By Nessy Shimwafeni
(dedicated to everyone struggling to survive and those who lost Hope)
Slowly, the sun disappears behind the Khomas highland mountains when Nangula finally stands up from the red painted park bench, in the Freedom Park, where she had been seated the whole day.
Briefly, she watches the sunset at the horizon spreading its largess into a grateful sky, with rich hues of red blended with oranges, purples and crimsons.
The light during this time of day, illuminates the endless stretches of corrugated shacks of the townships with an almost iridescent intensity.
The dry, cold Namibian winter was fast approaching, the days will start getting shorter and colder.
Paulus the friendly old security guard, closes the gates to the Freedom Park behind Nangula as he waves her good-bye. She makes her way past shebeen bars playing loud music, where young men drink beers, whilst challenging each other in playing billiard. Plenty of hair salons are still open and the laughter of young women sitting in chairs being braided or plated, can be heard far away. The night is just starting to come alive, taxi drivers hoot their car horns looking for customers that queue the side walks of the bustling streets, old ladies seated under large umbrellas sell everything from life chicken to vegetables and sweets, whilst bargaining with customers.
This is Havana settlement, a part of Katutura a township developed for black people under the Apartheid rule of the white minority regime.
It’s here where the poorest and the forgotten people of Namibia’s capitol city Windhoek live.
Finally Nangula reaches her tiny shack, she first suspiciously looks around making sure no one is watching her, before she unlocks the door and enters a dark room.
She reaches for the Lion matches in the pockets of her worn out cardigan jacket and lights her petroleum lamp, revealing a modest room with one single bed and a salvaged old sofa, a mirror on the walls, an old radio and some framed photographs.
Nangula quickly locks the door behind herself.
Over time she has learned the hard way that this part of the neighborhood isn’t safe to live in, especially at night.
Many residents of Katutura township live in cramped, unhygienic conditions with no running water or electricity.
Tired, Nangula sits down on a salvaged sofa in the center of her small tin shack, she unties her brown worn out shoes to massages her swollen feet.
She unwraps her head scarf that cover her long dreadlocks.
Nangula sighs heavily as she takes her children’s framed photograph from the wall unit to press it firmly against her bosom. She can almost feel them next to her.
Years ago she had made the tough decision to send her 10 year old daughter Kokule and her 5 year old son Tuhafeni to go live with her mother at Eehana, a town in the north of Namibia.
Warm tears stream down her cheeks and sting her eyes.
” I miss you two so much” she sobs softly.
“But this is for the best and we shall be united very soon again”.
Nangula turns on the radio to listen to the evening news while warming up the Marathon chicken and porridge she bought earlier in the day on her small gas stove.
She then turns off her petroleum lamp, and lays herself down to sleep on her single bed still hugging her kids’ photograph.
Outside dogs can be heard barking in the distance.
An old alarm clock shakes Nangula out of her vivid dreams at 8 AM, unwillingly she drakes herself out bed. She puts on her old slippers and unlocks her door to go about her daily routine of fetching water from the nearby water tap outside, and boiling it on her gas stove, so she can wash herself.
Her shack doesn’t have running or warm water and she uses the bushes outside to relieve herself. After a short bath she carefully applies oil on her long dreadlocks and wraps them up in the scarf her mother had given her once. For breakfast she prepares tea and a bowl of jungle oats porridge.
Outside her makeshift home, barefoot children play on the banks of an open sewer while dogs roam next to an overflowing rubbish heap.
There was a time Nangula lived in the affluently suburb of Windhoek’s rich neighborhood called Ludwigsdorf, at the foot of the magnificent Eros mountains.
Her now Ex-husband James and herself, ran of one Namibia’s most successful construction companies called OMITO Trading cc. There was a time they had it all going for themselves, including a mansion with 6 bedrooms, a swimming pool overlooking the whole city, a nanny to care for their children and a selection of luxury cars to choose from, ranging from a Maserati to a Lamborghini.
Every Sunday after church they played golf with Tim and Giselle, their well-off white neighbors.
In the beginning James treated her like a princess and he adored his two children.
But as the years went by he became more and more stressed as their construction company struggled due to Namibia’s economic crisis and a looming influx of Chinese construction companies who offered cheaper services and were simply hard to compete against.
James started drinking heavily and at first verbally abused Nangula. Shortly afterwards the beatings started and she remembers the many nights he came home drunk, they fought and beat her.
“Please my dear daughter take your kids and move out before he kills all of you”, her mother Meme Kafute had cautioned her on many occasion.
Finally, she caved in and took her mother’s advice. Their divorce was long and messy.
In the meantime James had paid off some people to secretly remove her as a share holder in their business that she had helped build up.
“You will leave with nothing but the clothing on your back you bitch”, he had threatened her.
This is how she ended up here in Katutura township, where life is tough and only the strongest survive. It took Nangula 2 year to adjust, and on many occasions, she had contemplated suicide, but the thought of leaving her two children motherless was just too much to bear.
