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Paralympic Athletes Face Eviction

Photo credited to Namibia Paralympics Committee (NPC)
WINDHOEK disabled athlete facing eviction from the Oshakati hospital premises, raises fear of them sliding into deeper poverty and is another sad indication of the general neglect towards sports in Namibia. As recent as a decade ago, Frans Panduleni Paulus, better known as Pac, had high hopes that competitive cycling on his arm-propelled bicycle would help him become independent, at least financially. But now the paralympic athlete and others living with disabilities could end up homeless. The management of the hospital in the Oshana region, and one of the biggest public health centres, has gone as far as telling the disabled group to find relatives to care for them.

It was the sense of dependence that drove the athletes from their relatives' homes in the first place. Pac, who is paralysed from the waist down, once paddled his bicycle (by hand) for about 700km from Oshakati to Windhoek, raising awareness on disability sports and practising to join competitive cycling. That the hospital management is appealing to relatives to take their needy kith and kin in for home-based care is an indication of how further behind sport has fallen on our national list of priorities. The debate is by now settled that sport makes up a big part of the global economy.

Some sport codes have produced the richest people on our planet. Even Namibians have benefitted a great deal from this, albeit, in small numbers. In women football, Zenatha Coleman has been propelled to stardom by plying her trade in European leagues. South African top clubs have high regard for Namibian soccer players more than before. The prospects for athletes with disabilities should not be too bad, as several sports persons have triumphed on the international stage, bringing top medals home when they compete in the Paralympics, for instance. However, it is at the grassroots level where we falter.

Namibia Paralympic Committee (NPC) secretary general Michael Hamukwaya said of Pac: "He had found a bit of hope in Paralympic sports, but there is very little hope here. I think this is a human rights crisis, especially regarding the little ones. We do not know what happens to them [after showing initial potential]. They just disappear." Hamukwaya cannot be exaggerating when he describes the situation as a human rights crisis. If we cannot look after these few vulnerable Namibians and help them from a tender age to be independent, we should not be surprised they would require more care as adults.

We sympathise with the Oshakati hospital, who say they need the premises now occupied by the six. The hospital, like many state health facilities around the country, is already struggling to accommodate the sick, their primary customers. How would they cope with athletes who could otherwise have been able to make a living for themselves? Namibia needs clear action to help people living with disabilities to become independent and productive citizens.

Discarding Paralympic athletes after bringing gold, silver and bronze medals home makes us all look callous in exploiting them only to fly the flag. If we can have Paralympic teams to compete on the international stage, then what is lacking must be sustainability. We should learn from other countries where people living with disabilities are helped from a young age to integrate fully into all facets of society and the economy.
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