Saamstaan Housing Cooperative. A case study in Windhoek, Namibia.


Executive Summary

General Background

Namibia is a new, independent and democratic nation. Only in 1990 did the Namibian people emerged from more than a century of foreign occupation. Most Namibians were denied the right to vote in their own country until 1989. During the colonial period, they were victims of state-sponsored violence, atrocity and genocide. Namibia’s Independence is the result of a long and bitter struggle, in which many men and women lost their lives.

Repressive laws enforced the exploitation of human resources, providing the majority of workers with no protection against maltreatment by employers. Health and welfare provision was racially segregated. The Bantu education system was designed on the premise that blacks and women were to be trained for subservient jobs, and high illiteracy rates were deliberately maintained.

The consequence of all this was, and still is, that Namibia is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, a society where extreme wealth and extreme poverty exist side by side.

The 1991 Census recorded Namibia’s population at 1.4 million and to be growing at over 3% a year. The projected population for 1995 is 1.6 million.

Population densities vary enormously. Although the average population density is extremely low, considerable variation exists. Almost two-thirds of Namibians live in the northern regions whilst fewer than one tenth live in the southern regions.

Independence brought a Government constitutionally committed to improving the welfare of all Namibians.

In 1992, per capita GNP was US$ 1,670 (77th of 1774 countries in UNDP’s 1995 Human Development Report) however; this average indicator of well being masks an income distribution which is one of the most skewed in the worked. The richest 1% of households consume as much as the poorest 50%. The quarter richest households consume over 70% of total consumption. Whilst the better-off half of households consumes over N$ 20,000 a year on average, the poorest quarter consumes only N$ 2,200. Hence, poverty and extreme inequality in income are undoubtedly the glaring characteristics of Namibia.

The enormous differences that exist in levels of human welfare are the result of inequalities induced by the discriminatory policies of the past.

Government has made a vigorous start in improving the well being of all the Namibian people.


By time of Independence, rural stagnation and apartheid policies had led to large numbers of people coming to the urban areas without reasonable accommodation. The living conditions of the urban poor were abysmal, especially for migrant workers employed in industrial centers many of who living together in accommodation designed for single men. With the breakdown of formal apartheid these single quarters housed several thousand workers with their famines in overcrowded conditions. Local authorities continued to direct expenditure at the already privileged parts of the racially segregated neighborhoods.

Settlement Patterns

The homeland policies restricted the majority of people to small settlement areas on designated communal land with very poor social and physical infrastructure while the rest of the land was convened into large commercial farms The majority were prevented from moving into the towns or the southern parts of the country by the pass laws. The policy of separate development was applied not only at the national level, but also at the municipal, town and village levels. All the towns and formal villages in Namibia are characterized by dual settlements: a well-serviced modern part for the minority and inadequate houses and shacks for the majority.

Another legacy of apartheid is “single quarters’ accommodation. Men were recruited from the rural areas to work in factories and service industries in the towns, but the laws prevented them from bringing their families with them. The Local Authorities and employers built barrack-like rooms, which are commonly called, single quarters, to accommodate single men. When the restrictions on movement were lifted after Independence, the men naturally brought their families to live with them, which led to severe overcrowding in the single quarters causing major social and health problems. Over the last five years a natural spill over from the single quarters has taken place and people have started to build shacks in the surrounding areas.

Scale of the Housing Problem

The 1991 Housing and Population Census show that of the total population of 1.4 million people, 0.38 million (27%) live in urban areas designated in the Local Authorities Act of 1992. Since Independence there has been large growth in urban areas, which is to be expected after years of restrictions on movement and the repatriation of an estimated 80,000 returnees. The total housing requirement in urban areas is estimated at around 37,000 in 1994.

The Saamstaan Housing Cooperative

Saamstaan is located in Katutura, part of the city of Windhoek, where black nationals of Namibia were allowed to reside before Independence.

Saamstaan, which in Afrikaans, means ‘stand together’, was established for low-income people as a housing cooperative in 1987, following the declaration of the International Year for the Homeless (IYH).

