Wernhil vendors face eviction

By Lazarus Hishekwa 

Vendors at the Windhoek flee market at the Wernhil Mall are currently facing large debts, some of which have accumulated to N$120,000. The vendors have formed a committee to represent the collective, and the committee revealed to Confidante that 23 of 50 active vendors are currently handed over to RedForce Debt Collectors.
The 23 vendors, most of which have been operating the longest at the market, are in a long feud with the City of Windhoek, which has been going on since 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted vendor sales, and the City of Windhoek demanded due rent, the collective of vendors protested for a lower rent. 

When their demands weren’t met, the vendors allied to boycott the rent. In response to a failed collection of rent, the City of Windhoek has issued 7-day eviction notices and enforced their policy, which was agreed upon with vendors to hand over their accounts to debt collectors.

The rent for lockable stalls is N$1877.36; Barbeque stands are N$610.22, Food stands are N$425.57, and Open Trading area stands are N$346.10; vendors complain that these rates are far too high for them to be able to sustain themselves and restock after paying their rent. A vendor selling bare winter essentials such as socks explains she’s been handed over to debt collection due to what had started as an N$800 debt to what has accumulated to N$23,000, “I have kids I need to support and debt collection wants me to settle 30% of my debt or I’ll be evicted, how will I survive?”. 

Vendors complain the market is lacking necessities such as sinks with running water for food stalls, electricity outlets, adequate storage for their stocks and fire extinguishers, “Two weeks ago a food stall caught fire because we’re using gas burners, the city should install plugs for us to use two plate stoves”. Says a vendor. Currently, vendors use their toilets to store their stock due to the need for more space in their allocated storerooms. 

Another vendor says the smell of urine in the market is unbearable, “we need public toilets for our customers and more than one security guard which is currently stationed for the entire market”. 

The Windhoek flee market was established by the City of Windhoek to allow local vendors to trade and showcase their merchandise, but vendors feel trapped in a business costing them more than they make.  The City of Windhoek told Confidante that when a vendor fails to pay rental fees for a municipal stall, the process usually involves following specific criteria outlined by municipal policy. Typically, before the debt is sent to collections, the vendor should receive formal notice of the outstanding debt and be allowed to settle it within a specified timeframe. The municipality may involve a debt collector if the vendor fails to respond or make payment arrangements. 

Vendors at other markets within Windhoek have been sent to Red Force for debt collection. The total number of accounts handed over (including active and final accounts) is 492, says the City of Windhoek.