Published on July 26th, 2016 | by admin0
‘THERE IS A LOT OF SUFFERING IN OUR COUNTRY’
GOVERNMENT’S STATED INTENT IS TO ERADICATE POVERTY BY 2025. BRIGITTE WEIDLICH TALKED TO POVERTY ERADICATION AND SOCIAL WELFARE MINISTER ZEPHANIA KAMEETA ABOUT HOW THIS CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED
IN: You chaired the Poverty Eradication Commission of the Lutheran World Federation for seven years and travelled to several African countries in that capacity. What can you say about Namibia’s intentions and efforts to eradicate poverty?
ZK: When you want to do something in life you don’t aim for the inferior, but for the highest. If you want to have a house, you think of a beautiful one, not a shack. You know you do not have much money, but still you think of building your house, even if it is a small one. For poverty eradication it is the same, you cannot say we want to work for alleviation or reduction of poverty, we aim for the highest and complete objective, which is poverty eradication. How long it may take, that does not matter, and also it does not alter your vision. President Hage Geingob decided to establish a Ministry for Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare. Although some people had difficulties with the expressions of poverty eradication, or with using the word ‘Poverty Eradication’, Goal 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) says: “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” If it is just reduction of poverty, it will make us complacent. Parents do aim the highest for their children, e.g. they don’t want their children to start first being a street cleaner. Even poor people want their children to become lawyers, doctors etc. The road to achieve this might not be easy, but that does not take away from the ultimate vision.
You were a strong advocate for the Basic Income Grant (BIG) which was introduced several years ago by a coalition at Otjivero. The monthly payouts were N$100 per person. Was that not a hand-out and robbing the poor of their dignity?
ZK: I heard that many times. People are receiving grants from government, like the oldage pension, disability grant, grants for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and grants for veterans. Are these grants bad and do they make the recipients lazy? I don’t know why this argument is used, when it comes to the BIG. I believe that the BIG is one important intervention towards poverty eradication. The Harambee Prosperity Plan notes in Chapter 5 that the various grants are fragmented and task the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare to do a feasibility study which will lead to a restructuring of our social grants. I believe that this discussion will also include a consideration of the BIG. Our ministry will look into consolidating the grants to achieve maximum benefits. Our ministry was also tasked to draft a blueprint for the re-distribution of wealth and poverty eradication. This draft has already been tabled to Cabinet, which referred it to the Cabinet Committee on Land and Social Issues. The final document will assist us in the establishment of a feasibility study for the restructuring of social grants.
The Social Security Commission is looking for experts to operationalise the national pension scheme within 18 months. Is that part of poverty eradication?
ZK: A national pension for all Namibians is also mentioned in Chapter 5 of the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP). I am happy the Social Security Commission is working on it.
Apparently the food bank tender was withdrawn, what was the reason?
ZK: The tender was not withdrawn, but was put aside for further consideration. The Food Bank was launched on Thursday, 30 June 2016, in the Tobias Hainyeko Constituency in Katutura. We started training unemployed young people to form street committees. They are trained how to identify beneficiaries, how to approach them and how to distribute the food parcels. We started at the Tobias Hainyeko constituency and finalised the process and currently the Samora Machel constituency is going through the same process. The young people who got trained are enthusiastic and eager to do their work. They will receive an allowance from our Ministry. The Khomas Region is expected to be completed by the end of October.
The food will come from donations?
ZK: The Ministry budgeted for the food parcels which will be distributed, we however believe in the public-private partnership, therefore the Ministry invited the big retailers to Windhoek to the Ministry to discuss their possible donations. The response was very much positive and therefore we are certain that their donations will go a long way to support the Ministry not only in the Khomas Region, but the food banks all over the country.
Are the churches playing their part to reduce or eradicate poverty? Should they not be more active apart from soup kitchens?
ZK: As it was with the Namibian liberation struggle, the churches should be part of the poverty eradication and nation building. The churches have got a clear basis for working towards poverty eradication. The Gospel according the Mathew chapter 25 v 31-46 and Acts chapter 2 v 42-47, has been the basis of Diakonia – the service to the poor. Therefore, the churches together with many other organisations are important partners of the government, in the declared war against poverty.
We cannot fight against greed only with laws, policies or courts, but we must show the people another way of life. It is here where the church is playing a very important role with proclamation of the Gospel. You started a special ministerial fund…
ZK: … Yes, the budget of the Ministry is earmarked for specific programmes and projects, therefore we decided to establish a fund with which we can help those in need and who visit our Ministry on a regular basis with heart-breaking stories of abject poverty and suffering. Some people for example who receive a grant (N$1,100) for disability and who have a shack in the backyard of someone, would pay N$1,000 for erecting a shack there and will be left only with N$100, which will not be enough to buy food and other necessities for the family. We have been assisting with food supply and in such cases we consider providing for such people decent shelters, in cooperation with the Ministry of Urban and Rural Development.
Seeing so much poverty, how do you keep you inner balance?
ZK: Yes, it is true, there is a lot of suffering on our country. When we held our nationwide National Dialogue meetings last year, we found people living in very difficult circumstances. People living close to our big rivers in the northern parts of Namibia shared with us that they are thirsty and that they do not have enough water; young children walking for many kilometres early in the morning to school, among dangerous wild animals. We met people not only children but grown-ups who are malnourished. At some places boreholes were drilled but after three to four years it is still not installed with pumping facilities. We heard complaints of implementation which does not take place. For keeping my inner balance, I constantly keep close contact with my family, especially with our grandchildren. On a daily basis I read the Word of God, which lifts me up when I am weak, renews my strength and gives me hope and new inspiration. I have also many role models in my life and in history, who just kept going, no matter what the situation was and never gave up.
Will you serve another term in Cabinet?
ZK: I am not thinking about terms but about the five years for which I have been appointed with the huge responsibility of eradicating poverty. The remaining four years is a very short time and therefore every minute counts. My wish and determination is not to waste a minute in the remaining four years, but to serve the people of Namibia to the best of my ability.
Many thanks for the interview.
ZK: You are welcome.