The Neighbourhood Watch Analysis - A Silent Song and Other Stories Easy Elimu Study Guide

Share via Whatsapp

The Neighborhood Watch by Rem'y Ngamije

About the Author

Reni’y Ngamije is a writer and a photographer who is of Namibian origin but was born in Rwanda.

He founded an organization that supports literary works and is also a chief editor of the first Namibian literary magazine- ‘Doek’.

His story Neighbourhood Watch’ is a contemporary story that was recently published in the Johannesburg Review of Books.

  • Streetlife — Crime and violence in the streets
  • The secret struggles/suffering
  • Harsh living conditions. Inequalities / Class difference — The rich vs poor
  • Desperation — suffered by those living in the streets.
  • Waste disposal — what is the ideal way to dispose of waste?

The Title

The title "The Neighbourhood Watch" is appropriate for this story because it accurately reflects the theme of community and survival among the characters.

The main characters, Elias, Lazarus, Martin, Silas, and Omagano, are all homeless individuals who have formed a makeshift "neighbourhood watch" in order to survive on the streets.

They rely on each other for companionship, protection, and the sharing of resources such as food and shelter.

Through their alliances, they have created a sense of community among themselves, which is reflected in the title.

The title also reflects the theme of surveillance and safety.

The neighbourhood watch is a concept that is often associated with keeping communities safe through vigilant observation and reporting of suspicious activities.

The characters in the story are also constantly observing their surroundings and looking out for potential dangers, such as the police and rival gangs.

They also have to be mindful of their actions, in order not to draw attention to themselves and get caught.

Furthermore, the title also reflects the theme of poverty, and the struggle for survival in a harsh environment.

The characters are struggling to survive on the streets, and they have to scavenge for food and shelter.

They have to find ways to make ends meet, and they resort to going through other people's trash. The title of the story reflects the daily struggles of the characters, and the lengths they have to go to in order to survive.

In summary, the title "The Neighbourhood Watch" is fitting for this story as it accurately reflects the theme of community, survival, surveillance, and poverty among the characters.

The Plot Summary

The story, "The Neighbourhood Watch," follows a group of homeless individuals, Elias, Lazarus, Martin, Silas, and Omagano, who have formed a bond and a system for survival on the streets of Windhoek, Namibia.

They call themselves the "Neighbourhood Watch" and have specific days dedicated to scavenging for food and other necessities in different neighborhoods.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they avoid poor areas and instead focus on neighborhoods where they know they will find more valuable resources, such as white or wealthier black communities.

On Fridays and Saturdays, they stay in a designated spot, called "Headquarters," to avoid potential trouble with the police.

And on Sundays, they focus on the neighborhoods of Avis, Klein Windhoek, and Eros where they know they will find the most resources and the least interference.

The group also receives assistance from an elderly woman, Mrs. Bezuidenhout, who regularly gives them food, clothing, and other necessities out of her own generosity.

Throughout the story, the group faces numerous challenges and dangers, including police interrogations, violent rival gangs, and the constant struggle for survival.

They learn to adapt and evolve, becoming more strategic in their scavenging and avoiding certain areas for safety reasons.

The theme of survival is prevalent throughout the story, as the group must constantly find ways to survive on the streets, not only for themselves, but also for each other.

Characters and characterization

Character Lists

  • Elias - A street-wise leader of the Neighbourhood Watch, who has experience from his days in the struggle. He is the one who teaches the others how to survive on the streets.
  • Lazarus - A member of the Neighbourhood Watch who is known for his contained violence. He is a loyal follower of Elias and helps the group navigate the streets.
  • Martin - A new member of the Neighbourhood Watch who is still learning how to survive on the streets. He is the youngest of the group and is often considered naive.
  • Silas - A member of the Neighbourhood Watch who is restless and often goes off on his own. He is known for his impulsiveness and lack of discipline.
  • Omagano - A female member of the Neighbourhood Watch who is reserved and shy. She is often seen as the group's nurturer and is protective of the others.
  • Amos - A former member of the Neighbourhood Watch who is killed in a fight over pride. He is remembered by the others as a wild, impulsive man who struggled with alcohol and anger.
  • Mrs Bezuidenhout - An old woman who lives in Eros and is known for her generosity towards the Neighbourhood Watch. She often provides them with food, clothes, and other necessities.

