Independence – What Independence? [analysis]

INDEPENDENCE means different things to different people and members of the Men on the Side of the Road (MSR) regard Independence Day as a reminder that the poor will never get a fair share of the national cake.

MSR is a non-profit organisation, which was launched in 2007 to coordinate the placement of unemployed unskilled and semi-skilled Namibians with different companies, local governments and private individuals.

Theirs is a life of uncertainty and hardship. Seated in the MSR shed next to the road in Khomasdal, about seven unemployed men look at every car and truck that passes by with hopeless anticipation of getting a part-time menial job that would put food on their table for that day.

These workers come from most parts of Katutura but mainly from the informal settlements of Havana, Okuryangava and Hakahana.

Asked about Independence Day, the men said although the day brought peace and freedom to the country, the fact that they are still unemployed and poor makes it hard for them to truly enjoy the independence being celebrated.

“Freedom and free education are the only things which we can say independence has brought us but as far as we are concerned, we are yet to taste the fruits of true independence. For example, independence from poverty, landlessness and from unemployment,” said Ben Shiwedha (48). “As long as we are poor, landless and are looking for menial jobs on the side of the road, we are still under bondage.”

Risto Amutima (27), said it saddens him that despite the fact that Namibia’s population is relatively small, the government still finds it difficult to distribute resources fairly to everyone.

“How is it that we are few in this rich country but still many go hungry and are homeless?” asked Amutima, adding that the government should find strategies to reduce unemployment so that people can help themselves.

“We try to find jobs. We do not just sit at home (and expect the government to do things for us). Everyday we walk to this place so that we can get even a day’s job and provide for our families. If the labour ministry or the president provides job opportunities, only then can we work towards true independence,” said Amutima.

“I spent Independence Day seated here, in the hope of getting picked up for a ‘piece job’. I could have gone to the stadium and celebrated with other Namibians, but what does that bring me?” asked Joel Petrus (27).

The men say that at times, they wait for up to two weeks without getting any job for which they earn up to N$200 per day, depending on the task they are assigned to do and the benevolence of their employers.

“Sometimes people who employ us take aantage of our situation and offer us low amounts for the work they assign us. For instance, they can pay you N$70 per day. What will that amount do for me? I cannot even pay taxi fare with that,” added Petrus.

Elungu Johannes was only a year old when the guns stopped blazing in 1990, but feels he is yet to take a bite of the fruits of independence.

The 25-year-old Onampila-born, who is employed at a small events and hiring company in Khomasdal, was hard at work delivering goods on the morning of 21 March, while others were celebrating 24 years of independence.

“I have just been to deliver a few tables and chairs to the stadium where the celebrations are taking place and I still have a lot to do,” he explained as he took a seat.

For Johannes, the celebrations are a reminder of what his own parents back at the village endured.

“My parents told me of stories about independence, including the fact that they were brutally tortured by the South African colonialists,” says Johannes. Although he is what many would proudly call a “born-free”, Johannes says he does not feel economically free in an independent Namibia.

With nine siblings and his aging parents depending on his less than N$3 000 salary, Johannes says the salary he earns is hardly enough to feed his entire family, as he is the sole bread winner.

“My parents could never afford to send us to university because they have never worked a day in their lives. My father has always been a farmer and we depended on the mahangu fields for our livelihood. It was hard to find a job back in their days, just like it is for us today,” he says.

“I never made it past Grade 10, and even if I did, I would have no money to further my studies. I have always dreamt of becoming an engineer, but I suppose that is not possible due to financial constraints,” he adds. Johannes tried applying for a job with the Namibian Defence Force a year ago but he did not meet the requirements.

“It’s hard,” he says. “People as well as government talk about a free and independent Namibia, but many of us cannot say we are free when we don’t have the financial means to live a comfortable and dignified life, to pay for an education or afford housing,” Johannes declares. He also claims he feels government was only honouring a “few chosen” veterans.

“My parents never had an opportunity to escape to exile, but they equally suffered and fought for the liberation of the country,” he says.

If he had an opportunity to look President Hifikepunye Pohamba in the eye, Johannes says he would tell him to give each and every Namibian equal opportunities.

“We are living in a country where some people are more privileged than others. We are not getting a fair share of the country’s wealth, and those of us who cannot afford an education just have to eat the bread crumbs,” he concludes.

Source : The Namibian