Govt ‘must freeze rent’ to stop evictions

By Maria Kandjungu

WORKERS who were deemed non-essential and who have to stay at home under the state of emergency regulations have expressed concern and fear over the impact of the extended lockdown on their ability to pay bills and rent following a month of no work due to the pandemic threat.

Following President Hage Geingob’s announcement this week of the extension of the lockdown to 4 May, Confidente sat down with some “non-essential” workers from local retailers and the hospitality industry, who have been forced to stay home, to find out how they are coping. A few are hopeful but many feel uncertain as to whether they will draw any salary at the end of April.

“I am scared. My fear is that we will not get paid because we didn’t work now [for] a whole month. I don’t know any way out of this. I keep thinking, how I am going to pay my rent, bills, food? You know, I even got a notification the other day that I don’t qualify for the N$750. I really don’t know if I will even have a job after this,” says Fredricka Cornelius, who worked at a restaurant.

According to her, while the manager has promised to call them as soon as the country is open again, whether they will be paid this month remains unclear.

“My manager, like us all, sounds hopeless and unsure. My main concern is how do I pay my rent? At the beginning everyone’s concern was to stock up, we did not think beyond this month. We did not plan this far. Now I must tell the landlord I am not sure when I can make my next payment when I stayed home the whole month using power and water. I keep thinking… am I going to be unemployed for the rest of the year? It is all I can think about,” she said while imploring government to come to their rescue.

“Our government needs to speak out on our behalf and tell landlords not to evict us for now.”

Martha Iikela, who worked at a shop that is considered “non-essential” also expressed her disappointment over the extension, saying although it was expected, it would have been better if businesses that cannot operate from home were reopened.

“I really don’t know about our salaries, we were not informed on it but the possibility of not getting paid could be there because all our income depends on the customers… that is where we get money to pay rent for the shop, as well as our salaries. So it’s not easy for private companies to pay their employees when we didn’t make money at all, it’s a total loss for the month. I do not know how most of us are going to survive this.”

Sophia Nakale, the owner of a clothing shop also called on government to appeal to landlords to be patient with tenants for the next two months as everyone tries to bounce back from the pandemic effects.

“I fear unemployment and not providing for family and those that depend on me. But my worst fear and that of many others is losing our homes and shelter because we are unable to pay. We need to survive the virus, we also need to survive the impact of the restrictions. So maybe a price freeze for things like rent and accounts [is needed], so that we don’t pay for the duration of the lockdown.

“Most of us don’t know when we will be back to work or if we even have jobs after, so government should look at tax refunds or subsidy for some of the hard hit industry so that they can at least cover salaries, even 80 percent of those salaries for this period. Reopen the informal markets to traders. It could help a lot. Feeding scheme [is needed] for those that can’t afford [food], especially children. We can’t survive this on our own. There will be an after-effect to this virus and that too needs to be managed.”