Character Traits


  • Street Savvy: Elias has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to surviving on the streets. He has a deep understanding of how the street works and how to navigate it. He is able to guide his group, the Neighbourhood Watch, through the different neighborhoods and help them find food and shelter.
  • Leadership: Elias takes on the role of leader for the Neighbourhood Watch, making decisions for the group and guiding them through different situations. He is respected by the other members and they look to him for guidance.
  • Resilient: Elias has been through a lot of difficult experiences on the streets, including being beaten by the Afrikaners during the insurgency years, but he has managed to persevere and continue surviving.
  • Pragmatic: Elias has a realistic and practical perspective on life on the streets. He understands that they need to survive on a day-to-day basis and that they cannot rely on things getting better in the future. He tells Martin, "Maybe is tomorrow, laaitie (buddy),’ Lazarus says. 'And there is only today."
  • Empathic: Elias has a deep understanding of the struggles of the other members of the Neighbourhood Watch and is able to relate to their experiences. He is willing to help and support them, as demonstrated when he comforts Omagano after they found a dead baby in the trash.
  • Loyal: Elias cares deeply about the other members of the Neighbourhood Watch and is willing to go to great lengths to protect them.


  • Survival-oriented: Lazarus is constantly thinking about how to survive on the streets and make ends meet. He and Elias methodically scour bins in their old territories to find food and shelter.
  • Experienced: Lazarus has been living on the streets for a long time and has a lot of knowledge and experience about how to survive. He passes on this knowledge to the younger members of the Neighbourhood Watch.
  • Pragmatic: Lazarus is practical and realistic about the challenges of living on the streets. He knows that pride is poor food and that sometimes people need to do things they don't want to do in order to survive.
  • Resourceful: Lazarus is able to find ways to make use of the things they find in the bins. He and Elias start a fire using newspapers they find in the bin.
  • Resilient: Lazarus is able to keep going despite the hardships of living on the streets. He is able to find humor in difficult situations, like when Elias runs screaming after finding a dead baby in a bin.
  • Protective: Lazarus is protective of the members of the Neighbourhood Watch and is willing to fight to protect them. He tells Silas not to go out on his own in case mischief finds him and no one comes to look for him.


  • Naive: Martin is new to the streets and is not familiar with the ways of survival on the streets. He is easily shocked by the harsh realities of street life, as seen when he is horrified by the story of the dead baby found in the bin.
  • Optimistic: Martin expresses hope that things could get better for people living on the streets. He is seen suggesting that some people might be able to find jobs, which is met with scepticism by Elias and Lazarus.
  • Easily influenced: Martin is often seen following Silas's lead, even when it is not safe to do so. He is also seen looking up to Elias and Lazarus as leaders and is willing to accept their advice and guidance.
  • Trusting: Martin is seen trusting the generosity of Mrs Bezuidenhout, despite the fact that Elias and Lazarus do not share his trust.
  • Inexperienced: Martin is seen as inexperienced on the streets, as seen when he is not familiar with the ways of survival and is easily shocked by the harsh realities of street life.


  • Inexperienced: is a new member of the Neighbourhood Watch and is not as experienced in street life as the other members. He is shown to be unfamiliar with the ways of surviving on the streets and is often surprised by the harsh realities of life on the streets.
  • Curious and ambitious: He is eager to explore the different neighborhoods, and is not content to stay in one place. He also wants to find a job, as opposed to relying on scavenging for survival.
  • Dreamer: He is optimistic about the possibility of things getting better for the group and believes that they can find a way to improve their situation.
  • Risk taker: He often leaves the safety of the Headquarters and wanders off on his own, despite the warnings of the other members.
  • A follower: He often goes along with the group's decisions and does not speak up for himself or question the group's actions.


  • Vulnerable and fearful: as seen when she wraps her arms underneath her breasts and rocks herself a little after the group talks about finding a dead baby in the trash.
  • Quiet and reserved person, as her character is not explored in-depth throughout the story.


  • Prideful: Amos is described as having a lot of pride and not being able to hold his tongue. He calls someone an ugly word and refuses to apologize for the slight, leading to his eventual death.
  • Aggressive: Amos is described as goading people on with his words and having a tendency to curse people.
  • Heavy drinker: It is mentioned that one of the things Amos could not hold was his drink, leading to his death.
  • Unable to control his temper: The story states that Amos died due to his pride and his inability to control his temper.

