Dam Workers’ Conditions Anger Pohamba

IN an unprecedented move, President Hifikepunye Pohamba on Friday ordered the Namibia Development Corporation (NDC) board chairperson John Nekwaya to immediately leave his entourage over workers’ poor living conditions.

Nekwaya was part of Pohamba’s entourage when he toured the Naute Dam Irrigation Project near Keetmanshoop last week.

Infuriated by the workers’ living conditions, which he described as “unacceptable, unhygienic and inhuman,” Pohamba wanted to know from Nekwaya whether he was aware of the situation.

“Is this a discrimination of colour? Why should we keep this person (Nekwaya) to head NDC. And you delivered a good speech. Who wrote it for you?” Pohamba remarked, asking Nekwaya whether he would live in such conditions where six people share an estimated six square metre room fitted with three bunk beds, with no kitchen and one bathroom.

In his speech Nekwaya had boasted that the Naute project was doing well.

Responding to Pohamba’s remarks, Nekwaya replied: “No, I am not happy. I am not aware of the situation. It is my first time here.”

Venting his anger at Nekwaya’s reply, Pohamba, a former contract labourer himself, harshly said: “I don’t want you in my company. Get out. Don’t follow me. Others can come, don’t follow me”.

Saying that the Naute project workers’ living conditions reminds him of the way he was treated by Tsumeb Corporation Limited as a contract worker during the colonial regime, Pohamba asked the NDC managing director, Pieter de Wet, how he would feel if he was made to stay in a room shared by six workers. The President asked why NDC was not treating its workers humanely, “This is unacceptable, especially if it is a government institution. The managers (of NDC) have perhaps not elected me, but the workers might have elected me. We are heading for elections, why are you treating people as if they are not human beings?” Pohamba asked.

De Wet promised the President that NDC would improve the living conditions of the Naute Dam Irrigation workers.

Pohamba also asked the Trade and Industry Minister, Calle Schlettwein, and NDC project manager, Mous Boshoff, whether they would live in such deplorable conditions to which both replied no.

Pohamba also found that workers of Al-Dhara agriculture company are subjected to inhuman living conditions when he inspected their accommodation facilities. He remarked this was the result of ministers not visiting the regions.

At the company accommodation facilities, 10 workers share a room where they also cook, although the company has built a dinning room with cooking facilities for them.

Pohamba said he felt “bad” when he sees that workers are still being ill-treated by employers in an independent Namibia, and warned that this could lead to revolution by the people against the government.

He aised Schlettwein that the dividends NDC is supposed to pay the government should rather be spent on constructing proper houses for the workers.

“Why do you still have this useless man (Nekwaya) who only comes to visit the project when the President is coming?” Pohamba asked Schlettwein.

The Namibian understands that some years ago, the Swapo Party sent a fact finding mission to Naute Project to look into the workers’ living conditions, and to recommend how it should be improved. A report was subsequently presented to the Politburo and was also discussed in the Central Committee but nothing came of it.

Among others, the recommendations also included the construction of a school and a primary health clinic at the Naute.

Other high ranking officials who were part of the President’s entourage during the Naute project tour are agriculture minister John Mutorwa, home affairs minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana and Karas governor Bernadus Swartbooi.

Source : The Namibian