Following its independence in 1990, Namibia has achieved remarkable strides in economic and social reform. Despite these successes, the country has been plagued with escalating levels of violence that have permeated Namibian homes, schools as well as broader social environments.
Numerous studies have pointed to extremely high levels gun crimes, rape and sexual violence as well as widespread domestic abuse and violence in schools and communities. This violence is most often directed at women, children and other vulnerable groups in society. The reaction to these ever increasing levels of violence has largely focussed on a penal approach centred on policing and the criminal justice system – but this only temporarily remove the perpetrators from society without addressing the root causes of societal violence and thus provides only a short-term solution to this social ill.
What is needed is a holistic, long-term approach to addressing crime and violence that brings together the resources of all stakeholders with the responsibility of creating safe and violence-free communities.
The support this approach the Community and Local Authority-Based Violence Prevention Project (CLAB-VPP) was initiatied in Nambia as a collaborative project between the Urban Trust of Namibia (UTN), the Association for Local Authorities in Namibia (ALAN), the Namibia Association of Local Authority Officers (NALAO), and the Namibia Non-Governmental Organisation’s Trust (NANGOF Trust).
Overall, the project aims to work with three communities in Namibia, along with their local authorities and relevant private and civil society stakeholders to:
- Establish a detailed picture of the overall crime situation along with the primary safety-related concerns of the community;
- Develop safety plans for each community to address the primary areas of concern; and
- Establish violence prevention forums involving key stakeholders to ensure implementation and oversight of the safety plans.
This safety audit report, which was funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and the Open Society Crime and Violence Prevention Initiative (CVPI), covers one of the selected communities – Oshikango, which is part of the town of Helao Nafidi that sits on the border with Angola. Two other reports look at the situation in Rehoboth and Okahandja Park in Windhoek.
Service delivery in Oshikango is sparse, and presents one of the most significant challenges to improving safety; over three quarters of residents do not have access to sanitation, and use either the bucket system or the bush, and only 4 percent of households have access to electricity for lighting. One third of residents report only a single household member being gainfully employed, while another third have no income coming into the household.
Women and children are reported as being particularly vulnerable in the community. Community violence, together with these levels of school violence, is more prevalent than violence within the home. Levels of violent crimes are particularly high, with multiple victimisations particularly common. These are unsurprisingly related to the physical environment, with most occurring in poorly designed and serviced geographical areas: around or on routes to and from communal water pumps, and overgrown and dark public access routes.
Despite recent efforts by the Town Council to advance infrastructural and service delivery developments, Oshikango remains under-developed and has been plagued with increasing levels of crime, that have been attributed in part by the study participants, to the poor infrastructure of the community.
According to the data collected from households, crimes occurred most often at the respondents’ homes, in the street, in and around shops, and at entertainment areas. Crimes that household members typically fell victim to included assault (37.5%) and theft of personal property (30.9%), followed by robbery (13.7%) and home burglary (13%).
The crime and violence situation in Oshikango was believed to be influenced by several factors including poor social infrastructure, poor service delivery (basic and other social services), high alcohol and drug abuse, high numbers of liquor outlets, easy accessibility to alcohol, poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement of youth, high levels of domestic and inter-personal violence, poor job opportunities, lack of recreational facilities and opportunities, as well as poor customs at the border post to Angola.
Based on the findings in this audit, a multi-sectoral approach that is inclusive of a comprehensive package of programmes and interventions to address crime and violence, is required. With this in mind, the development of a safety plan should seek to achieve the following:
Reduce priority crimes
This can be achieved through a combination of initiatives including:
- Targeted awareness campaigns to increase the awareness of community members on how to keep themselves safe, how to secure their homes, how to respond to crime, what social support and other services are available to them following criminal experiences, and how to access these services;
- Intensify current crime prevention initiatives employed by the Namibian police;
- Improve communication strategies between the police and residents; and
- Increase police visibility.
Address the scourge of alcohol abuse
The high levels of alcohol use were consistently identified as a major cause for concern. Thus, addressing the scourge of alcohol abuse should be one of the key objectives of a safety plan. For any plan to be successful at this, however, it requires a coordinated and coherent intervention that brings together a range of different stakeholders including government, local authority as well as non-governmental organisations and involving:
- Public education;
- Treatment facilities for those already addicted; and
- Restricting and regulating access to alcohol
Foster inter-agency collaboration between role-players, service providers and the community
Community safety is not the sole responsibility of law enforcement agencies. While the involvement of the police and other law enforcement agencies are fundamental to improving safety, it is equally important to involve other role-players including community members themselves, business owners, schools, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations and any other service providers in the community.
Apparent from the safety audit, is the availability of a number of stakeholders participating in activities designed to improve the safety of individuals by addressing the developmental and social needs of residents. However, many of these stakeholders operate in silos, with the unintended consequence of duplicating services. The creation of a platform where these stakeholders can come together to jointly discuss the community issues that concern them the most, may be a possible way to foster collaboration in the fight against crime.
Create safer family and home environments
The data highlighted the increasing levels of family conflict, specifically domestic violence, within homes in Oshikango. Thus, it is recommended that the safety plan incorporate interventions aimed at making family and home environments safer places for women and children. These initiatives could include:
- Skills development programmes and job opportunities, so as to alleviate the financial burden on families;
- Parenting and parenting support programmes;
- The provision of therapeutic and other counselling services specifically those affected by gender-based violence;
- Fatherhood and masculinity programmes to address some of the cultural and traditional influences on domestic and gender-based violence;
- Domestic violence prevention programmes; and
- Public education on human rights.
Address community-factors contributing to crime
Several factors stemming from the community has also been found to contribute to an environment that is conducive to criminal activities. It is imperative then, that the safety plan addresses these factors through:
- Furthering infrastructural developments embarked on by the council;
- Public education campaigns;
- Encouraging measures to improve service provision and delivery;
- Addressing safety at the border post; and
- Maintaining open public spaces.
Address the disenfranchisement of the youth
The data showed that there is a great need to improve the services provided to children and youth growing up in Oshikango. This is even more pertinent given that young people are identified as the most likely perpetrators of crime in this community. Research has shown that, in order to prevent youth violence, a developmental and multi-sectoral approach to prevention, is a must. Such an approach involves providing services to children and young people across their life-span, starting early in life, to decrease the motivation for becoming involved in criminal activity.
These measures could include:
- Early childhood development programmes and safe and well-resourced school environment;
- Facilitating and providing safe and well-resourced and maintained sports, cultural and recreational facilities and activities that are easily accessible to young people in this community;
- Providing after-school activities and facilities;
- Providing educational and skills development programmes for out-of-school youths; and
- Creating job opportunities.
Raise awareness and disseminate information on crime prevention initiatives
Government as well as non-state agencies should use community spaces (such as clinics, libraries, halls, places of public transportation etc.) to disseminate information, using posters or other printed forms of media, on self-protection measures, but also on crime reporting numbers, emergency numbers, and police corruption “whistle-blower” numbers. The combination of direct intervention (through visible policing) and information dissemination might go some way in increasing feelings of safety within these public spaces.