Mrs Bezuidenhout

  • Generous: Mrs Bezuidenhout is described as being very generous towards the Neighbourhood Watch, often giving them food, clothes and other essentials. She also gives them things like a pair of scissors and a mirror to help them maintain their appearance.
  • Kind: She is described as being kind towards the Neighbourhood Watch, always asking how they are and if they need anything else.
  • Thoughtful: Mrs Bezuidenhout takes the time to sort through her recycling and even washes it before giving it to the Neighbourhood Watch.
  • Frugal: She is described as being frugal, always making use of her resources and not wasting anything.
  • Caring: Mrs Bezuidenhout cares about the well-being of the Neighbourhood Watch and wants to help them in any way she can.
  • Selfless: Mrs Bezuidenhout is selfless, always giving to the Neighbourhood Watch without expecting anything in return.


Classism / inequality

In the story "The Neighbourhood Watch," classism is a prominent theme that is highlighted through the descriptions of the various neighbourhoods.

The neighbourhood of Katutura, Hakahana, Goreangab, Wanaheda and Okuryangava are described as poor areas with slim pickings in terms of finding usable items in the garbage bins.

The characters of Elias and Lazarus share their knowledge of how to survive in these areas, but they also acknowledge that there is limited opportunity for success in these areas.

They note that "poor people's bins are slim pickings" and that "you can't survive by being around people who are also trying to survive."

The characters then move on to wealthier neighbourhoods like Khomasdal and Dorado Park, which they acknowledge as being too crowded with other people trying to survive, and the opportunities for success in these areas are limited.

They note that "The neighbourhoods are already spoken for" and that "All the places that break the wind have long-term tenants and all the generous churches already have their squabbling regulars."

The characters then turn to the neighbourhoods of Avis, Klein Windhoek, and Eros, which they describe as the best areas to forage for recyclable items as the people in these areas recycle and sort their trash.

They note that "the paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, tin cans and aluminium foil are sorted into separate plastic bags. Some people even wash the trash before they throw it away."

Through these descriptions, the story highlights the classism that exists in the city, with the wealthy areas having more opportunities for success and the poor areas having limited opportunities.

The characters' experiences and observations in these different neighbourhoods further underscore the theme of classism and the impact it has on people's lives.

By splitting the city of Windhoek geographically into different neighbourhoods, Ngamije is able to use place as a marker of inequalities and class differences that exist among the people.
The content of rubbish bins in the different neighbourhoods shows the differences between the rich and the poor. The first suburb to be visited by the crew is Auasblick. It is described as a nice place since the people there still know how to throw away things

The Neighbourhood Watch is assured Of scoring good things such as ‘broken toasters, blenders, kettles water bottles, Teflon pots or pans scrubbed raw screen television cardboard boxes, and maybe some food’ (pg.78) This shows that the people who live here are well up and live comfortable lives.

The suburbs of the poor such as Katutura, Hakahana, Goreangab, Wanaheda and Okuryangava, are also described.

Using the flashback of the crew’s Tuesday and ‘Thursday visits to these poor suburbs, Ngaminje brings out the living conditions of the poor based on the content of their bins.

One day, Elias and Lazarus found a baby wrapped in some newspapers thrown into a big bin. Ihis encounter made them smart and move away from poor people. They decided that on Tuesday and Thursday nights, they would stop going to poor people’s places because poor people had nothing left to throw away but themselves (pg. 80)

Khomasdal is closely related to the poor people’s suburbs. It is, however, a drinking den. The neighbourhood watch never enters Khomasdal since it is crowded with other starving, roving cliques (pg. 80). It is also in the same neighbourhood where Amos was killed.

These lowly suburbs are contrasted to the suburbs ofthe wealthy such as Avis, Klein, Windhoek and Eros. Avis has complex apartments that bring a fresh crop of bins to the interlocked pavements. lhough made up of rich people,

Klein Windhoek portrays some meanness as they only put up their bins at the crack of dawn to dissuade the dustbin divers from perambulating through their streets (pg. 83). Eros is the best suburb for The Neighbourhood Watch due to the presence of Mrs Bezuidenhout, who waits for the crew and gives them some gifts.

This shows the wealthy nature of the old lady, the people living in this neighbourhood, and Mrs Bezuidenhout’s generosity.


The main theme of the story is the struggle for survival on the streets of Windhoek.

The characters, Elias, Lazarus, Martin, Silas, Omagano, and Amos all strive to survive by scavenging for food and shelter in the neighborhoods.

They have to fight off hunger, cold and danger from gangs and the police.


Pride is another important theme that runs throughout the story.

The characters are often faced with the choice of accepting help or maintaining their pride.

For example, Amos died because of his pride, refusing to apologize for his actions.

Similarly, Martin suggests that people who refuse to scavenge for food and shelter are too proud to be like them.


Mrs. Bezuidenhout's generosity is an important theme in the story.

She is the only person who is willing to help the characters and her generosity is contrasted with the pride of the other characters.

