It’s 10am, and the June cold is beginning to take its tour over Namibia as more evidence of winter closes in. Gusts of wind picks and drops an occasional piece of paper, blurring horns of taxis negotiating their way into the CBD through the morning rush hour are almost ubiquitous.
Amidst this organised chaos of a day yawning itself out of the blanket of the past cold night I walk across the Katutura Hospital attempting to discover some interesting street food and local eateries. Immediately, I make out the ragtag image of a vendor hunched over a collection of merchandise ranging from soft drinks, vegetables, tomatoes, assortment of chips and soft drinks, the list seems is endless.
The lines on her eyes tells the story of a woman that has seen it, that has been there, to that very edge of poverty and with a daring spirit of survival. On a second closer look, I cannot avoid the unmistakable yet subtle level of creativity, innovation, and business sensibilities that some of these street vendors exhibit.
From fat-cakes to chips and the traditional drink Oshikundu many vendors bring extensive knowledge and an inspiring spirit of entrepreneurship to their stalls after getting a donation to construct a house from the Municipality through a self-build programme they had those years and I have to pay for that house including water, sometimes I think of selling it rather because I am unable to manage at my age.”
She further explain saying that her water bill stands at N$ 46 000 currently as there was a water pipe that burst and affected her bill to go up. “The municipality expect me to settle the amount with N$ 11 000 by July before they can close it for good, and I don’t even know what to do, I have sleepless nights everyday asking myself where I will get N$11 000 thousand dollars if I don’t work, and although not much is made after sales. With the current economic outlook, many businesses have closed down and jobs have been lost, but with these pensioners giving up is never an option.
While standing at the corner of one stand with my notebook in my hand and a camera on the other hand, trying to ﬁgure out a proper way to approach these ladies, 69 year old Victoria Uushona stared and called me on the side asking if I am from NBC. While explaining where I am from and what my mission is, she immediately started telling her story hoping for a Good Samaritan to assist her with her troubles.
“I have been selling fat cakes, Russian, chips and soft drinks since 2003 and the same spot but there is really nothing much coming out, but what do I do, if it is the only thing I can do at my age, I am old now and my kids that used to assist me have passed on, I had 9 children and now left with four only,” she said.
Adding that she is only left with four grandchildren which she considers as her own kids however they are still young to assist her ﬁnancially. Although she has many challenges that could have triggered her to give up the hustle and the only source of income she has, she reveals that, “I have a house in Freedom land that I have built a year after independence there is no way I can get a loan from the bank without a job, how do I pay back,” she frazzled.
She further mentioned that she appreciates the pension fund they receive from government, however the amount is not enough to even pay her water bill, including paying for the kids school, food, and taxi as well as being deducted for the house they leave in.
“I wish I could get knowledge Kati’s number and just explain my situation maybe he is able to assist me, I don’t know what to do, because we pensioners in Namibia are really struggling, what we make here is not enough if it’s a lot it is a N&300 which still need to be reinvested in the business, after buying stock one is left with a N$10 for taxi,” she sadly said. After speaking to Uushona the lady seating next to her Johanna Kambwela also immediately developed trust and started sharing her experience as a vendor.
Kambwela who is 53 years old has also been operating in front of the Katutura hospital for more than 16 years and said that it has never been easy but there is nothing else they can invest into as many businesses require a large amount of Capital. With few ﬁnancial sectors requiring more than N&5 million turn over per year to grand loans to businesses and some only granting foreigners loans or practising corruption to get a loan from them, one would believe that there is no assistance to small operating businesses.
Further, Kambwela said, “the business is currently very slow and I have seven kids that I need to feed, as you can see next to its my granddaughter that I also need to take care off, I have one boy and the rest are girls, I make sure that I am her at 7 already just to make sure when people come to visit patients, I have set up.” Adding that, “despite the business being slow it is cold but we need to be here early already and try to make what we can make from here as long as I am able to put bread on the table.”