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Allegations surface of lockdown relief food being sold by criminals in Katutura

Allegations surface of lockdown relief food being sold by criminals in Katutura

A most disconcerting snippet came my way during the week. Talking about conditions and daily life in Katutura’s informal settlements, a friend told me that there is a roaring trade in donated food.

At first this sounded like the type of story neighbours would start to discredit somebody else they don’t like but as I delved deeper into the facts it transpired that it was indeed true with several other witnesses corroborating the first tale, and in the same breath, expressing their disgust that something like this could carry on when there are thousands of families without sufficient sustenance.

With a rumour like this, it always works to find out more about the actual items being sold than about the person selling them. If it is true that donated food is sold from certain shacks in Katutura’s informal settlements, it means there must be a source. That food had to come from somewhere.

This reminded me of similar occurrences more than thirty years ago when Untag was in Namibia to prepare the country for Independence elections. Food donated by various UN agencies then also arrived in Namibia by the container-load and it was not long before there was a roaring trade in the North in donated food.

The reason I mention this is because it was relatively easy then to trace the merchandised food back to its origin because all the consignments were clearly marked. The contents of the bags were identified, the country of origin was indicated, and the fact that it was meant for human consumption was also advertised on the packaging.

But the clearest indictment came from the bags themselves. In large letters were printed: Donated by the United Nations. Not for commercial use,” or something to that effect. Still, it did not deter a large number of unscrupulous people to exploit their brothers and sisters and make thousands of Rands from food that was supposed to help people through that period when the country was almost in limbo for a fairly long time.

I went into some detail about the illegal selling of food thirty years ago, because this is what stood out in the reports I received this week. Some, I do not know how many, of the food items currently supplementing the income of skelms, was clearly labelled as donated food. This, after all, is the way how the people to whom the food was offered, first realised they are being sold food that was meant to bring relief to someone else in distress.

Reminiscing about the year before Independence, it reminded me how little has changed when it comes to exploiting one’s neighbour. At that time, Namibia was in a sort of political “standstill” very much like we are now in a commercial standstill because of the lockdown. The pre-Independence food was intended to bring relief to households that were simply overwhelmed by the hot and boiling political processes that were underway. The rationale behind the donations was to bring some semblance of normalcy to a society that was definitely not existing under normal conditions then.

So having satisfied myself that indeed the allegations of Covid relief food being sold in Katutura, are true, I could not help to marvel about the ingenuity of criminals, but also feel sad that what is a very dire situation, has quickly been hijacked by people who do not give a damn about their fellow Namibians. Furthermore, I speculated about where this food could have come from, or from which well-meaning organisation or company, the food went onto a higher destiny to serve as an enrichment tool.

Only afterwards did it struck me that I read somewhere during the past month, at one of these much-touted food donation ceremonies, the official who received the food on behalf, on behalf, – has actually made the promise in public that they will ensure the food reaches its intended destination and not be waylaid along the route. Now, if there were any doubt about the food reaching the households it was intended for, why was there the need for this official to make the emphatic statement that the food will not be stolen?

I am just wondering whether there are many others of the Independence generation who also remember, same as I, how the UN food was stolen and sold, without as much as a blink of the eye on the part of the skelms.


About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA (hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees in Philosophy and Divinity. Publisher and Editor of the Namibia Economist since February 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 32 years. The Economist started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at It is the first Namibian newspaper to go fully digital. He is an authority on macro-economics having established a sound record of budget analysis, strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored hundreds of journalism students as interns and as young professional journalists. From time to time he helps economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. Since October 2021, he conducts a weekly talkshow on Radio Energy, again for a lay audience. On 04 September 2022, he was ordained as a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of Africa (NHKA). Send comments or enquiries to [email protected]