New Era’s chief political reporter, Elvis Muraranganda, this week sat down with the president of the Namibia National Labour Organisation (NANLO), Evilastus Kaaronda, to find out about the progress of the new union federation and his views on the state of the labour movement.
How has the nation received NANLO?
We deliberately established a federation and then created operational or industrial unions. We have had an overwhelming reception, as there has been a lot enthusiasm among the people and that is shown by the number of people that we have been able to recruit. One example is that since January to June this year we have recruited 2 232 employees and that is not a small number, considering the limited resources that we have. We have been able to establish offices in Lüderitz, Walvis Bay, Tsumeb and her in Windhoek, as well as Okakarara. We are satisfied with our growth.
Who are NANLO’s affiliate members?
NANLO has established the Solidarity Union, which represents the retail sector and most of the commercial sector. It also represents your tourism and hospitality sector. We have Namibia’s Parastatals and Civil Service Workers’ Union, and then we have the Metal, Mining, Maritime and Construction Union.
When is NANLO’s first congress?
It is too early to tell, it is too hard to speculate and I do not think that will be a mature thing to do. The truth of it is [it will happen] as soon as we are done with the basic groundwork and establishing functional structures. Probably anytime next year, I don’t know. It could be a session where workers come together and take stock to see how best to proceed.
Will you be available for election?
Of course, I would want to be part of the organisation. You would not have created something and just leave or throw it away. You want to see grow. You want to see it get to its feet from crawling until it reaches some degree of maturity and adulthood if you leave. And then leave it behind as a legacy and a home for workers, which is the idea.
Would you be comfortable at being challenged and losing your post?
I was not born with NANLO, just like I was not born with the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW). We do these things with the sole purpose of creating a sense of hope and to give people a sense of belonging and if they take ownership for the right purposes, then it is fine.
You were once at the helm of the NUNW. What is the distinction between that union federation and NANLO?
There is one key difference and that is our views and outlooks are very different. We have a philosophical foundation of workers’ autonomy, independence and control. We do not for a minute believe that any due or undue political interference is necessary or healthy in industrial relations. History has shown that those who have ridden on the backs of political affiliation have not seen themselves prosper in terms of their historical role or purpose. Political interest is never friendly to workers’ interests, it is counter-revolutionary and it is in absolute terms very reactionary.
But you were at some point worked under the same setup, why is there a change of heart now?
The reason why I had to be pushed out is because the interests of workers – in terms of the way I led the organization – were always a priority. They were more pronounced every day and the differences between those interests and the interests of the political establishment became more clear. When you lead workers and represent them and them only and you do not report to anybody else, but them, yet you have a relationship with a political party, then you are faced with those inherent contradictions. That is what led to my ultimate expulsion from the NUNW, because the leadership style was such that it was loyal only to the workers and ignored the interest of the political establishment.
It is an open secret that you are a Swapo cadre. Do you still pay your dues to the party?
I am still with Swapo. All the time. I didn’t join Swapo to please people, or because of Sam Nujoma, or [President] Hage [Geingob] or [Hifikepunye] Pohamba. Just because we have differences, I should move out of the party? It is my party and I remain a stubborn member of the party. I do not care what the winds say and how they blow, I’m an all-season of member of the party.
How would you define the relationship between NANLO and government?
We do not have a relationship, except that we are citizens and soon we will be getting into government, but only as a union to recruit workers so that we represent them much better than they are being represented now. We do not want any other relationship with government. Of course they are not comfortable with NANLO. They want it to die. I’m not too sure if the individuals within government at the present day will be comfortable with guys, like myself, because some of them in government today were party to the looting of the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) money.
Did the issue of GIPF money die with your exit from NUNW or are you still pursuing it?
The reason why I had to be kicked out was for the issue to die. But whether those in government will be able to keep a lid over a boiling pot forever is something else. I think the beauty of it all is that Namibians in general have become much more alert and more awake, because the older generation that was keeping us blind is growing tired, but those us who will remain will want to hear answers. They can’t escape it. It’s inevitable.
What is your take on the state of the nation?
I think it is bad. As a nation, where are we? When did we take stock of the national development plans? What happened to Vision 2030? Are we getting there anytime soon? Has it been postponed? Where do you factor the Harambee Prosperity Plan into all of these? What sense does it make? What bread does it leave on my table? What employment opportunity does it create for children? When do we take stock to be able to have national consensus on the way forward? Who said presidents Geingob, Pohamba, Nujoma were right when they toured the world and asked for direct foreign investment? Do we agree with that? I personally do not think it is the right thing to do when we have all these years been rated as a net capital exporter in the world. When you see your president begging the world to come and invest in your country, you wonder what it is he thinks he is doing. What are his advisors doing? If leadership is unable to lead it must step aside, so that others can come in and lead.
There are talks that your role in the fishermen’s strike was to undermine the administration and leadership of President Geingob?
At the time of the strike, the majority of those fishermen were not even members of our union. I addressed the workers before they went on strike and told them that whatever they were to do, it should be done within the law.