One Morning With Roadside Craftsmen

IT’S Saturday morning and the craftsmen based at the Windhoek truck port along B1 Road are busy at work making curios and furniture under trees.

When I ask one of them for an interview, we are lost in translation. He calls all the men, who suddenly stop what they are doing, and come to me.

I explain to them that there has been a misunderstanding I did not mean to interview all of them but just a few. I make sure they understand that I don’t want all of them to lose valuable time. We laugh about it and I end up with only three of them for the interview, Sambinde Gabriel Paulus (45), Immanule Jesau (24) and Tisola Sakaria (43).

The trials and tribulations of the three men who all hail from the Kavango region mirror those of other small traders around the capital and the rest of the country.


Like many others, the men came to Windhoek to seek better economic opportunities by selling their products to locals and tourists. Statistics from the City of Windhoek show that about 38 people migrate from smaller towns to the city in search of jobs and other opportunities every month. Windhoek has a population of over 300 000 people.

The premises, like others used by many small traders in the city, lack basic amenities like formal shelters, water, toilets and electricity. The Ministry of Trade and Industry says Small and Medium Enterprises contribute approximately 12% to Namibia’s annual GDP and provide one fifth of the country’s jobs.

Paulus says although business for their products is good, the lack of formal business structures is a big disaantage, especially during the rainy season, when they lose a lot of productive hours. The timber used in their work is sourced locally and also from Angola, Zambia and Democratic Republic.

“We cover our goods with plastics but sometimes it rains continuously in Windhoek for three days and we sit and do nothing. With the rains, we can’t work,” says Paulus who travels to the Kavango every month to visit his family. The other men in the group also do the same. Paulus has nine children Sakaria has six children, while Jesau ‘the young boy’ as his colleagues call him, as has none.


Since these men are informal traders and their businesses are not registered, access to financial facilities is a nightmare even when they want to send their hard-earned money to their families.

“When we go to the bank to send money home, we are asked where we got the money from. The banks don’t know about our business. I don’t think we can even get loans,” says Jesau

“If you have N$30 000 and you want to send it home, they will think you are a thief,” Jesau says about problems informal traders have with banks.

With new anti-money laundering regulations in place, which requires Namibians to disclose their sources of income, informal traders like Jesau, are finding it increasingly difficult to access the banking services. According to figures from FinScope, half of the Namibian population is unbanked.


The curios they sell are popular with European tourists who buy them to decorate their homes and restaurants, says Paulus. I was told that a big rhino on display was going for N$55 000. Prices for medium and small sized elephants range between N$1500 to N$3500. Short and long tables are priced between N$12 000 and N$16 000, while chairs cost N$650 each.

“These products can last you up to 100 years, they are made out of g timber,” says Paulus.

With no electricity supply on the premises, the men use diesel generators to operate electrical tools.

This is despite the fact that they operate a stone’s throw from modern amenities like Eros Airport, Safari Court Hotel, the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Namcor headquarters. Theirs is a life of contrasts, working under trees and with no basic amenities.

With high levels of unemployment in the country, it appears more help is needed for the self-employed like the men at the truck port. The unemployment rate increased by 2,2% percentage points in 2013 to reach 29,6% compared to 27,4% in the 2012, according to the 2013 Labour Force Survey by the Namibia Statistics Agency.

Source : The Namibian