Windhoek-What used to be an open, unoccupied space along the road in Okuryangava’s Onganga Street is now a hive of activity, with informal traders, mainly women, selling food to fend for their families and survive.
The traders told New Era that they chose to trade rather than languish in poverty. The busy area now turned open market has many traders, mainly from the two Kavango regions.
Tomatoes, onions, cabbages, wild fruit, meat, salad and macaroni imported from Angola are some of the foodstuffs sold here.
Many of the vendors have made their homes on the site, to guard their stock at night and also because they cannot afford the cost of renting a decent house or shack, as rent in Windhoek is exorbitant.
From far, the area is an eyesore, as hygiene seems to be lacking. Tents and black plastic bags can be seen everywhere. There is no water or electricity, and to relieve themselves they constructed a few pit latrines.
But, the traders who spoke to the New Era team said they do not have any choice because they have to put bread on the table, especially for their dependents, many of whom are minors and elderly.
“I came here to struggle for my three children, because their fathers are not supporting them,” said 33-year-old Elina Augustinus, who was preparing food to go and sell.
Augustinus sells meat, salad and macaroni for N$10 a portion. She also sells tomatoes that she gets from a friend who works at Noordoewer.
Augustinus, who comes from Ndama location in Rundu, said business has been very slow. “We are many people selling the same things so customers now have broader choice as to whom they want to support,” she explained.
Augustinus is one of many women at the open market who lives at the site. She is awake by 05h00 to prepare her food and then starts selling in the various areas of Okuryangava.
“To be honest, this business does not have profit. I go and look for the customers in the streets,” said Augustinus.
She says she came to Windhoek over a year ago, hoping for better living conditions. Her sister, Louise Victor, also came along and they both now live in a makeshift tent.
“We do not sleep peacefully at night, because thieves come and take our things when they see that we are asleep. Also, some customers take our food and then refuse to pay us,” said Augustinus, who dropped out of school in Grade 9.
To be guaranteed some cash, she has opted to sell food on credit. “Food spoils very fast, so I have no choice but to sell on credit while it’s still fresh,” Augustinus related. She also told our team that there are few men who sell or even sleep at the open market.
Similarly, 24-year-old Elizabeth Kakoshi came to Windhoek one year ago. She also came to Windhoek hoping things would be better than at home. That was not to be.
“I came here with CV (curriculum vitae) but I did not get a job, so now I sell tomatoes and onions to make a living,” explained the mother of one.
She was also concerned at the slow pace that her stock was selling.
“Before we used to sell everything the whole day, but now it takes four days just to sell stock,” said Kakoshi.
Like Augustinus, Kakoshi believes business is slow because of the high unemployment rate. And, to survive people try their hand at vending, she observed, adding that some people are not creative and would rather sell what is already being sold by other traders.
Kakoshi failed Grade 10 twice and decided she would rather find a job. “Sometimes I regret not going back to NAMCOL for a third time, because the life I’m living now… huh ah (no),” she said with a note of regret.
Fortunately, Kakoshi lives with her brother at a rather descent house, she says. What’s more, the house is within walking distance from where she sells. “We as young people should be serious with our lives so that we don’t regret,” she added.
According to a 2017 report by the Namibia Statistics Agency, titled ‘Does fiscal policy benefit the poor and reduce inequality in Namibia?’, despite a reduction in poverty in the country, poverty levels remain high.
Further, less than 60 percent of the working age individuals are in the labour force.
“Not only is unemployment high in Namibia, but labour force participation is low, relative to other developing countries,” data the report showed. “Improvements in education outcomes supported poverty reduction,” it found.
The Kavango regions specifically recorded the highest incidence of poverty.
Meanwhile, not far from Kakoshi was another trader, Natalia Tjivekwa who just started selling wild fruit, popularly known as Kavango lemon, yesterday.
The 32-year old is from Masivi village, located about ten kilometers south of Rundu in the Kavango West region.
“I get the wild fruit far in the village. I took me two months to gather all these fruits,” Tjivekwa said through an interpreter. Tjivekwa came here because she believed she would make more profit in the city.
“There everybody sells the same thing and we are in close proximity to each other,” she explained.
Tjivekwa, a mother of three, said she had no choice but to trade. “People were not buying, so I decided to come here,” she said.
Unlike her fellow traders, Tjivekwa will return to Masivi village once she has sold her stock, hopefully in two weeks. For now, she has to figure out how quick to soon sell the 40 bags of wild fruit.