By Marianne Nghidengwa
SHE is a woman tasked with the many duties and responsibilities that involve running “Africa’s cleanest city”, Windhoek, providing goods and services for approximately 330 000 inhabitants. Not only does Mayor Agnes Kafula (AK) oversee the running of the vibrant city, which is expanding greatly as a result of new industrial and commercial developments, but she is also enriching the tone for the culture and future of the city’s operations.
Confidente caught up with the affable Kafula, who was elected Mayor of the capital city late last year, to establish her mayoral profile, time spent in exile at Swapo’s Transit Camp and other places in Angola, her vision for taking Windhoek forward, plans to address the growing housing crisis, and the importance of involving citizens in the city’s legislation for enhanced quality life.
Confidente: Thank you for granting Confidente its first interview with you. Many know you only as newly elected Mayor of Windhoek, who is Agnes Kafula?
AK: I was born Agnes Iyambo on 1 November 1955 in the Etayi Village of Omusati Region. I am the second child in a family of five. I spent my childhood in Etayi until the age of 10 when my mother re-married. I then moved to Iipanda Yamiti village with my mom and stepfather, where I went to primary school and then attended Oshakati Secondary School in 1973. I started teaching lower grades at Etayi Primary School but left the country in 1977 to join the country’s men and women fighting the colonial dispensation and ended up in Cassinga where I received my military training.
While at Cassinga, I was assigned to set-up a day care centre for little children by the Swapo Party. I stayed there until the Cassinga massacre on May 4 (1978) which I survived by the grace of God. After Cassinga, we were resettled at a temporary camp in Omatara Village in Angola.
Before the massacre, we were preparing for the Youth Student Festival in Cuba, so after the massacre I went to participate as a member. Upon my return, I was assigned to be the secretary for the camp under the leadership o f comrade Darius Shikongo (currently a councillor) who was the Camp Commander.
From Omatara we moved to Ongulumbashe where we set up camp and I was still secretary until October 1979.
I was in a group sent to Lusaka, Zambia, to undergo child care training. I went through English preparations and after six months I wrote the exam, which I passed and I was then sent to Britain.
We went to Birmingham to do a course on Child Care Development. I also did a private secretariat course for three years and after that I returned to Angola in 1984 and I worked at Swapo’s Head Office in the Administrative Secretary Office under the leadership of the late Moses Garoeb.
In 1986, I was part of a group that went to Moscow, Russia for a Party School for almost a year.
I returned to Angola after that in 1987. In 1988, we had a Namibia Vocational Training Centre in Kwansa Zul Province and I was assigned to work with Director Vitalis Ankama (retired PS of Education after Independence). After that the late Dr Mose Tjitendero took over and I worked with him as a Personal Assistant. We came to Namibia for elections in July and my first assignment in an independent Namibia was as a Private Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, eventually moving to the Ministry of Health and Social Services where I was a Personal Assistant to Mrs Tangeni Angula, who at the time was Director of Pharmaceutical Services.
In 1994, I moved to the Ministry of Home Affairs where I am still leading the Division of Birth, Marriages and Deaths.
In 2004, I participated in the Local Authority Council elections and I was part of 15 elected comrades.
Confidente: How do you feel about being Mayor? Has that reality sunk in yet?
AK: As a woman, I feel honoured to have been accorded the status of first citizen of the capital city. We are many comrades for one to wake up the Mayor is a great honour. It is a hot seat, leading the City that is also the gateway for our tourists to other destinations of our beautiful country. I am proud but this did not come on a silver platter but was a show of confidence by my fellow councillors. It was them who felt I had what it takes to lead our city. I like to share views with others and listen when others give me advice. Being mayor means you have to work closely with people. They have trust in me and they fully support me.
Confidente: How and where did you get started in politics?
AK: I was prepared when I was sent to the Party School in Moscow, Russia. They taught us a lot from social, economic to labour related issues. That was a preparation for who I am today.
Confidente: You have a difficult role as Mayor. What changes are you prepared to make?
AK: I’ll speak as a team member. We have to meet our community members who make use of the services we render half-way. We conduct public meetings twice a year on new and potential changes they want within their communities. I however want to go the extra-mile and engage them in consultative governance, visiting different ministries and other Government offices seeking advice as to what they want us to do as a Council, things we are not doing right. I also want to concentrate on the fast-track of land delivery. Our people are settled in informal areas that are not developed. I want to see our people have proper shelter over their heads hence we are embarking on affordable housing. We basically want to move from shack houses to proper housing structures.
Confidente: What makes you the right person for the job of Mayor? What unique skills or concepts do you possess that makes you the right person?
AK: I believe in self-criticism and I accept criticism. I want to make sure that what we do is for the benefit of our people. I base my duty on the vision of the Council; to enhance the quality of life and to render efficient and effective municipal services.
Confidente: What is your personal agenda on issues you would want to resolve and how do you plan to accomplish such goals?
AK: I looked at the current set-up in informal settlements and it is a national problem. I want to see a Windhoek that is free from the Apartheid System that has the poor and rich separated. I want to see Katutura set-up with good quality housing, free of shacks to balance the set-up of the City. These are the sentiments of the President, His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba and have been the song of the Founding Father, His Excellency Dr Sam Nujoma.
We also have social ills such as the high consumption of alcohol; our youth and students engage in such activities, it is killing our nation. It is unfortunate that shebeen owners are given trade licenses hence I want to engage the Ministry of Trade and Industry and other stakeholders to come up with programmes to see how best we can address the situation.
