Keetmanshoop – Karasburg West Constituency Councillor Paulus Efraim says grape farmers at Aussenkehr should be cognisant of the fact they live in reedhouses and should take extra precautions to avoid fires. His warning follows an incident in which 37 reedhouses were razed to the ground. Nothing could be salvaged, as most workers were either on duty or still on holiday at the time.
The police confirmed the incident, saying 37 houses burned down and while no life was lost the damage was extensive.
The cause of the fire is still not confirmed at this stage, but investigations continue. New Era understands the blaze was likely caused by a gas stove, after a resident went to work and forgot to switch it off after cooking.
The constituency councillor said although it is sad that people lost their belongings in the fire, it is high time residents do more to prevent such fires. He said in many instances human error causes these fires, which in turn cause great damage to property and sometimes claim people’s lives. He advised the residents to take the necessary precautions at all times.
“It’s sad, but people must also know that they are living in reedhouses and be vigilant at all times. People are sometimes negligent,” he said.
He further said he has repeatedly called on people not to build their houses too close to each other, but his calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Although some residents New Era spoke to cited the lack of land as the main reason they build so close to one another, Efraim said even when there is not enough land there should be space between the houses, so that fire does not easily spread from one house to the next.
“This is not an excuse [for the problem of house fires], but when you put up a structure you have to think of this,” he stated.
Asked whether better housing for the workers is not the answer to the problem, he said government is committed to securing better housing for the people, but building better houses will not be a solution in itself, as even the new brick houses will burn down if people are negligent, noting that the cause of frequent fires should be established so they can be prevented.
Efraim further said even when brick houses are built, it will not be able to accommodate all the residents, as the population keeps increasing daily.
“We’re talking about housing, but we can’t build houses for all these people that come every day. So, it’s not to say that when we start building houses this [problem of fires] will stop.”
Namibian Farmworkers Union (NAFWU) general secretary Rocco Nguvauva believes the situation can be drastically improved if grape companies that are raking in millions of dollars from the workers’ sweat and labour could do more to improve living conditions at Aussenkehr.
Many companies have maintained that they are ready to build houses for their workers, as soon as the water infrastructure is in place, saying they cannot build without water.
Nguvauva is not impressed with what he called “delaying tactics” and asked why most companies build houses for people in managerial positions and not for ordinary workers.
“They’ve been saying all along that they are ready to build, but nothing has been done. They’ve been saying that for about 20 years,” he stated.
Asked if the workers are being negligent when they cause the fires, he argued that no sane person will intentionally burn down their own house. It happens unintentionally.
“I will not say that it is negligence. No one will leave their stove on knowingly and let their houses burn down, so these are just accidents and they can be avoided if these people are given proper housing,” he said.