Thursday, 17 September 2015

We are in an African standoff

(First appeared in New Era 6 May 2015)

Today’s column is a play of words on the saying “It is a Mexican standoff”. A Mexican standoff refers to when two or more opponents have their guns drawn and unless there is an agreement to stop, all parties will die regardless of who pulls the trigger first. This remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it. It is used in today’s column to symbolise the stand-off on issues of land and specifically access to urban land.
The past week I was working in Onyaanya constituency of the Oshikoto region.  Unfortunately there were no suitable accommodation establishments that had place for the period within the immediate vicinity and I had to book into a guest house just outside Ondangwa. As it was a long weekend, I managed to take time in the evening to do some “window shopping” in the towns of Ondangwa and Ongwediva. I must add that I was glad that my employer had not paid my salary by the end of the month and I was actually glad (not really) as it was definitely tempting to go on a real shopping spree. I found almost all the retailers that you will find in Windhoek and even some that had not yet made it to the capital city.
The bad news was that more and more of the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) belonging to Namibians ae being displaced to make space for these multinational (mostly South African) companies. While appreciating the convenience of having a large range of well-priced goods within the modern mall environment, it is worrying that the only employment being created is for low-level front-end jobs and that more of our indigenous entrepreneurs are going out of business.
The same issue, foreign ownership, comes up in discussions of how property developers in the housing market are only catering for up-market, high-income earners and neglecting the indigenous low-income earners.
It would really be a good initiative for our local authorities to insist upon “Inclusionary Zoning”. This term (which was coined in America) refers to local authority and other planning regulations that require a given share of new construction to be affordable by people with low to moderate incomes. For example, the local authority or the Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Rural Development can insist within the purchase deed that 10% -30% of new houses and townhouse complex space be allocated to lower-income earners. The term specifically uses the word “inclusionary” to indicate that the policy is aimed at countering “exclusionary zoning” whose aim is to exclude low-cost housing from certain areas in a local authority.
While investigating this use of local authority regulations to provide a wider range of housing options I was immediately impressed by the two issues that will be addressed such policies. Firstly, the apartheid past has caused certain areas to still be markedly different based on the skin colour of the inhabitants and is considered one of the racial divides we need to address in an Independent Namibia. Secondly, the free market (or as our constitution states – mixed economy), has been driven by profits and these are obviously at the high end of the market where top dollar can be charged and profits are the primary purpose.
The biggest benefits include, but are not limited to a) the creation of income-integrated communities, b) reduced bussing and commuter costs borne by the local authorities as they must presently provide subsidised travel for low-income earners who provide the home work force in high income areas; c) equality in access to schooling and other government services across communities; and d) perhaps most importantly speed up the process of reconciliation by eroding the apartheid land usage policies based on colour.
I must end this column with a reminder that what started me on this route of thinking was the shopping malls mushrooming all over the country that are not catering for our SME’s. The Government of Namibia must implement a policy of inclusionary zoning that will force property developers to include an SME park area within their complex. This will encourage entrepreneurship and decrease the feeling of “loss of participation in the economy” experienced among the people.

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