NAUTE DAM – President Hifikepunye Pohamba has given marching orders to the board chairperson of the Namibia Development Corporation (NDC), John Nekwaya.
Nekwaya was sent packing last Friday after the president was visibly appalled by the living conditions of workers at the Naute dam date project.
“Why should we keep these people to head NDC? I do not want you in my company, get out you are useless. Do not follow me,” said the president.
Pohamba dismissed Nekwaya who was part of a high-power delegation visiting the dam, saying there was no place for such treatment of workers, which according to him was worse than during apartheid.
He turned to the Minister of Trade and Industry Calle Schlettwein saying, “You are in charge of NDC and you have that useless man to take care of it, it is not good. The problem is that my ministers do not come to look at these problems themselves. Why must they only come when the president is coming here?”
The president was especially annoyed to have found that 6 to 12 workers were cramped in tiny rooms.
“So each person occupies less than 1.5 square metres? And it must serve as a dining room, a kitchen and a bedroom? It is inhumane, certainly not acceptable,” he said, saying that at least in Tsumeb contract workers had a common kitchen.
He also expressed disappointment that no kindergarten was available and that workers who work long hours must still come and cook for themselves.
“After working for the whole day they must cook for themselves? Is it not ideal to employ someone specifically to cook for them? There is not even a day care centre. I will not be unhappy if a company says we cannot pay dividends because we build accommodation for our workers,” he said.
The manager of the Al-dhara group, Sahle Abdul Karda, responded that it was financially impossible to do what the president had outlined, but that he would request an increase from their head office in Dubai. The president continued that people can get sick living in such appalling conditions.
“Suppose I put you to live in this situation, will you be happy? I am here with camera people, do not say you are being blackmailed; this is the reality of the situation. It touches me when I see people who are ill treated, even by government enterprises. NDC is government,” he emphasised.
Pohamba said he joined the struggle for independence primarily because of the conditions he and other contract labourers had to endure.
“The problem you have is that I joined the struggle because of the conditions of contract labourers. I am a contract worker. I feel bad that in an independent Namibia workers are treated like that – it reminds me of how I reacted and this time it is against my government. This is unacceptable?” he said.
He also castigated the manager of the Naute dam project Mous Boshoff for implementing the same apartheid mentality from the Kombat areas to the //Karas Region.
“I know employers in that area Kombat and Tsumeb and how they treated their workers – it is where I was working as a contract worker. I want to see your house; you have a room for your child, the visitor and for you and your wife. How do you compare that with how these people are living? Is it discrimination of colour?” he asked while peering through the window of one of the rooms of the dwelling units.
“Why are people not taken care of? This is unacceptable, especially since it is a government institution. How can you treat people like this? The manager perhaps did not elect me, but these people elected me as their president. Your vote is just one, but in that room there will be five votes for me,” said Pohamba to the acting MD of NDC, Pieter de Wet.
The president paid a week-long visit to key capital projects in the //Karas Region and was accompanied by the Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Pendukeni Ivula-Ithana, the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, the Minister of Trade and Industry Calle Schletwein and the Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy Willem Isaaks.
By Jemima Beukes