Starving Ovahimba villagers reduced to beggary

By Eliaser Ndeyanale

FOR six months now, Ovahimba people at the village of Otjivero in Kunene region have been forced to rely on food offered to them by NamPower workers working on a nearby electricity line from Orotjitombo Primary School to Omaundu Primary School.

One of the workers on the project, a millwright, told Confidente that Ovahimba people in the area come to their tents to beg for food and this includes people of all ages and a lot of them look visibly famished.

“They come here begging us for food but we only give them when we have, because we are also struggling,” the worker said, adding that some of the Ovahimba were employed on the project to dig holes but ended up leaving the job saying they were too hungry.

“But if we buy them food they start coming to work because there is food. Those who don’t work on the project also come and eat here.

“Those who were recruited, from the first day they had told us that they were willing to work but they are hungry. They needed something to eat, then the guy who got the tender to dig the holes decided to buy them food, he had divided them into groups according to the areas that are closer to their villages.

“When he brought the food there everyone – even those that are not working on the project – came to eat. It’s people from all age groups, it can be either kids or elders.

“When the kids come from school, they stop by our camp asking for something to eat. It could also be elders that are passing by, because our camp is near by the road.

“Sometimes if say we cook thin porridge, especially in the morning, we leave some so that when they come we can be able to give them. Sometimes you can find old men sitting near our tent but after we give them food, they will go [home],” they added.

Epupa constituency Councillor Kazeongere Tjeundo could not be reached for questioning over the past two weeks as he reportedly had a bereavement in the family. He told Confidente last month that his constituency was one of the hardest hit by the drought.

An official in his constituency office, Tjikunda Kulunga, this week said they had received “very limited food supplies” from the government.

“To give you a full picture of this region, we have received very limited food supply from the Office of the Prime Minister, which deals with drought relief food, and that food is only being given in our constituency to people who are in dire need. The food was given [with] certain restrictions as to who should get and who should not get.

“Given the fact that people who are having an income in a house, be it that they are getting social grant, be it that either their kids [get a grant] or either there is a pensioner in the house who is getting money, then that house is not supposed to qualify for the [emergency food] supply,” he said, adding that persons with an income above N$2,000 or even N$1,200 do not qualify to get emergency food aid.

“So there are many restrictions to who gets and who doesn’t get. The whole situation in the whole region is that the food that we get is very limited. Most of the people rely on livestock. This region has suffered drought for almost ten years consecutively, now there is a lot of people who will be hungry and who would rely on people who have money and food.

“If we see you put up your tent there and you have food I think I will send my kids there to come and see whether you are eating, despite that I have little food – not necessarily that that village might not have received [any] food. It might have received food.

“Food is being given to the people that are seen to be most needy. Like in this constituency (Epupa) if we divide, the supply that we are getting and the total number of our villages…

“We got 600 bags of maize meal and we have registered 1,460 people. Now imagine, who should I give food to? I have 162 villages that I have registered. Make your own calculation, how much will we give to these people?

“On top of that we in Epupa constituency have four marginalised settlements, people who are relying on government [food] supply every month.

“They must also be catered for with the 600 bags and these settlements are having more than 2,000 people. Even if we distribute, people will still be hungry. We only give to the needy, those that we see as critical in order for nobody to be left behind and nobody to die of hunger,” he stressed.