Confidente: What will you do differently as Mayor and what would be your priorities?
AK: We want our land serviced and demarcated into proper units. I want to bring on board the Government and respective businesses to help us maintain the existing infrastructure.
Confidente: How do you plan to make our city more energy-independent, increase citizen participation in decision-making process, provision of land and housing, install and maintain parks and sidewalks, invest in water, sewer and other infrastructure rehabilitation?
AK: Firstly, our clients owe us N$310 million, but that amount fluctuates. This is money that is supposed to help us maintain our infrastructures and work on other projects. It is difficult to make progress without such funds but we are promoting smart partnership on energy solutions, at the moment we only provide electricity but we have been approached by companies that want to provide solar energy. We are consulting the Ministry of Mines and Energy to see whether the products are feasible. As for citizen participation, we involve them at public meetings to have that two-way communication on the development of our city.
We have a problem with un-serviced land but we can get help from the Government and businesses alike. We outsource services to entrepreneurs regarding the parks and gardens thus creating employment at the same time. We also have our staff taking care of such infrastructures as well.
Confidente: As Mayor, what would you do to make Windhoek a greener and more sustainable environment?
AK: There are programmes in place for that; we are only working to improve such programmes such as planting trees around the city.
Confidente: What is your vision for how Windhoek could look like after your tenure?
AK: A city that is unique and with no difference between the suburbs. I want to see tall buildings everywhere in Windhoek.
Confidente: Which current city projects would you propose are most crucial for us to fund?
AK: The building of houses; without shelter there is no life. I want our Government, community and private sector to plough back into our city to service land and construct houses. Private companies need to assist in developing our land because unserviced land hampers development.
Confidente: How would you increase your accountability to sceptical ratepayers?
AK: We have to meet half-way. As the City Council, we provide services and those should be paid for. The more they pay, the better we maintain the existing infrastructure and use for other new projects.
Confidente: Without increasing rates and threatening to drive away businesses, how would you find new revenue?
AK: We set-up a desk looking at better ways of collecting revenue. We have a billing system to collect revenue. I have noticed that fines collected by the City Police go to Government so we hope we get at least 50percent of those.
Confidente: Which construction projects would you give the highest priority and which would you place on the back burner?
AK: I want to concentrate more on building houses, which is a serious burden. We can put up houses with the help of the Government and private sector. Business people are not doing much to help their employees get houses. They should be able to give their employees loans with which to buy houses. It is high time they look into the welfare of the employees.
Confidente: What is the most useful piece of advice you received as new Mayor of Windhoek and how has that changed you?
AK: I paid courtesy calls to different ministries and they advised me to address the issue of housing, it is a concern to us all. They advised me to change the face of Windhoek.
Confidente: Is there anything that the Council can do to relieve stress on rates on home owners and businesses?
AK: There isn’t much we can do on that score. They should pay by all means. Yes, there are those who are unable to pay but there are those who can but don’t. Businesspeople make money every day but when it comes to services, they don’t pay as per our expectations.
Confidente: What are some of the correctable mistakes made by past administrators and what new directions will you as Mayor take to address those issues?
AK: I cannot say there are incorrect measures my predecessors have done because at their time, it was their beginning and as times goes there were new developments. If it was not for them, we could not have been where we are today. It is really for us to improve on what they have built.
Confidente: Crime is on the increase in the city. What has made Windhoek a haven for such crimes? How would you help rid the city of this epidemic?
AK: I cannot necessarily relate crime to Windhoek alone; it is all over the country. I do not know what the real problem is but it seems there is a disease between men and women. Maybe the development and exposure to trends from other countries is a contributing factor to crime. I want the Government to come up with stiff measures. We do not need people who commit such crimes in society, it is disturbing and humiliating to the victims. We should also reduce these criminal films, it is not giving good education but it is destroying our society. We should also educate our children on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. At the pace we are going, we will not have a future.
Confidente: What would you do to encourage parental involvement in education in Windhoek?
AK: The failure rate is increasing because children are exposed to drugs and alcohol, crime movies etc. They too do not care much or think about their future. It is a collective responsibility.
Confidente: What is your vision for re-establishing a middle class Windhoek?
AK: As per the city plan, there are areas identified for businesses, schools, clinics and other services in the suburbs. Many people flock to the CBD because of the lack of services in their informal settlements. We want to change that.
Confidente: The ruling Swapo Party had a congress last year at which new resolutions were adopted on issues such as unemployment and poverty; economic growth and income distribution; health care; education; environment; and land. Would your Council adopt those resolutions in your work activities? If yes, how would you go about doing that and when?
AK: Housing and Land: We have embarked upon servicing land and have consulted companies to put up demo- houses. As soon as that is done, we can have construction companies come on board.
Unemployment: We bring in people that can clear the land and dig trenches. Although temporary, in a way it is addressing the high rate of unemployment. Businesses on respective serviced land also employ people.
Schools and clinics: We provide land so that the responsible ministries build these institutions. We are preparing for implementation of other resolutions.
Confidente: On a lighter note, just what do you do for fun?
AK: (Laughs)…Practically, I cannot say there is a day for fun. Sundays I go to church and I read. The only fun time is when I relax in front of a TV. Every day is a working day, it is a habit now and when I do nothing, I feel I am missing out on something. But, my hobbies include gardening, planting vegetables and fruits.
Confidente: Just how do you juggle family and work life?
AK: Luckily for me this crucial responsibility came when my children are grown. It is not a concern because they are big and are able to take care of themselves. They understand and fully support me.