisation disasters in Namibia.”

This year Development Workshop Namibia (DWN) launched a joint partnership with several municipalities to develop close to 1 000 residential plots.

Low-income residents should be able to buy these minimally serviced plots for between N$10 000 and N$17 000.

The main priority of the programme is to provide a basis for low-income residents to invest in their properties over time.

The programme is financial sustainable and non-profit in order to keep plot prices as low as possible.

“Looking at towns across Namibia and examining successful approaches, it becomes clear that towns can effectively address informal settlement growth by providing planned and partially serviced erven at low costs,” Beat Weber of the DWN said.

Weber said a more enabling environment has to be created “focusing less on outdated laws and regulations and more on pragmatic solutions” to fast-track urban development.

Eight more local authorities in five regions reached out to the SDFN recently to help communities collectively upgrade their areas, following a successful project at Freedom Square in Gobabis in which 1 030 households secured tenure.

The new projects “mean that an additional 8 900 households in these eight towns are provided the opportunity to be involved in initiating their own upgrading,” Muller said.

Moreover, with the help of the private sector, government and communities the SDFN will construct 700 houses this year, for less than N$40 000 per house.

Currently, there are 836 saving groups, consisting of more than 25 000 households, who are members of the SDFN.

The SDFN saving groups have saved more than N$29 million since the network was first established in 1998 and have helped households build more than 4 700 homes across Namibia to date.

Muller underlined that the work done through the SDFN saving groups has shown clearly that low-income communities have the will and capacity to participate and manage their own development.

She said the upgrading of informal settlements should be based on inclusivity and partnerships.

“We need many stakeholders, not to talk but to constructively become involved and let communities lead the solution,” she said.


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