There is some sort of hysteria in Namibia at the moment. From new graduates seeking employment to teachers demanding better wages – Namibia is at the crossroads.
The reality on the ground is that the country – due to many factors, including a struggling world economy – is undergoing turbulent times economically.
The clarion call has been for all and sundry to tighten their belts. There’s no immediate end in sight of the storm which is exacerbated by economic difficulties in South Africa and Angola – two African powerhouses between which Namibia is sandwiched.
Just a week ago Professor Peter Wanderi, a visiting academic from Mount Kenya University in Kenya, said, in concurrence with local businesswoman Twapewa Kadhikwa, at a public lecture held at the International University of Management (IUM), that Africa needs a change of mindset.
They spoke out strongly against the deep-seated culture amongst especially young Africans of looking to the sky for divine intervention – or to governments to put food on their tables.
“We are heightening the begging culture – the culture of waiting for things to be done for us. We simply don’t innovate,” Wanderi told those in attendance.
But Jerobeam Kondjashili Haifene is the epitome of the mindset Kadhikwa and Wanderi are demanding to see among young Africans.
A native of Etomba village in Ohangwena Region, Haifene was over the moon when his uncle told him he would take him to Windhoek. That was in 2009 after Haifene, now 26, had just completed Grade 12 the previous year at Oshituwa Secondary School.
Armed with a matric certificate, Haifene had no iota of doubt that he would come, see and conquer Windhoek – a city from which hordes of people from his village return with considerable upgrades such as a car, money and new fashionable clothes.
But the capital was not exactly a paragon of intimacy.
When he arrived in Windhoek, a clean city of bright lights, the situation on the ground was in sharp contrast to the castles he’d been building in the air back home. Windhoek too, he realised, has castles of its own but such skyscrapers had no place for people like him – young village boys without a tertiary qualification.
Back in Etomba he grew up in a family of seven siblings and unemployed parents. And between his parents, it was only his mother who showed genuine interest in the education and wellbeing of her children.
“She made wooden baskets which she sold so she could send us to school,” Haifene, who was born a month after Namibia’s independence in 1990, told New Era.
He apportioned his inability to pass Grade 12 with flying colours to a variety of factors – poverty at home, lack of mentors around him and the fact that at Oshituwa Secondary School he did not live in the hostels but with strangers in the nearby homesteads.
“Under such circumstances, I could barely concentrate on my studies. At the house where I was accommodated I was required to do normal household chores,” he said.
“When I arrived in Windhoek in 2009, my uncle made me do some work for which I got paid N$400 a month,” the man who is now known as Tshabalala recalled.
“I started selling Chakalaka sausages on my own – especially in Hakahana and surrounding areas. I later moved out of my uncle’s house and started living with friends, who afforded me more time to do my own things.”
“In my early days I also worked as a security guard but the salary was really poor, plus I’m someone who always wanna do business. Even in school I sold sweets and snacks. It’s just who I am.”
After months of perseverance – it involved things such as being laughed at by passersby and childhood friends who mocked his choice of business – he saved up enough money to buy a bicycle.
The bicycle was to serve as a tool of trade for his business – for which locals had started showing greater interest.
The harsh accommodation situation in Windhoek did not spare Tshabalala its brushes. He now rents a shack in Hakahana for which he pays rent of N$900 a month, excluding electricity. He lives alone in the shack but if a visitor stays for days, the landlord charges N$1100, which represents an extra N$200.
Using his bicycle, Tshabalala now sells sausages around Katutura and says he makes enough to pay rent, re-invest in business and send some money back to Etomba where his parents live with his five siblings.
“At first I was embarrassed to sell sausages as if I’ve not been to school, but poverty taught me to toughen up. Some people said I’ll be run over by vehicles when riding my bike along the road, but I never got discouraged.”
If you are riding on a high horse of egos and self-importance, one might think Tshabalala is wasting his time but his attitude is different. “I want to become a successful businessman one day – that’s the dream that I’ll never give up,” he said, in well-spoken English.
“Currently, when I have enough stock, I could make N$1000 a day. I know where my customers are and who they are. That’s my advantage.”
Business, just like politics, is an effort to make human connection. When customers are treated like a stench, they will move to the next seller – and Tshabalala too knows this well.
Asked about his future plans, Tshabalala said: “I want to succeed in business, that’s why even the idea of looking for work does not cross my mind. I have accepted that it’s difficult to find a job paying more than N$3 000 to someone without a qualification.”
In a world of lies and temptations, Tshabalala represents a rare sense of truth. Business, as humble as it may sound, has denied him all the pleasures that go with friendship, and so rife among his peers.
“I don’t spend my day drinking alcohol or chasing women for sex. I work seven days a week and if I decide to cool off, I visit my friends with whom I exchange views on life in general and business in particular,” he emphasised.
Women could be a source of love and affection, but for Tshabalala some of them could also bus problems into a man’s life. “Women like hardworking men who have places of their own, but some can really come into your life and cause you problems. So I am not into them too much.”
Tshabalala is a creative genius too. His bicycle is fitted with an audio system that operates on rechargeable batteries, and has a hooter, mirrors, headlights and indicators.
“I fitted those things myself. Apart from safety tools such as the mirrors and headlights, I tried to create my own identity by having an audio system so that customers identify with me easily. It’s a marketing tool,” he said before he asked this reporter to wind up the interview so that he could go do business.
But the reporter wasn’t done. He asked if Tshabalala had any message to government, especially with regard to youth empowerment.
“I just want to thank government for the peace we have in the country. As long as peace exists, some of us will continue to work for ourselves. I want the youth to follow my example and stop chasing for jobs. You can start something for yourself.”