One last time Nangula glances into the mirror and straightened her pink shirt, before she opens the creaking old door and steps outside into the warm sunlight.
Her neighbor’s kids are playing outside and big Mama Tuli wishes her a good morning with her usual bright smile as she passes her meat stall. Carefully Nangula navigates her way through the congested morning traffic and heads up the path leading to the gates of the Freedom park.
“Good morning Mrs Nangula”, Paulus the old security guard greets her at the gates.
The park was established by the City of Windhoek municipality to bring some trees and grass into the otherwise dull and depressive area of the township. It is a welcoming escape from the surrounding misery and since it was inaugurated 2 years ago, old and young alike can be found holding picnics, or just strolling through it.
It is here were Nangula had established the Friendship bench project, where community members can discuss their problems and issues free of charge with her on the only red bench in the center of the Park.
She holds a degree in psychology and found it only fair to give back to the community that had welcomed her with open arms, since she moved here.
Here anybody is welcome forget their daily struggles and open up about anything and receive free counselling.
Today Nangula is meeting Mama Ndeshi, whose husband had kicked her out of the marital home and beat her up severly.
Mama Ndeshi breathes heavily and laughs as she approaches Nangula.
“My dear Nangula I am not the youngest anymore and you make this old woman walk too far”, she smiles as the two women embrace each other.
A camelthorn tree provides much needed shade.
Mama Ndeshi begins telling her story as she clutches a handkerchief:” At first he used to take me and our children out and spoil us. After 10 years he changed and started drinking heavily”.
One day it got so bad that he beat me up and I lost my left eyes.”
Iam just tired and I ask myself what did I do to deserve all this?” Mama Ndeshi looks at Nangula with teary eyes.
Nangula takes her hands into hers, “No you didn’t do anything wrong, you are a good woman Mama”, Nangula comforts her.
“I will go with you to the police station to help you open up a case of domestic violence and a restraining order against your husband, and in the meantime, you will come stay with me until we sort this all out.”
The two laldies continue talking for another 1 hour, in the distance kids fly their self-made kites in the wind.
Nangula has more meetings with community members; a schoolgirl who dropped out of school because she fell pregnant, an ex-murderer who was released from prison but can’t find a job, a young man who is gay, but afraid to tell his family and a truck driver who recently found out he is HIV positive.
After each talk Nangula feels a sense of relief that she could at least help others.
Ever since she had moved to the township, she had believed she had lost everything, but now she knows deep in her heart that she had to lose everything in order for her to gain everything. Nangula is thankful for the experience that God had put her through.
The sun was high up during midday, when her old Samsung phone rang, “Good day am I talking to Miss Nangula?” a deep manly voice inquires on the other side.
“You are speaking to her; how can I help you Sir”? Nangula says nervously.
“My name is Mr Neil Patrick and I am the country manager for Smith & Ganzo, an international company that is in partnership with the Namibian government in the oil and gas exploration.
I heard about your Friendship bench project that you run in Katutura township, our company and its international shareholders, are interested to come on board and assist you”, he continues. “Our company wants to contribute U$ 5 million in funding and we would like you to take your friendship bench project to all parts of Namibia.
” What do you say Miss Nangula, can we work together to help many more Namibians? There is also a possibility of taking your project to other African countries”.
For what seems like a minute, silence befalls Nangula before she gathers her strength to reply.
” Mr Patrick I have started this project to help others who much more in need than myself, there is a lot of brokenness and problems lingering in townships like Katutura.
I now see that this calling of mine to help others is from God and I am ready to do his work he called me upon. Yes, Yes, I am happy that we can uplift more communities around the country and save lifes. I am on board” Nangula says with a smile while holding her hand over her mouth.
“Good Miss Nangula, my private secretary will call you for a scheduled meeting next week so that we can finalize all formalities. Please have all your documentation and a presentation ready for our shareholders who are flying in from around the world. Have a great day further, and bye for now”. Nangula remains seated for another 5 minutes, letting the last 20 minutes of what just happened sink in, before she jumps up with joy and kiss her favorite red bench in her freedom park.
Today she is in no more mood to council people, so she decides to head home and talk to her mother later.
On her way she high fives the grinning security guard Paulus at the gates to the Park, who shakes his head, as he watches Nangula run down the path leading towards her home.
Still smiling she unlocks the old creeking door to her tiny shack, switches on the old radio and dances along to the tunes of the late legendary Namibian jazz musician Jackson Kaujeua , as he soulfully sings “The winds of change are sweeping across Africa…”
Nangula then sit down on her old salvaged sofa in the center of her small tin shack, excited she takes out the old Samsung phone and dials her mother.
“ Hallo Mom, you won’t believe what happened to me today”….
Outside children can be heard singing the ABC alphabet song at the nearby Get Ready for Change Creche & Kindergarten.
Today brings about much needed relief and “Winds of change” for the forgotten and poor people of Katutura Township, living at the edge of the city.