Identification of the problem and experience

1987 marked a watershed in the act of ownership of land and housing in Namibia. Before 1987, black Namibians could not legally own any immovable property in the urban areas, designated as “White Areas.” The Blacks were restricted to Katutura and completely dependent on housing services provided by the Local Authorities of the Apartheid regime.

It was in 1987, following the Declaration of IYH, and perhaps, anticipating political independence of the country, that the Black Namibians were accorded, for the first time in colonial history, the right to own immovable property, including housing. Since then, the state, through a parastatal company, National Building and Investment Company (NBIC), supplies 100% of the loan required for housing for lower-income groups. In order to qualify for a housing loan from NBIC, an applicant must prove that his/her monthly income is no less than R700.00. According to this criteria, about 30% of potential applicants were estimated to have benefited, leaving the large majority excluded.

In its attempt to alleviate the housing problem of the poor, the Catholic Church assisted the homeless in the city to get organized. It sponsored a conference on the theme ‘NO FAMILY LIFE WITHOUT SHELTER” in recognition of the IYH. 450 homeless people registered to participate in the seminar.

The creation of NBIC and its policy pushed single parent families to remain in chicken runs, old cars or into small expensive rooms in over crowded houses as well as people’s back yards where they were able to hide themselves. The call for the seminar by the Roman Catholic Church in August 1987 was timely and facilitated the creation of Saamstaan Housing Coop.

Profile of participants (beneficiaries)

SS is a membership organization of homeless people who do not qualify for loans from financial institutions. 97% of the members are single parents and women with very little income.

SS at present has 250 members who are low income. 95% are single mothers as head of the family with no or minimal education, standard 4 being the highest. The average income of all SS members falls between N$ 150-400 per year, an income which is one eleventh to one fourth of the national average income.

Most of the members of SS are domestic workers with very little salary. They are uneducated and have no skill that is sellable to bring income to support the family.

With the support of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches the homeless people and their children’s plight created pressure to the Municipal authorities to allocate individual plots where 20 one room houses were built by the members. Their Mission Statement showed a commitment to work together to build houses and to alleviate poverty.

The money that was available for the first group was fundraised through Catholic Chanty for the IYS activities. This fund was used as seed fund for the Roman Catholic Church effort in addressing the shelter issues in Namibia.

Background context and description: The Development Phases of Saamstaan

SS as a membership organization has put in place a criteria for membership and formulated by-laws outlining the duties to be performed by members, it has set up a cut off level of monthly earnings to qualify a person to be a member in the cooperative. Savings of members are carefully monitored and assessed before permission to build houses is allowed. Members are also required to attend meetings and participate In development activities of SS.

In spite of availability of support funds from the donor community, access to building plots, price of land, and access to social services were the challenges faced by SS. SS, and its umbrella organisation, however, surmounted this problem by putting pressure on and negotiating with the Municipal authorities. They were able to get communal land, whose price was more reasonable and are now attempting bus service to enable them gel access to social services.

Financial donation from Freres Des Hommes, Luxembourg, enabled SS to establish a revolving loanable fund for the purchase of land. Each member is obligated to repay in full before he/she is allowed to build a house.

Saamstaan and Donor Organization

The two organizations which financially-supported SS’s restructuring and human development activities were Freres des Hommes-Luxembourg and Inter Church Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) from The Netherlands. ICCO has allocated in 1995 a budget amounting N$ 435. 071 to cover expenses for administration, management and training of members. ICCO has also agreed to assist for the next three years.

Saamstaan’s Human Development Activities

SS, apart from its management activities related to housing, it handles duties related directly to the human resource development of its members. To this end, the staff, with the assistance of the Support Committee, has organized different training workshops related to staff management, credit and saving and planning. The staff also coordinates training programs with other NGOs in the area of health and literacy. NHAG is also a training partner of SS.

Intervention of the different actors

The Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches: These two churches were the first ones which spearheaded the poor and homeless to get organized and contributed to the formation of the first housing cooperative in the country.

Saamstaan Housing Cooperative: Saamstaan Housing Coop. is an organization created by and for the homeless, with the assistance of the Roman and Lutheran Churches and couple concerned individuals in Katutura.

Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing: The Ministry is entrusted to design appropriate housing policies in favor of the population neglected in the past. It also monitors closely the implementation of its policies and the problems that might arise in the process.

