Hardship forces disabled men to live alongside river

30 Sep 2013 04:00
By Olavi Haikera
RUNDU, 30 SEP (NAMPA) - Poverty and the continuous struggle to make ends meet has forced two disabled men from the Kavango West Region to abandon their homesteads and move to the Okavango River, despite a constant threat of crocodile attacks.
Most inhabitants of the Kavango East and West Regions reside far- away from that river - some as far away as 15 kilometres (km) away - due to the presence of crocodiles, hippos and mosquitoes.
Jonas Ihemba, 68, and Petrus Nikolaus, 57, relocated to the banks of the river some two years ago after realising that they needed to change their unemployment status in order to provide for their families.
Ihemba, a former Namdeb Diamond Corporation mining employee, had his legs amputated in 1984 and 2007 after contracting an unknown disease while working for that mining company.
Nikolaus contracted leprosy in 1986, which affected both his hands, although he still has minimal use of his hands.
They left the Kayirayira village on the outskirts of Rundu with their families, giving up their farms to Government for the establishment of the Sikondo irrigation project. This village is situated some 12km from the river.
The men, who have 12 children between them, decided to venture into fishing and reed-harvesting when they moved to their new residence, some 20 metres from the Okavango River.
Their new home is made up of small tents and plastic sheets, located under a small thorn tree.
Ihemba told Nampa on Friday that living besides the river is convenient for them as they can harvest fish and reeds at any time of the day, and sell their produce to local people and the business community.
Although the two pensioners receive disability grants from Government, they said it is not enough to feed their big families.
They thus decided to supplement it by selling the fish and reeds they harvest.
Asked whether living alongside the river does not make them susceptible to crocodile and hippo attacks, Nikolaus explained that they have learned to live with the creatures as they have no choice as it is here where their livelihoods are.
They, however, regularly visit family and friends at their original homesteads, and also to attend church services on Sundays.
“We call on other disabled people to be creative and make a living from any business opportunity they can lay their hands on,” said Ihemba.
Meanwhile, their new residence has become a hive of activity as most fish lovers and those engaged in selling freshwater fish flock to them to buy fish.
Ihemba and Nikolaus have fishing rights from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, and pay N.dollars 200 for fishing net permits.