The last day of the "Legacies of a Colonial Town" exhibition at NAGN was marked with a very special public gathering around the living conditions in informal settlements. As this meeting was co-organised with Labour Resource and Research Institute LaRRI, it was the continuation of a public meeting held late November 2012, where citizens shared their experiences and challenges faced in the everyday life of the informal settlements.
To take the discussion further, participants were organised geographically to form smaller discussion groups and identify major challenges, suggest strategies to overcome those and resources – material and immaterial – needed to be able to do it. Joined by participants from other areas of Windhoek, this resulted in a colourful mix of discussions, sometimes heated, to strategise what needs to be done, and who is going to do it.
What precipitated is the way in which lack of housing and basic services prevents inhabitants to empower themselves, create their own economies and become less dependent on low-paid jobs elsewhere in the city. Systemic injustices were raised, where people are deemed legal enough to vote, yet illegal in terms of inhabiting the city. Financial mechanisms such as the market-based approach to land, further marginalising the poor, were singled out as counter-productive to achieving inclusive cities. While some political demands were made, other participants reaffirmed their constitutional rights and stressed the need to mobilise neighbourhood groups and church communities to structure their participation in the making of the city more coherently.
With LaRRI starting a year-long research project on the living conditions in informal settlements, hopes are high that this gathering was the start of a longer-term process of community-based research and action towards social justice. Befittingly, the caterer from Katutura was not able to get to NAGN, and so participants hopped on the bus to be taken for the promised lunch at Soweto Market.
Soweto Market is hopefully also the next venue for the exhibition as part of the LAND MATTERS IN ART project.
*Originally published on 26 February 2013