Her generosity is portrayed as a source of hope and inspiration for the characters.

Friendship and community

Friendship and community also play an important role in the story. The characters form a community and support each other, both emotionally and practically. They look out for each other and help each other to survive.

Hope and hopelessness

The characters have to contend with the constant struggle for survival and their future seems uncertain.

At times, they express hope that things will get better, however, they are often met with disappointment and hopelessness.

Elias and Lazarus's warning to Martin, "Maybe is tomorrow, laaitie (buddy),’ Lazarus says. 'And there is only today," highlights this theme.


One theme that arises from the story is poverty and its effects on individuals and communities.

The characters in the story, such as Elias, Lazarus, Martin, Silas, and Omagano, are all struggling to survive on the streets and often have to resort to scavenging for food and shelter.

The story also highlights the harsh realities of living in poverty, such as being at risk of violence and exploitation, and the constant struggle to make ends meet.

Community and solidarity

The characters in the story form a "Neighbourhood Watch" to survive together, sharing resources and helping each other out.

The story also highlights the importance of generosity and kindness in the face of poverty, such as the character of Mrs Bezuidenhout, who is described as giving the main characters food, clothes, and other necessities.

Street life And Its Challenges

Living in the streets is shown to have several challenges:

  1. Crime and violence
    The neighbourhood watch must safely hide their valuable items at the headquarters to prevent theft. hidden stash is considered safe since they are a feared group— they have a fierce reputation (pg. 76).
    Lazarus is considered the Lieutenant of the group and one of its pillars due to his violence (pg. 83) shows that life in the streets involves some violent acts. Violence is seen to be a necessary survival skill in the street.
    The death of Amos after knife stabs also shows the level of violence faced in the streets ‘The knife flashed quickly In, out, in, out and then slashed across…… Amosfell.’ (pg. 80-81).
    Silas, one of the crew members, engages in some crime. He is said to have had a habit of discovering things that have had previous owners. ‘Silas steals’ ( pg. 77). If he gets caught while stealing, he might be beaten or arrested.
  2. Secret struggles
    The Neighbourhood Watch has to struggle to ensure that the valuables are safely hidden to prevent theft. After splashing water on their faces, the empty can is stashed away with other valuables in a hook under the concrete abutment of the bridge (pg. 75-76).
    They also have to protect their territory — The bridge underside precious real estate. To achieve this, the abbreviations NW are sprayed onto the bridge’s columns which communicate that it is marked territory (pg. 76).
    The group must struggle to camouflage and appear like any ordinary person while roaming the streets to evade police. They have to look presentable, thus why Omagano struggles to straighten her kinky hair using her fingers. They also have to wear their best clothes. One of their greatest challenges is how to disguise their foul smell. The writer notes, “But smelling bad is something they try to avoid as much as possible since a smelly man is despised everywhere.” (Pg. 76).
  3. Struggle to get food
    The crew relies on waste food and leftovers to survive. It is said that ‘Elias knows most city hotel’s kitchen staff who leave the group some decaying produce or some leftovers when they feel kind from the previous night’ (pg 76).
    The struggle to get food forces them to use dubious means such as having Omagano satisfy the sexual needs of guards who deny them access to bins that might contain high yields (pg. 77).
    The lunch that the group shares show that getting enough food for a meal is a real struggle for them ‘The food crew shares the lunch: Half a loaf of brown bread, some salty mashed potatoes, soft grapes and some water’ (pg.78).
    The group heavily relies on Mrs Bezuidenhout’s generosity as she gives them canned food such as beans and peas, fruits and other valuable items (pg. 83).
  4. Struggle with poor health conditions
    Elias has a racking cough that worsens each day. It is so severe that, ‘Sometimes there is blood in the gunk from his chest, but he waves everyone’s concerns away’ (pg. 76).
  5. Desperation
    Life in the streets is filled with moments of desperation. When Elias and Lazarus met, they would desperately flick through every bin they could find in every suburb they could reach. As the writer tells us, they had no room to be choosy as the writer tells us, ‘They were indiscriminate and desperate and always hungry.’ (pg.78)
    Elias shares these experiences with the other crew members and tells them, “When we started when you have to we weren’t picky. We had to survive survive, you don’t get to choose what you have to do.” (pg.79).
    We further see that the crew’s desperation to get food and survive makes them use any possible means. Omagano is a precious survival tool for the group in such desperate times. This especially happens where the bins in some areas are fenced off and guarded by guards who threaten to beat the crew if they trespass. The  guards have to be bribed to let the crew scavenge in these bins. When the crew has money, Elias pays the guards.
    However, when the crew has no money and needs to get food, Omagano is their only way out. She goes behind a dumpster with a guard and does what needs to be done (pg. 77).

