Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The agonising feeling of asking for N$10 for toiletries from her brother or the fact that she would be the last to be informed about family gatherings was evidence enough her position in the family had been compromised.
At 36, Hilde Sheetekela was a nobody, staying under her brother’s roof and depending on him for everything. With a poor educational background, her options were immensely limited.
In 2001, she decided to use the little she had saved from her pocket money to buy fruits and vegetables and then began selling them on the streets in her Katutura neighbourhood.
“My children were young and lived with my parents at Onamome Village in Okalongo Constituency, Omusati Region. However, I knew the best way for me to take care of them was to take care of myself first. I had to do something.”
She began selling apples and fat cakes. She would wake up early every morning to target school children who passed by her makeshift desk.
As years went by, she could no longer keep her children at her parents’ because they were getting older and needed to start school. But neither her parents nor she could provide the children’s school fees.
With time, she moved her stall towards the Wanaheda Bus Stop where demand was higher and by 2005, Sheetekela’s apple and fat cake business was complementing the kapana trade at the bus stop.
The kapana at Wanaheda Bus Stop was mainly dominated by men at the time but they respected Sheetekela, nonetheless, having seen her survive the previous four years walking the streets selling her apples and fat cakes.
In no time, she became a ‘family member’ of the kapana business. A ‘kapana place’ is an outside braai (barbeque) area located in Katutura and visited by people from all walks of life - from beggars, to ministers, all for tasty pieces of meat charged at N$1 each.
No sooner had she joined the roasted beef business than her daughters began attending Negumbo Secondary School up north. However, their studies had been interrupted after completing primary school as there was insufficient fees.
Fast-forward to present day, Sheetekela receives about 10 boxes of beef per week from Witvlei Meat Namibian, which weigh about 21kgs each for N$8 000 in total. Her orders alone are worth N$32 000 a month.
Since she sells her kapana from an ordinary braai stand, which is easy to maintain, she only pays N$25 for rent per month to the municipality for her business space.
She now employs one other lady to assist her, as the job demands that she sits from 7am to as late as 9pm sometimes.
She can now travel to the North at will because someone would be available to cater to the business while she is away, her parents look up to her and she has since began bailing out those who once supported her.
“I buy groceries for my parents in the village each month. My three daughters have completed their secondary education, all from my kapana business. My youngest child - my son - is in Grade Six at Martti Ahtisaari Primary School. I am glad I did not depend on Government handouts, because those who did still wait every time,” she says.
One of Sheetekela’s daughters is currently a fourth-year student at the International University of Management (IUM) where she studies towards an honours’ degree in travel and tourism.
The younger daughter, who attended Emmanuel Shifidi Secondary School, was formerly a sales person at ReadiBites meat market in Windhoek’s Southern Industrial Area. She currently seeks a different career path while her oldest sister, who is already a married woman, is a supervisor at the Katutura Shoprite.
“They all made it through kapana,” she smiles, excusing us to stand aside for her customers who want some.
Having started operating at the bus stop way before it was even built into the market place it is today, she maintains the market could still do with more public investments: “It would be good if Government added some benches our customers could sit on.”
However, since beef has become quite expensive, the business sometimes generates less income as opposed to the anticipated returns. There is also the challenge of more people offering the same product, hence high competition.
But for Sheetekela, the first step out of poverty marked this great journey, recently boosted by a house she bought in Wanaheda. That’s the real definition of Meme Kapana. Even family gatherings, which she was once never informed about, now take place at her house.