Witvlei Battling Economic Hardships
WITVLEI, 05 DEC – Witvlei, located along the White Nossob River in the plains of the Omaheke Region, holds a rich history. Its Afrikaans name, which translates to “White marsh” in English, is a direct translation from the original Khoekhoegowab name; !Khuri !khubis.
It is here where one of the first battles in the Ovaherero-Nama war took place in March 1864.
History has it that erstwhile Ovaherero leader Maharero, with the help of the hunter Frederick Green (known among the Ovaherero as Kerina), led a contingent of 1 400 Ovaherero from Otjimbingwe against the Orlam Afrikaners under Jan Jonker Afrikaner.
Afrikaner’s forces were reportedly defeated and fled, although a number of battles with different outcomes followed elsewhere.
The modern Witvlei came into existence in 1952, when it was a village council, according to the Omaheke Regional Poverty Profile.
The proclamation followed the town’s growing population as farm workers on surrounding farms chose to settle here, while more people flocked to the area in hopes of landing employment on these farms.
Fast forward to the 21st millennium and the rich history fades as the reality of modern day urban living takes centre stage.
Due to a lack of industries here, Witvlei remains one of the poorest towns in the Omaheke Region, with little money to go around this closely knit community.
Its small size does not help much either. As one resident candidly puts it, one would miss the entire town if you blink once while driving through Witvlei.
With the exception of a primary school, a clinic and the village council offices, no major employers exist here.
The closure of the Witvlei Meat abattoir in November 2014 did not make matters any easier for the community of less than 5 000 people.
The abattoir employed 165 people, which made it the biggest employment provider within the private sector in the region at the time.
As its huge gates closed for the last time some four years ago, its usually crowded buildings became abandoned and remain as such to this day.
Along with it went the dreams of many residents who were employed at Witvlei Meat.
Amanda Skrywer, a single mother of four, says she dreamed of eventually building a proper house for herself and her family so they could move out of the corrugated iron sheet structure they have called home for the last 20 years or so.
In her mind back then, nothing was more fulfilling than knowing that she too could embrace the comfort of a conventional brick house.
Sadly, this dream was shattered as her only source of income was abruptly cut.
“I had to give up that dream and use the little money I had saved for everyday survival. I had no other choice,” she recalls.
Skrywer’s situation is by no means unique as almost everyone shares similar stories of shattered dreams and hopes at Omataura, Witvlei’s main residential area.
Others like her are forced to trek to Witvlei town from the residential area almost on a daily basis in search of opportunities for odd jobs.
Such opportunities are few and far apart, Rudolf Tjerivanga, another resident of Omataura said.
To access the town, residents have to make use of a narrow bridge that extends over a river.
The bridge, so narrow that only one car can pass at a time, is the only access point that connects Omataura to Witvlei – and by default the rest of the region. It is often impassable during the rainy season as it becomes flooded.
For pedestrians, crossing the running streams between Omataura and town – where many go to on a daily basis to search for odd jobs – is a living nightmare after heavy rainfall.
“If it is difficult for a car to pass here, imagine us who are on foot. We are literally cut off from town when it rains,” said Tjerivanga.
The often bustling Trans-Kalahari Highway, which passes through the heart of Witvlei on the B6 national road, does little to bring in much needed income.
Only recently was the once thriving service station at the town revived to give motorists reason to stop over.
Even if they do, a lack of proper ablution and shopping facilities often make motorists think twice about stopping again, a local resident says.
As such, many motorists – mainly tourists with foreign currency traveling to Botswana or South Africa – simply bypass the town altogether in favour of the much bigger Gobabis, some 50 kilometres further to the east.
The lack of economic opportunities at Witvlei has inadvertently created another societal evil; excessive abuse of alcohol, especially amongst the younger generation.
Alcohol abuse has become the preferred way of passing time for many young people here, as boredom and frustration often takes their toll on them, a local man said.
The 25-year-old man, who did not want to be named, said alcohol provides relief to him and his group of close friends, as they temporarily forget about their problems.
“We have been trying to get ourselves employed for years now and nothing is happening. We still live with our parents in small zinc houses, what kind of life is that?” he remarks.
The shebeens and abundant drinking holes selling traditional brews makes the availability of alcohol easy, compounding the problem for many parents here who are forced to sit silently and observe as their children drown their sorrows in alcohol.
One such parent is Skrywer, who says she is worried about the future of her children.
“What kind of life will they have if they are already so addicted to traditional home brew at such a young age?” she asked.
Witvlei Village Council Chief Executive Officer, Hendrik Muisoor, in a recent presentation to Minister of Urban and Rural Development, Peya Mushelenga said the council has devised various ways of reviving the ailing economic prospects of the town.
One such initiative was to provisionally register the youth centre with the Namibia Tourism Board as an accommodation facility to give more people, especially tourists, a reason to stop over and bring in much needed income.
The council has also called on business people to set up shop at the town, especially in poultry farming and solar farm enterprises.
According to the regional profile of Omaheke, as provided by the Office of the Governor, some 7 756 beneficiaries were registered for social grants in the Omaheke Region at the end of April 2017.
A total of 5 964 beneficiaries received old age grants and 1 792 are registered for disability grants. – NAMPA