Waste disposal in cities

Ngamije shows the actual situation around waste disposal in many urban neighbourhoods.

The Neighbourhood Watch crew solely depends on the disposed waste for their survival.

By describing the kind of waste found in different neighbourhoods, the writer communicates the need to ensure that waste is appropriately disposed off.

The crew’s appreciation of high-end suburbs such as Eros, Windhoek, and Eros emphasises the need to recycle and separate different waste products.

These suburbs have people who recycle. Different bins containing different wastes are also seen- ‘The paper cardboard, plastic bottles, tins, cans and aluminum foil are sorted in separate plastic bags. Some people even wash the trash before they throw it away. Everything else that is of no use goes in the big green bins’ (pg. 82).

This serves as an advantage to the crew as it saves time and prevents disappointment.

The writer subtly advocates for waste separation and recycling to ensure proper waste management.

Other lowly suburbs such as Katutura, Hakakana, Goreangab, Wanaheda and Okuryangava display poor waste disposal where all sorts of waste are put in the same bin.

The writer communicates the inappropriateness of this waste disposal approach through the grave voice adopted by Elias as he shares their past experiences with the crew.

“Usually in a bin you have to be ready to find shit Old food, used condoms, women things with blood on them, broken things.” (pg.79)

This waste disposal method is not just disgusting, but it makes proper waste management difficult and ultimately impossible. Similar waste disposal methods are seen in Ausblick, where everything — including electronic gadgets such as broken toasters, blenders and kettles- is disposed of together with water bottles, cardboard boxes, and even food wastes.

Stylistic Devices


This is the repeating words or phrases.

(There are actually many different types of repetition like anaphora and epiphora.)

The phrase "Today you need food. Today you need shelter.

Today you need to take care of today" is repeated throughout the story to emphasis the characters' focus on survival in the present moment, rather than thinking about the future.


Symbolism is the use of words or images to symbolize specific concepts, people, objects, or events.

The use of the term "Headquarters" to refer to the place where the characters gather, symbolizes their sense of camaraderie and unity, as well as the fact that they are all part of a group fighting for survival on the streets.


Comparing two things without using the words “like” or “as”.

The phrase "Pride is poor food" is used to describe how pride can lead to poverty and hardship, as it can make people refuse help or opportunities that would improve their lives.


Irony is a rhetorical device in which a statement or situation contrasts with what is expected or known.

The characters refer to their scavenging through trash as "foraging," which is a term usually associated with hunting for food in the wild, but in this context it is used to describe the characters' search for food and resources in garbage bins.


Imagery is a literary device used in poetry, novels, and other writing that uses vivid description that appeals to a readers' senses to create an image or idea in their head.

Through language, imagery does not only paint a picture, but aims to portray the sensational and emotional experience within text.

The story uses vivid descriptions of the characters' surroundings and experiences on the streets, such as "the thorns and broken bottles" at Headquarters, and "the interlocked pavements" of the wealthy neighborhoods, to create a sense of the gritty reality of homelessness.

Revision questions for The Neighbourhood Watch

  1. How do members of 'The Neighbourhood Watch' apply street wisdom, past experiences and unity to survive? 
  2. Proper waste disposal makes it easy for waste to be appropriately managed. Using illustrations from Rem’y Ngamije’s “The Neighbourhood Watch” show how this message is communicated.
  3. Street life is not for the faint-hearted. Show the truthfulness of this statement based on the story “The Neighbourhoodd Watch.” 
  4. In every society, some inequalities exist that affect people’s way of life. Using illustrations from Rem’y Ngamije’s “The Neighbourhood Watch” support this assertion.

Essay Questions 

People living on the streets apply wisdom in order to survive the difficult conditions. Write an essay to qualify this statement citing illustrations from Rem'y Ngamije’s The Neighbourhood Watch.


Join our whatsapp group for latest updates

Download The Neighbourhood Watch Analysis - A Silent Song and Other Stories Easy Elimu Study Guide.

Tap Here to Download for 50/-

Why download?

  • ✔ To read offline at any time.
  • ✔ To Print at your convenience
  • ✔ Share Easily with Friends / Students

Get on WhatsApp Download as PDF
Subscribe now

access all the content at an affordable rate
Buy any individual paper or notes as a pdf via MPESA
and get it sent to you via WhatsApp


What does our community say about us?