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PUBLIC humiliation of James Sankwasa, the Deputy Minister of Works and Transport, by organisers of protesting members of the Swapo affiliated Namibian National Workers Union and a rift between the workers and the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) exposed serious factional fault lines.
The federation of Swapo unions threatened Cabinet ministers with the same retrenchments during the elections that construction workers now face. The SPYL in its initial statement on joining the protest threatened the same retaliation against cabinet ministers before they hastily made a u-turn after a visit to State House yesterday.
This morning, in an unprecedented act of defiance, protesters cut Sankwasa short and told him they are not interested in his reply, while the NUNW also accused the SPYL – who withdrew from the protest after an urgent meeting with the President, Dr. Hage Geingob, and ministers at State House – of imposing themselves on the national protest and that their absence made no difference to it.
THE Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union led a demonstration with other unions and the support of the Windhoek branch of the NCCI to the head-office of works ministry, demanding that Chinese contractors be avoided in the bidding process to upgrade the road to the Hosea Kutako International Airport and the upgrade of the railway at Walvis Bay.
In what could be termed as a disappointing outcome for the march that was expected to attract hundreds of union members in Windhoek, anger was directed at Chinese contractors. The planned mass action was eventually executed by an estimated 150 workers who demonstrated with placards opposing China’s tightening grip on the economy of Namibia.
According to MANWU Deputy Secretary General, Enwich Kazondu, Chinese contractors do not consider Namibians as a part of their projects when they win tenders.
Last week the Mineworkers Union took issue with the management of the Husab Mine and demanded the resignation or replacement of the Erongo Regional Governor, Cleophas Mutjavikua, on the possible reorganizing of their work force, which was interpreted as negotiations under the mediation of Mutjavikua to cut salaries and other benefits.
During the handing over of the petition in Windhoek, the workers again took aim at Chinese businesses and business practices. “Most of the work is dominated by Chinese. They come with Chinese labourers on site, leaving Namibians jobless. This is completely unfair,” Kazondu told Informante.
MUNWU President Angula Angula read the petition to Deputy Minister of finance Natangwe Ithete, Deputy minister of works James Sankwasa and Roads Authority CEO Conrad Lutombi.
“The bidding process for the HKIA dual carriage road and Walvis Bay railway project announced last week should be stopped. Such projects must be awarded to local contractors to support our own construction industry. Bidding processes must be redesigned in terms and conditions to accommodate Namibian contractors,” Angula said.
In their petition the workers are also demanding that Namibian companies be provided with all big capital projects to create more sustainable jobs. They further demand that the appointment of a workers’ representative on the Public Procurement Board.
“You have until 12 March to respond. Failure to positively respond to our demands will mean that you should face the same retrenchments that construction workers face come election time,” Angula added.
Asked to comment on the SPYL’s last minute withdrawal from the demonstration, Kazondu said that it does not affect the unions by any means and that the SPYL was not invited to join the mass march anyway.
“We never invited them. This is a workers’ issue and the SPYL perhaps joined for their own selfish reasons. They imposed themselves on us to begin with. If they were a factor then we would not have continued but we’re here now, thanks to NCCI and the Construction Workers Federation, Kazondu said.