Poorest feel brunt of lockdown

…as hunger bites

By Jade McClune

RESIDENTS of Mondesa and the DRC in Swakopmund are concerned over the way the police and other uniformed officers have treated residents in the poorest areas since the coming into force of the lockdown on Saturday.

A leader of Swakopmund Concerned Citizens Association, David Nghimbwasha told Confidente on Tuesday that several cases of police violence directed at residents in the poorest areas were reported to them and estimated from incoming reports that over 200 people had been accosted by officers on duty

At one point, where a roadblock was set up along one of the streets leading to the DRC, people found in the street were told to hold onto one stone as punishment, but Nghimbwasha says this is not a good idea if people are trying to minimize the risk of infection through social distancing. He further complained that the officers were not wearing masks or gloves and were not keeping a safe distance. He alleged that they were kicking some residents back into their shacks.

“If even one of the officers is infected it will spread widely in our community because they are not practicing social distancing. They are making people do push-ups in the street, they are kicking them and beating them with sticks into their houses.”

He said people in that area are in a difficult situation because many DRC and Mondesa residents live from day to day from what they earn or gather during the day and to be restricted to their homes for many weeks, means they will go hungry, which would make them more vulnerable to disease. There are also no supermarkets so they have to walk to the nearest shop in Tutaleni or Mondesa.

A video clip circulating over the weekend showed one man by the side of the dusty road that leads out of the DRC eating a piece of discarded watermelon thrown by the roadside. David said in another clip four small boys can be seen going through a rubbish bin to look for empty bottles to sell and buy bread.

“This is the reality of the situation,” he said. “People do not have food stocks. They do not have electricity so they cannot buy a week’s supply of meat or fish, because they have no way of keeping it fresh. They have to go to the shop when they have something to buy with.”

Many people in the area, due to lack of income and electricity, have to hustle, trade and buy food every day to prevent it going rotten, but they fear being beaten if they go to the shops.

The police in the region dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said, “Our officers are on the ground trying to control the movements of people and are committed to enforce the lockdown measures in the interests of all of us. People should obey and stay at home… We discard the allegations and those claiming to have been assaulted have rights to report such at police station.”

Despite the great uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 and the lockdown, there was some joy and ululation over the past week after Swakopmund Municipality agreed to reconnect water supply to all disconnected households and to provide extra water points to the DRC informal settlement.

In his statement last Thursday, Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua said opening the taps was the right thing to do to prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. Municipal officials said more than 200 houses would be reconnected immediately and regional authorities would ensure that water tankers are provided to isolated rural communities.

Walvis Bay agreed to also reconnect residents whose water had been cut off but wanted the residents to submit documentation to the municipality before their water can be reconnected, which seemed to raise the risk factor for municipal staff and residents by inviting large numbers of people desperate for water to come to the municipal offices.

In response to offers of support from the wider community, Swakopmund Municipality has meanwhile set up a mechanism by which residents can donate food and supplies to be distributed to the needy.

“In view of the amazing response from the people of Swakopmund we have decided to create a drop-off point for food and other essentials for the community at the Fire Brigade offices next to the Municipal Head Office. Please drop off any and all non-perishable foods and other essentials with Mr Adri Goosen and his staff. We will make an announcement once a decision has been made as to the distribution thereof. We thank everyone for their cooperation.”

In a further development, David Nghimbwasha was taken from his home at Matutura to the north of Swakopmund on Wednesday by armed forces and fined N$4,000 for, inter alia, allegedly refusing to cooperate with law enforcement officers who came to his house to demand that he close his tuck shop.

Speaking via telephone from a local police station, Nghimbwasha said he asked the officers not to touch him without gloves or beat him with their sticks, as they were putting him, his family and the community at risk of infection. He said they nevertheless slapped him with open hand, despite the fact that residents were told over the radio that food vendors would be allowed to operate during the lockdown.