Otji's platform community

An abandoned platform on the northern fringes of Otjiwarongo has been home to some for more than 10 years and soon, they will have to go.

19 May 2017 | Local News

About two dozen tents erected on the northern outskirts of Otjiwarongo marks an informal squatter camp for at least 30 to 40 economic refugees or drifters who hail from across the country, and our borders.

All who live on the open platform, originally intended for a woodcarvers market, are either homeless or have moved there for economic opportunities, and although they are illegally trespassing on municipal land, a blind eye has been cast to date, although this will change in the coming months.

Many of the families, who have found shelter on the shaded cement platform are facing possible expulsion after the property was sold to a developer recently.

The CEO of the Otjiwarongo Municipality's Ismael /Howoseb said this week that pollution is a problem at the platform, including rubbish and other waste, and the fact that the tent dwellers use the nearby area for ablution purposes.

The municipality regularly sends cleaning crews and hands out black bags to the people staying on the platform, in an effort to manage the waste at the site, one of the shelter's residents said.

The plot has been sold to a private developer, who intends to open an arts and crafts centre and this means the drifters and others will have to move from the area once construction begins.

/Howoseb added that some of the squatters who hail from the across the border will have to be referred to home affairs, to confirm their legal status of being in the country.

Tough lives

Poverty, joblessness and desperation are a common feature among many of the people who live on the platform and some say that fights and alcohol abuse are both rife on the platform.

With winter looming, many who spoke to Namibian Sun said they hoped to be able to secure enough blankets to keep themselves and their families, small children among them, warm in the coming months.

For some, primarily from the Kavango West region, the tented camp on the shaded cement platform offers a temporary trading base, from where they can operate their businesses.

Many use the base to dispatch woodcarvings and wooden planks, which arrive regularly from the north.

Others import regional food items, selling them at markets in Otjiwarongo.

Daniel Kasavi (49) explained that his is a professional wood carver, who has stayed on the platform at regular intervals for about a year, along with his wife and three children. They share one large tent, he said.

He and the family regularly travel back home, to Nkurenkuru, where they collect new wood materials and have temporary jobs.

Kasavi explained that he is unable to secure sufficient money for his family if he stays in the north and that the Otjiwarongo base was ideal for transporting carvings to Okahandja and receiving new material from the north.

Ten years adrift

For others, the platform is a more permanent base, the only option.

Jannie Drotsky, 54-years-old, claimed he has lived, on and off, on the platform for 10 years, telling Namibian Sun he was the first person to erect a tent on the cement block, or 'stoep' as long-timers call the informal shelter, in December 2007.

He owns two tents on the platform, a large one, which he has lent to a friend and a smaller one, filled with bedding, his treasured books and his meagre possessions.

He loves reading and regularly lends books from the local Otjiwarongo library, where he has been a member for several years.

Drotsky, originally from Rehoboth, admitted that he has struggled with alcohol addiction for many years, and that many who live on the platform struggle with similar problems.

“Alcohol is evil. And a lot of people start fighting when we drink.”

On the day he spoke to Namibian Sun, he had earned N$22 from collecting bottles and had bought bread and a packet of soup.

“There are good days, especially if you get a job or some money. But there are bad days, especially now with winter approaching.”

His journey to the open-air, informal shelter began after he left prison more than a decade ago, and as he describes it, was subsequently systematically abandoned by his siblings and children.

“When I left prison, I had nowhere to go. So I came here, to live with my daughter,” he said. He claimed his ex-wife still lives in Otjiwarongo, but they have no contact. After his daughter moved away, he took refuge at a fuel station and eventually arrived at the 'stoep.' He didn't elaborate on a job he used to have and how he lost it.

He said people from all walks of life have stayed on the platform over the years, some staying longer, like a friend Caroline who he claims has lived with him for between six and seven years.

Carpenters, security guards, painters, builders and others have found temporary shelter under the roof of the market platform, he said.



Young and lost

Sisters Jessica Johannes (23) and Ndina Johannes (21), both said they had moved to the informal shelter due to family problems. They told Namibian Sun that their parents are both deceased and that due to being treated badly by relatives, they decided to move to the platform.

Ndina Johannes's three-year-old son has stayed with her on the platform for the past two months. She has two more children, aged five and four.

She said the inhabitants at the platform regularly change, as each day people leave or arrive from nearby farms, northern Namibia, central Namibia or even across the border.

She does not have employment and describes her life as tough. “Right now I have nothing to eat, so we just have to wait for someone to give us food.”

Her sister Jessica noted that they don't “have much hope” for a better future, but take it day to day, hoping to get small jobs, earn a little money and survive another day.



JANA-MARI SMITH

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