Long walk to economic freedom

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The Namibian workers have played a prominent role in Namibia’s liberation struggle, starting from the colonial rule by Germany (1884-1915) and through much of South Africa’s Apartheid rule (1915-1990). The workers’ fight for justice in the workplace, coinciding with the broader national struggle for socio-economic and political rights and freedoms, became a central plank of the anti-colonial resistance movement and the backbone of SWAPO in 1960.

Following the protracted national liberation struggle, the combined efforts of all the wings of the Namibian society under the vanguard leadership of the SWAPO Party then led by the legendary Dr Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma, culminated in the historic Independence Day, of March 21, 1990. This political freedom enabled us to enact the Labour Acts of 1992 and 2007, which afforded the workers fundamentally essential rights to protect them from unfair labour practices and ensure their dignity, human rights and welfare for the first time in the history of Namibia.
Despite the progress we have made in the area of workers’ rights, the goals of shared prosperity and workers welfare still remain elusive. The challenges facing these two goals are subjected to our common objective of achieving economic emancipation for all Namibians. As President Geingob stated in his 2018 SONA, “We should address underlying structural impediments that make it difficult, if not impossible, for many Namibians to meaningfully participate in the economy.”

Already, the theme of this year’s May Day commemoration which seeks a constructive dialogue for unity between labour and capital is the right starting place, for identifying and removing some of these entrenched structural impediments, and we look forward to hear from the NUNW collective leadership with constructive suggestions in this regard. Ultimately, the fortunes of all Namibian workers and their future generations are inextricably tied to Namibia’s attainment of the aims and objectives of its economic freedom.

In this regard, we are cognisant that with the genesis of independence, the majority of previously economically excluded Namibians since 1884 to 1990, that’s 106 years did not obtain economic freedom, to give meaning to their political freedom. The march towards economic freedom only started in 1990, and is currently 28 years old; whereas the entrenched poverty, inequality, mental slavery, ignorance, tribal and racial indoctrination and all the associated socio-economic evils pervasive among our people.

Therefore, as it was with the national liberation struggle, which was protracted to register victory, the struggle for economic freedom, will not be easy too, but will be long and bitter, and just as many did not live to see the day of our political freedom, many of our compatriots too may not experience economic freedom in their lifetime, but their children and grandchildren will see the day, based on the sacrifices which their parents and grandparents would have made.

Similarly, as we had previously united all people in all our communities, the groups of the formerly oppressed people such as the churches, youths, workers, political parties, and sympathetic continental and international friends, who had all struggled towards the common goal of Namibia’s independence, we need a similar united front today, to steer the country towards economic freedom.

We Namibians must accept that our money is a product of our sweat, energy, intelligence, skills and knowledge. Robbing, stealing and using all other illicit means are not the solution. Corruption is a serious problem, it adds undue costs to social services wherever, and whittles away from the welfare of the people.

But post-independence corruption is symptomatic of a people who have been economically denied their birthright through pre-independence corruption which is the colonial grand theft of the land, cattle and minerals of our people, and the subsequent legal whitewash which accorded these stolen goods private property status. This historic corruption is what has today caused the deep-rooted poverty, the scarcity of goods such as housing, classrooms, hospitals, industries, skills inadequacy, landlessness, and many others socio-economic ills presently prevalent in our society. To address these deep-seated structural problems, we as Namibians have collectively agreed to the rationale of starting the second phase of the struggle for economic emancipation.

As a result, we should not be sidetracked by emotional issues away from the core issue of economic freedom for all Namibians. On the contrary, as we have subjected peripheral matters during the national liberation struggle to the essence of the overall cause of independence, we should today equally subject all peripheral and divisive attitudes such as unproductive perpetual internecine political party infightings, labour union infightings; narrow-minded tribal and racial affinities and hostilities among ourselves as Namibians; and constant blame-shifting and accusations which are all in contradistinction of our nation-building agenda, to the overall objective of attaining economic freedom.

• His Excellency Nangolo Mbumba is vice-president of Namibia. This is an abridged version of his speech delivered on Workers Day this week.

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