While Namibia is classified as a higher middle income country, with an estimated annual Gross Domestic Product per capita of 5,828 U.S. dollars, it continues to be characterized by extreme inequalities in income distribution and standards of living.
For Nipanda Shilongo, every day is a struggle to survive in a resource-rich country, where wealth is flaunted by those who have it, and is constantly on display to her when luxury sedans and SUVs race past the highway spot where she sits eagerly waiting for customers.
Shilongo sells the grass to farmers as a lifeline for their livestock affected by the current drought.
The mother of six, who is originally from Okalongo in the northern Omusati region, has been selling grass for 16 years.
“I wake up every day at five in the morning and I work until six in the evening, walking to and from the road to sell grass. I have been doing this since 2001,” the mother said.
“I sell it for 20 Namibian dollars (1.3 U.S. dollars) per bunch. I decided to sell my grass and other cattle food on the road side, so that those who are travelling out of Windhoek to their farms could buy. I do not really make enough money out of it, but it is better than nothing,” she said.
Shilongo said that the little she makes is better than nothing, and sitting at home.
“In a month, l make around 800 Namibian dollars (53.3 U.S. dollars), and to me that is something, that means I’ll be able to buy some food for my six children,” Shilongo said.
Reports released last year by the National Planning Commission (NPC) indicated that over half a million Namibians live on less than 12 Namibian dollars (0.8 U.S. dollars) a day.
The Poverty Mapping Report and the Index of Multiple Deprivation Report indicated that the largely rural northern regions of Kavango, Oshikoto, Zambezi, Kunene and Ohangwena remain the poorest in the country, with more than one third of the population poor.
In Kavango, more than half of the population is classified as poor, which represents 21 percent of the close to 570,000 poor people nationwide.
Ohangwena and Oshikoto accounts for 15 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of the country’s impoverished.
Hilia Paulus, a 42-year-old mother of three from Uukolonkadhi also in the Omusati region, said that she only started selling grass on the outskirts of Windhoek in March this year.
“I sell my grass bunch for as little as 20 Namibian dollars (1.3 U.S. dollars), but you will find customers who will ask me to reduce the price to 15 Namibian dollars (1 U.S. dollars) or 10 Namibian dollars (0.6 U.S. dollars). By the end of month, I can only raise 300 Namibian dollars (20 U.S. dollars),” she said.
Lovisa Shalihu, 50, from Ongandjera in the Omusati region has given up all hope of finding a job.
She said that she only makes 300 Namibian dollars (20 U.S. dollars) per month from her grass selling activities.
“Every morning, together with other sellers, we walk to the mountain and cut grass and collect the cattle food to sell here,” Shalihu said.
She added she lived in South Africa for three years, after moving in search of a better life.
“Things were quite better there than what I’m doing here. I am now thinking of going back,” She said.
“I am in my own country, but I can’t even find a cleaning job. It cannot be possible, this country is not populated like other countries,” Shalihu added.
Anna Matheus, a 31-year-old mother of three, who brings her kids with to help her sell grass, said her situation is getting worse every single day.
Matheus, who is from Onengali in the Ohangwena region, said she needs proper shelter for her kids.
“We need shelter. Its winter time and my children need jerseys and blankets. Selling grass is my way of survival here. I don’t know what else to do. If someone can help me, I can work.”
These women’s stories mirror those of the poorest across the country, who eke out a living by any means necessary. Enditem