Even though months sometimes go by without getting small tenders or customers, artisans in the Southern Industrial Area do not give up because they know the sun will eventually shine brighter.
They report for duty at their “office” in the parking area of Pupkewitz Mega Build at 08h00, Mondays to Fridays and knock off at 17h00.
On Saturdays they work from 08h00 to 13h00.
As they await potential customers they engage in discussions, both fruitful and unfruitful.
Sharing jokes and chasing each other like small children is a common trend among them.
Their marketing strategy is a paint brush, which they show to every customer going into the retail shop. It is survival of the fittest when they see potential customers approaching, as they rush to their potential master like a child would a parent with a lolly-pop.
“The paint brushes are just to tell customers that we are painters. We can stay up to a month without getting any work,” 47-year-old Vilho Paulus tells New Era.
His colleague, Absai Angula – who hails from Okahao in the Omusati Region – nods in agreement.
But, it is not gloom and doom, the men say, because there are times when customers come abundantly. Customers come from everywhere and there are times when they leave Windhoek to go to work in other parts of the country, they say.
Stephanus Zorob (56), who hails from Okalongo in Omusati, says getting customers is a matter of luck and not all stay long without getting work.
“Some people can stay for two weeks without getting any job but you get those who get a job even after two days or returning from their contractual work. It’s true we sometimes stay a whole month without getting any tenders or customers but when we do get, it makes up for the time that we did not have anything because we can make up to N$12 000 depending on who the employer is. That is why we don’t give up,” Zorob says.
He adds that it is better to stand at the parking lot hoping to get customers instead of stealing from people. “We don’t give up,” adds Angula, who then attends to a potential customer. Most of the more than 40 artisans here are painters, he says.
However, tilers, boilermakers and builders are found here too. Most of them acquired their skills on the job, Zorob further tells New Era.
“I have become a better painter over the years. If you see me paint you would swear I studied for this,” Paulus brags, adding, “but I just acquired my skills here.”
When Enos Shikongo started advertising his services at the popular spot, he could only paint. “I enrolled for a plumbing course at VTC and today I am a plumber and painter,” Shikongo, who lives in Otjomuise, says.
The men say they love their job even though there are obstacles here and there. It is better to be self-employed than to be employed at a company, some remark.
“Working for myself here is good. I paid for my wedding in 2010 just with the money I made from here. At the time, my wife was not working. I bought everything myself including our rings. I don’t have a problem. I am very happy,” 33-year-old Ben Waterboer says.
Waterboer, a Grade 10 certificate holder, too was an amateur painter when he started painting as a contractor in 2001. In 2004, he decided to gain experience by working for a company where he painted. In the process, he acquired other skills and today he refers to himself as a professional welder, carpenter, builder and tiler.
“When customers come here they do not always trust us but when they see the work we do they are impressed. The people here are good at what they do,” Waterboer says. Most of the artisans New Era spoke to have experience of 10 years or more. They also say they have the blessings of the retail owners. “We also bring them customers so they don’t really have a problem with them. They only tell us to stay far from customers’ vehicles,” Paulus adds.
Waterboer adds that if they see a suspicious-looking person they alert the security guards on duty to apprehend the person. But one of the managers, Jeanne Lowe, was not keen on talking to New Era when contacted for comment, saying the artisans work outside their premises and “it’s none of our involvement”.
Dealing with dubious customersWaterboer admits that there are difficult days and difficult customers.
“Conflicts arise when there are disagreements, so we try understand our customers and also negotiate for good deals. It’s not always that bad.
However, Paulus and Zorob shared that they often encounter customers, who use and exploit their services and refuse to pay.
“We do encounter those ‘skelem’ (crooks) people who refuse to pay us after working for them. Even if we report them to the Ministry of Labour, we do not get help so we just let go. We just use our discretion when going with customers. If they do not look trustworthy we don’t go,” Paulus says while eating an orange, which he bought from a passing vendor.
But, the men do not deny that there are good customers out there. Some even write them testimonials and referral letters, they add.
Zorob too agrees that nothing much happens when they report exploitation.