A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE

THEY have definitely heeded Government’s call to be self reliant and entrepreneurial.

Herero Mall, in the sprawling high density suburb of Katutura in Windhoek is home to numerous informal business owners where a rainbow of money-making ventures is operating. These range from car wash, hair salon, meat outlets to an innovative TV room, where patrons are charged a fee to watch European football, seating in the most basic surroundings and depicting the entrepreneurial ingenuity Namibians have.

An aerial view of the place shows as a shanty location as most of the business outlets here are made of zinc sheets, some old and buckled or plastic sheets, far from the standards that are normally associated with modern day shopping malls.

Despite the hospitality and friendly welcome one gets from the business owners, a cold chill sweeps through your body at the sight of numerous electricity cables trellising across the ground and intertwined from one cabin to the other in violation of safety regulations.

Passing electricity cables lie dangerously across several shops at this location, connections made by unqualified electricians hence most of the traders interviewed spoke of the continued power failures and fear of being electrocuted.

Now that it is rain season, the cables run the risk of getting wet and are likely to short circuit across cables to pedestrians, customers and traders, some of whom operate their gadgets in the rain.

Upon seeking comments on the hazardous electrical connections at Herero Mall, from relevant stakeholders it emerged ‘The Mall’ is mired in political controversy according to the Liaison Officer for the City of Windhoek Electricity Department Chris Katjitundu, despite putting the lives of the operators and the public on a knife’s edge.

Katjitundu says the mall area belongs to the Herero Traditional Authority and his department is only responsible for providing electricity to the orange meter boxes. He further explains that connections from the meter box were not their responsibility and any unsafe connections after this point is at the owner’s risk although punitive actions will be taken only if users tempered with the meter box or supply before the box.

“Our role is to have electricity to the meter boxes, we are not responsible as to who and how electricity is taken from there. But that is a mess,” thus Katjitundu upon being presented with a photo of one of the connections by Prime Focus.

However, the Electricity Department’s stand deductively implies that business operators at the mall, which is said to accommodate more than 2000 revelers on certain nights, have themselves to blame for any catastrophic accidents resulting from the connections.

“We can only sympathize if any fatalities occur because the people are there illegally,” Katjitundu says.

Amid that illegal wiring, those using the electrical connections are making brisk business.

At one of the car wash outlets run by Paul Victor, Kahepa Car Wash, all types of vehicles come for routine “baths”, from posh Mercedes Benz, to the earliest models.

“Business is good and all types of people come here, from Government Ministers, company executives right down to the ordinary man. While they wait for their cars they relax drinking cold beer or enjoying our braais available from the ‘shops’ around us,” says Victor although condemning the city fathers for refusing to building restrooms at the location.

The place is not only for the Herero speaking people as the name suggest. People from all walks of life come to do business at the mall.

Ironically, they do not pay rent for using the area but pay varying electricity charges of up to N$500.00 “to the City of Windhoek,” depending on the size of the business, despite numerous insistences by the city fathers that the occupants at Herero Mall are illegal operators.

For the majority of the people at Herero Mall it is therefore questionable why the City Council would not recognize these operators yet they charge them N$500.00 for operating and plays a ‘devil may care attitude’ on the issue of the dangerous wiring.

Aging Himeezembi Tjamburo is running a catering business at the mall and her delicacy is the popular pap and chops dish that she sells for a competitive N$15 which attracts clients from as far as the city centre.

Despite the lucrative patronage, she bemoans lack of facilities that shelters her line of business and blames authorities (City of Windhoek) for not recognising her job and is under the impression that she has to pay rent to the same people who do not recognise her.

Sales plummet during the rainy season because she cooks her dishes on the open fire yet end of the month she is entitled to pay the fixed monthly electricity bill of N$500.00 for her fridge and other things that use electricity

“It is not true that the money goes to the City Council. Actually, that money is paid to the two Erf owners whose meter boxes are supplying Herero Mall with electricity. The owners, who have applied for connection from us only, pay the usage fee. It is not within our jurisdiction to ask how much other people are paying to outsource that power,” says Katjitundu.

Entrepreneurs at Herero Mall, most of them not skilled in electrical engineering have started opening up municipal electricity boxes and connecting directly to various ‘shops’ around the area.

Not far from Tjamburo’s stall store is a workshop for Gazza Kandetu, operating as a car garage, body shop, exhaust repairs and welding. Gazza has been operating at the mall for the past six years and because of the booming business, he now has connected more cables to his business and they lie in front of Tjamburo’s fireplace.

Like Gazza, traders here believe they have been lobbying for the provision of improved facilities at the location has been ongoing since then and has yielded nothing. Theirs is a lost cause because they are putting much attention on having toilets, forgetting their everyday time bomb—electricity connections.

It is a real time bomb not a health bomb, just waiting to be triggered either by lightning or human error on those electricity connections.

It is not uncommon that the electricity keeps tripping off at the mall because its 220 voltage cannot contain the burden of illegal electricity tapping.

“There is need for an Energy Audit to check the consumption and the supply of electricity at Herero Mall and conclude whether the capacity is enough or not. Constant tripping of power could be a result of low capacity or faulty installation and that alone is a safety and security concern that needs to be addressed,” says Traffic Analyst of the Electricity Control Board (ECB), Francois Robinson.

The City of Windhoek last year in July received its approval from the ECB to tariff Herero Mall as part of its Business Operation Area, according to Robinson.

Gazza Kandetu’s business employs seven people specializing in different areas. Kandetu in a modest way has contributed towards the reduction of the astronomical unemployment rate in Namibia that has taken centre stage in Government deliberations for solutions and put food on the table of the seven men under his employ. Every operator that was interviewed at Herero Mall echoed the same disgruntlement over the acute and hazardous lack of facilities at the mall yet vital services are provided to the communities in and around the city.

Prime Focus has established that only two meter boxes service the Herero, Erf 6296 and Erf 6300. The City gives one connection per Erf.

Investigations have shown that Erf 6300 uses an average of 3175 units of power month where the owner pays between N$2700 and N$3000 per month.

“If ten people are ‘renting’ power from this erf (6300) paying N$500.00, then this owner is ripping off others because in the end, he will have about N$2000 in his pocket,” observes Katjitundu.

The City of Windhoek regards it as criminal when electricity is overloaded from the meter box, an offence which attracts a N$2000 fine, according to Liz Sibindi, the City’s spokesperson.

It has emerged that it is not only Herero Mall but certain parts of Windhoek such as Havana and Goreangab where electricity tapping is practiced illegally.

In some cases, users by-pass the meter box and use the electricity for free.

While that is a headache for the City, concern must be placed at the cables, some of them live, that are noticeable at Herero Mall, an area with close to 35 small-scale businesses.

Although the traders at the mall have elected a committee to represent their concerns amid a confirmation that the OvaHerero Traditional Authority’s application to purchase the Herero Mall land has been approved by Council, there is urgent need to stop the ‘devil-may care attitude’ towards what is happening at Herero Mall with regards to safety and security of both the traders and the surrounding committee.

Nothing has been done according to Katjitundu to heed the request to have the wiring cables dug at least 30 metres underground, there has been no termination of power service at the mall as a warning to the traders’ unscrupulous sourcing activities and in this rain season, it is a matter of time before disaster befalls us. A stitch