By Deon Schlechter
WITVLEI – Floodgates of emotions opened yesterday when a group of former workers of the now-closed Witvlei Meat poured their hearts out at a meeting demanding government intervention.
The retrenchees vented their anger on the chairperson of the Witvlei Meat Board, Sidney Martin, and the defunct firm’s managing director, Hendri Badenhorst.
“Down Sidney down, down Hendri down,” the group of some 50 retrenchees chanted at Witvlei.
Yesterday’s meeting came in the wake of Witvlei Meat sending its entire workforce of some 200 residents home with a pay cheque and a promise of full remuneration when Witvlei Meat is paid the N$50 million it is now demanding from its Norwegian shareholder, Nortura.
Witvlei has taken its partner to the high court in Oslo. The retrenchees told New Era they are prepared to walk to Windhoek on empty stomachs to ensure government listens to their desperate cries for intervention in the closed abattoir, which was their sole source of income.
Chairperson of the meeting, Croeks Ngangane, said it was with shock and horror that he and other delegates to Monday’s stakeholders’ meeting in Windhoek were informed that, according to a representative of Nortura, Witvlei Meat was hovering on the brink of bankruptcy and there is no hope that the workers would receive anything else other than the pay handed to them last week.
Ngangane said they have asked for an urgent meeting with Nafau on February 9 where they will state their case and after that they will march to Windhoek to plead for government intervention through the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
“The ball is now in the court of the stakeholders and government. Surely, they can work out a plan to keep this ship afloat and provide us and our families with an income,” he said to loud cheers.
In Windhoek the Minister of Trade and Industry, Calle Schlettwein, has made it clear that a takeover by Meatco as the only other beef exporter in Namibia, is indeed up to these parties. Meatco has on numerous occasions since 2014 offered to take over the abattoir on condition that Witvlei Meat’s management pack their bags.
“That is just what we want,” says Ngangane. “It has only now dawned on us that Martin and Badenhorst have been busy with a self-enrichment scheme of huge proportions. They always claimed they are not making money, but where have all the millions gone? We don’t believe them when they say that we will see some of the N$50 million they are now fighting for in a court in Norway. That money will go just one way – into their hidden bank accounts and many farms,” he fumed.
Speaker after speaker at the meeting agreed on one thing that they are being used by Witvlei Meat to try and force government to increase the beef quota.
“They want pity, but they don’t show any pity for us. Not even one of them is present today to listen to our cries,” one speaker fumed.
Witvlei village council chairperson, Levi van Wyk, was quoted as saying that the Witvlei community needs government to assist Witvlei Meat in any way they can, as the closure of the abattoir affects the whole town. Martin told New Era that Witvlei Meat has invested between N$35 million and N$40 million in infrastructure since operations started in August 2006.
He also stated that Witvlei Meat had invested more than N$20 million recently to improve and upgrade the abattoir to meet European Union export standards.
“Witvlei Meat’s directors and shareholders have always taken exceptional care of their workers. We have done more than just run an abattoir; we have invested in each and every soul that lives in Witvlei. We did not abandon them. Witvlei Meat is fighting a court battle now in Norway to get the money that belongs to the company. We have options open and we will explore those in the name of our loyal workforce. Fifty people at a meeting under a tree do not represent the total workforce of almost 200 workers,” he said.
When this reporter asked people at their homes why they did not attend yesterday’s meeting, they all said one meeting is not going to change their immediate future. They are praying for Witvlei Meat to save them from falling into poverty but they will also support a takeover by any capable company with government’s blessing.
“We have to earn money in order to feed hungry children and sickly old people,” an old woman said, as she cuddled her grandchild.