Farmworkers who failed as farmers

Farmworkers who failed as farmers

Normally when one visits a farm, one would expect a welcoming farming environment that consists of the bleating of goats, the mooing of cattle, bawling, not to mention the cackle of chickens. Alas, that is not the greeting one got at Ongombo West. Especially on the section of the farm allocated to the former farm employees, who did so well as farmworkers but apparently have failed to prosper as farm owners – albeit co-owners.

When New Era Weekend visited these former employees this week Wednesday, the scene was that of a settlement of destitute families. Many were sitting idle and asked for government handouts instead of farming on the fertile soil under their feet.

Government has divided the farm into sections of varying hectares and each section was given to a group of families or individuals for farming. Some of the resettled people, such as those under the Namibian Former Robben Island Political Prisoners Trust are trying to farm on their part of the farm. The former veterans have set up a horticulture garden as a trial, and their aim is to establish fully fledged horticultural farm.

A number of livestock can be seen on several sections, owned by weekend farmers, on this farm that is situated 40 kilometres east of Windhoek.

But the actual production on the farm does not come near, let alone equal, the farm production that, before 2005, exported 150 000 flowers to Germany, Holland and South Africa annually. In its heyday, Ongombo West produced between 130 000 and 150 000 Arum Lilies (Zantedeschia flowers) worth an estimated U$500 000 over a three-month season as of 2005. The section occupied by the former employees has an atmosphere that is heavy with a sense of desperation, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy levels among the resettled farmers.

They only possess few chickens, donkeys, goats and plenty of stray dogs.
“Government has abandoned us. They promised to provide us with livestock so that we can start farming to improve our lives, but to no avail.

All we want is just livestock and water then our lives will be better,” said a desperate Wilfried Hoebeb who was born and bred on the farm 45 years ago.

And government did try, at first, to accommodate the resettled farmers, including the farmworkers-turned-farmers. But things started going awry within months. On Section C of the farm the irrigation system installed by the previous owner was destroyed within a month. Government had to repair it at a cost of N$1.6 million. New Era Weekend was told that the pumps have not worked for two years now.

Hoebeb says their deplorable living conditions could improve had government fulfilled its promises to provide them with water infrastructure and livestock.

“I am hopeless. I have nothing to add to my name. The only thing I know is farming,” said Hoebeb who rushed to his corrugated-iron shack to collect his ID because he does not know his own age.

Immanual Hoebeb is another settled farmer who did not know his age and says life is tough on the farm because they have nothing.
“Government has made a lot of promises over the years. Every time they come visit us, they make empty promises but they don’t deliver. Even last week, they were here and we are tired of their promises,” he remarked while seated by his shack.

He also demanded livestock for farming, saying he owns four sheep. He said he is uneducated, hence securing a job is difficult, But he does menial work at farms for which he is paid N$1 000.

Seated next to him was Emma Ouses who was making dresses out of old clothing.
Emma who is well known as Ouma could not speak English nor Afrikaans. New Era had to rely on Immanuel to interpret. She says she suffers from hypertension and is heavily reliant on her unemployed children for support.

“I have high-blood pressure and we don’t even have a clinic around the farm or its surroundings. We have to travel to Windhoek for such services, which is costly. A mobile clinic that used to come here no longer comes,” she narrated.

All the infrastructure, including the large green houses for the defunct flower export business, has deteriorated over the years.
Ongombo West was the first farm to be expropriated in Namibia after labour demanded this following a dispute between the farm owners and workers.

This process gave resettled families access to 4 000 hectares of land, nearly half of which is today lying idle.

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