By Irene !Hoaes
The country’s education system has come under fire from the mining industry.
“It is not a good education system, we can sit here and deny that’s happening,” said the President of the Chamber of Mines, Otto Shikongo.
He noted that many people these days send their children outside the country for better education opportunities.
Shikongo said the fact that many students battle to gain entrance to South African universities is testimony that the education system is not in a good state.
He said this state of affairs contributes to a lack of required skills in the country, especially critical skills such as artisans and geologists.
He charged that there are a lot of unemployed artisans on the street, despite the shortage of the skills, which he said is evident in the quality of education.
“No good to take up half-cooked artisans,” Shikongo charged.
The chamber also commissioned a survey on skills availability in the country, which indicated present and projected acute shortages of skills especially for professionals (37 percent) and critical artisan trades (15 percent).
Hence, the chamber has embarked upon an artisans upgrading programme at the Namibia Institute for Mining Technology (NIMT) and increased job attachments for NIMT students to mining operations.
The chamber said the industry cannot solve the problem on its own and needs Government input, noting that a careful, proper investment is needed in the sector.
“Do we have the right teachers? We cannot simply invest in books and buildings,” Shikongo said.
The chamber injects an enormous amount in student bursaries, yearly.
The next solution in line, in the absence of proper skills, is importing skills from elsewhere, which also takes place at a snail’s pace.
Shikongo appealed for the speedy finalisation of work permits and visa application processes, in order to get skilled professionals from elsewhere.
“The area that remains of concern to the Chamber of Mines is the inability of the ISB (Immigration Selection Board) quorum to sit due to no quorum. This results in protracted delays and subsequent frustrations of our members,” Shikongo said.
He further recommended the review of the Immigration Act to solve quorum problems and proposed the granting of three-year work permits for critical skills instead of one year.
“We (are) actually losing out because of this,” Shikongo charged.
The chamber says it has over the past two years assisted the Ministry of Home Affairs financially and in upgrading and replacement of computers, processing of identity documents and recently with a pilot project for work permits.
“Chamber of Mining is assisting Home Affairs with expectations that the efficiency will improve,” Shikongo said.
With regard to power sufficiency, the chamber is of the opinion that Namibia must invest in making itself self-sufficient and only import power as an optimisation strategy.
“We are concerned that a lot of efforts in the past have been to secure power from outside Namibia and invest in subsequent transmission requirements,” Shikongo added.
The industry pledges to assist and implement further energy efficient measures in production processes.
Another challenge that the industry is faced with is the availability of water in the arid, coastal region where most of the new uranium mines are situated.
The chamber believes that with regard to the desalination plant in the Erongo region, the country’s water utility, NamWater should take a leading role and provide all the necessary support it can in planning and execution of the project.
Industrial peace is also another concern for the industry, in terms of maintaining a booming mining industry.
“We will not see the benefits to Government, shareholders, investors and the Namibian nation.
“It is therefore in the interest of all, including the leadership of the mining industry and the Mine Workers Union (MUN) to work hard in maintaining long lasting industrial peace,” Shikongo said.
The Skorpion Zinc Mine recently ended a 19-day industrial strike, which Shikongo said was a concern to the industry.
“The health of the mining industry depends on cooperation between all its stakeholders,” Shikongo told an annual dinner gathering of the mining industry.