Build Together Program: The Build Together Program was designed by Government to give technical and financial support to people’s initiatives in building their own houses.

Municipality of Windhoek: The Municipality of Windhoek provides serviced communal land, with no charge, to cooperative members in Katutura.

Namibian Housing Action Group (NHAG): The Namibian housing Action Group (NHAG) is an umbrella organization for low- income housing groups. NHAG, in 1994, had a membership of twelve groups, covering about 500 households. The organization is managed by a Management Board, consisting of representatives of the member groups, and employs a support service with five employees.

The majority of the housing groups have a very high percentage of women members (60% – 90%) and the average monthly incomes range from about N$150 to N$400. Saamstaan Housing Coop. has constructed 75 houses and Khara Tsasib is constructing 24 houses. Both groups are also beneficiaries of the Build Together Program. Affordable land has become critical issue for all members and NHAG is assisting in negotiations for more affordable land and development of communal plots.

NHAG members are involved in the production of bricks, and contribute their own labor in the construction of houses. Groups are also involved in income generating project such as the Gubasen Brick Making Project and Graus Brick Making Cooperative while the Keetmanshoop Housing Union and Graus Brick-making Cooperative have also embarked on experimenting with alternative building materials. Saamstaan and NHAG participate in land and shelter negotiations and organizing other development activities.

Namibian Development Trust (NDT): Namibian Development Trust (NDT) is a local NGO involved in integrated development program all over the country. It provides material support and other services such as skill development through vocational and technical training to meet the needs of the community.

Experience development

Housing cooperative is of recent origin. SS, as the first housing cooperative, has developed from a nascent ad hoc organization to a legally recognized organization. Ks information and activity has influenced government policy and given rise to the formation of NGOs in the housing field to service them and other CBOs in finance and negotiations.

Prior to 1987, the celebration of the International Year of the Family, no official recognition or support was provided by the local authorities to the problem of housing for the blacks.

The first eye-opener was the intervention by the Churches in organizing the poor to self-help house building scheme. This case brought about the birth and the strengthening of SS, which induced the formation of NHAG with coordinating activities over larger membership.

Still these organizations face recurring problems related to the cost of service land, heavy cost of municipality services, and members participation in the development of the township. On these problems and other management issues several workshops have been held. Some solutions are found for some of these problems, for others, however, more struggle and negotiation awaits the coops.

Conflict Resolution

The first conflict recorded between the members was after 33 houses were built for the first group (The Old Group). The conflict arose because members who had houses built refused to participate in housing building activities for other members. Some even stopped repayment of the loan. Another source of conflict at a later stage was the desire of members to change the design of houses, from one-roomed to two- roomed houses. The third cause of conflict was the loss of door and window frames.

All these were resolved by SS and NHAG by holding meetings of members for discussion of the problem. Resolutions with the backing of the majority were passed regarding these problems to the good satisfaction of SS and NHAG.

The conflict between SS and NHAG identified by the Coordinating Committee and the staff members was the unspecified role of NHAG in the development process of SS. This was to be properly worked out between the two organizations if a proper cooperation has to be promoted.

SS is now a well organized body, with four housing groups under its umbrella, and each at different stages of completion of their houses. Members have understood the advantages of their membership and appreciate the practice of participatory democracy. Their activities have been exemplary and inspiring to others. Government seems to value their participations.

Impact of GO-NGO case study

The GONGO Project activity has given SS the opportunity to look into its development process and its relationship with local authorities. Because of this SS has come to realize its contribution to the Municipal policy in creating a unit to support organized homeless people and the interest to work closely with SS.

This case study created the chance to bring together SS and its local Authority partners to look into the different issues that influence the progress of self help housing programs. This process created a system to promote close cooperation between Government and Non-government agencies to share experience and address the issues of shelter at the grassroots level.

SS case study has clearly brought to the attention of all involved and oriented the policy makers the role SS plaid as peoples organization to address the shelter issues through self-help housing development.

The objectives of the HIC – GONGO research/Action Project have been meet and resulted to the preparation of “Plan of Action to the Year 2000” has been produced. ICCO and other local NGOs have shown great interest to assist the activities of SS.