Gibeon Cries: 'we Have Been Forgotten'

31 Mar 2019 15:00pm
By Edward Mumbuu Jr
GIBEON, 31 MAR (NAMIBIA) – Going day-to-day with limited financial resources is a reality many Namibians experience and with what they feel is little support from the government, some fear they will never break the chains of poverty.
It is even worse when someone is unemployed,with no financial means to take them from one month to the next.
This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma faced by many residents of Gibeon, some 60 kilometres south of the Hardap Region’s capital, Mariental.
During a recent visit, a few commonalities could be drawn from the village’s different inhabitants - these are the feeling of neglect, disappointment and hopelessness.
Those tasked with developing the village however disagreed with assertions that the village has been side-lined in Namibia's development agenda.
One such person was Jeremia van Neel, the Gibeon Constituency's councillor.
“The Gibeon of 1992 is different from the one of today. There is a tarred road. Houses have been built. Government has spent N.dollars 35 million on the construction of the tourism centre, N.dollars 10 million was spent on the sewerage system... so I don't know what people are speaking about,” the councillor told Nampa.
He said he has travelled the entire country and when he looks at the extent to which Gibeon has grown in juxtaposition to other parts, it is sad to note that people here do not appreciate or at least notice the transformation.
“Somebody is lying when they say Gibeon is left behind. That is a political statement. I have been around the country. I have been to Ovitoto and Okanguati through the drought relief project and some other places. They will cry if they see these places,” he charged.
Van Neel added that it was about time the residents changed their mindsets, from being employment seekers to employment creators.
He said the government is the only source of employment at the village. All positions at the local school, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry office and the police station are occupied.
“The people must change their mindsets. They must start businesses. The time to sit down and wait for the government to do everything is over,” Van Neel said.
On the opposing end is University of Namibia lecturer, Phanuel Kaapama, who went to Gibeon aged just 13 to start Grade 7. He now holds the view that no major developmental and economic changes have taken place here since independence in 1990.
Furthermore, Kaapama opined that Gibeon is on a downward trajectory in comparison to the colonial years.
“Gibeon is not being recognised for its contribution. That’s why when you go there today, it is in that state. I cannot point out a major development that has taken place since independence.
“Why the non-recognition by a Swapo-led government, especially after what Gibeon did for Swapo? In fact, the only Swapo office that remained open and active from round about 1985 was the office in Gibeon and it is still there. It was built by [the late] John Pandeni and Peter Iilonga,” he added.
The village, with a population of about 4 000 inhabitants, has made a significant contribution to Namibia’s self-determination and independence, having produced stalwarts such as Namibia’s late Deputy Prime Minister, Reverend Hendrik Witbooi and the late Namaqua Chief, Kaptein Hendrik (! Nanseb) Witbooi.
Gibeon is further credited with opening its doors to a number of liberation struggle icons who fled their towns and villages during Apartheid, including survivors of the Cassinga Massacre of 1987.
According to Kaapama, however, these contributions appear to have been forgotten, if the delayed development is anything to go by.
His sentiments were echoed by some residents, who feel independence without economic emancipation is meaningless.
The 19-year-old Morne Burger said he is a school dropout and just roams the streets after failing Grade 10 at Cornelius ||Oaseb Secondary School.
“I am just at home. There is nothing to do. The young people are just drinking alcohol because there is simply nothing to do,” Burger, who lives with his mother and grandmother, told Nampa.
“If I get a job, I can also help my mother because her salary is not enough to cater for herself, let alone for three people,” the hopeful Burger appealed.
Also sharing her experience was the 49-year-old Rebecca Garoes, who said her chief concerns are the level of unemployment and abuse of alcohol.
Even for the few that are employed, like herself, making ends meet is nearly impossible.
She proposed that Government introduce developmental projects such as a community garden, where people can be employed, work for food and sell the surplus produce.
She was also self-critical in her demands and acknowledged some of their failures as a community.
“Even if you start a garden here, one thing I know about the people of Gibeon is that they will work on something for a few months and eventually, they abandon it,” she said, adding that the political leadership of the town is trying its best to uplift the masses from the shackles of poverty.
“But there is not much that they can do for us as the government does not have any money,” she added.
She further pointed to the construction of toilets, the new village council office and the state-of-the-art business park that have been developed.
Anna-Justine Garoes, the chairperson of the Gibeon Village Council, said an overwhelming majority of the village’s employable residents are without work due to lack of economic opportunities.
As a direct result of unemployment, today the village finds itself drowning in debt, owing N.dollars 10 million to the Namibia Water Corporation (NamWater) in 2015 which has since risen.
“We are still struggling to pay NamWater because people are jobless and cannot pay. We have asked the government to write off the debt,” she said.
However, all hope is not lost according to Garoes, as with its economic potential, strategic location and young population, Gibeon’s fortunes could change should investors come on board.
“The village is known for its tourist attractions, especially because of its rich history. If we get investors to come and build houses and service stations like one investor is planning to do, we will get jobs for the youth,” she noted.
She went on to say that the village council, in a bid to arrest the high poverty and unemployment levels, has given start-up capital to some young people to run their own small and medium enterprises.
“Maybe if they see others running businesses, they will also be inspired to start their own,” Garoes said.