12 November 2012

Namibia: Strike Leaders Risk Contempt of Court

STRIKING teachers’ respect for the law and for the court is set to be put to the test in the Labour Court in Windhoek tomorrow, when the leaders of the teachers’ two-week-long strike will have to show why they should not be held in contempt of court and sentenced to imprisonment or a fine.

An interim order which Acting Judge Collins Parker issued in the Labour Court on Friday has set in motion contempt of court proceedings against trade unionists Evilastus Kaaronda and Mahongora Kavihuha, and Dankie Katjiuanjo, Elfrieda Mwagbo, and Josef Katjingisiua, who are claimed to be the prime movers behind the strike by hundreds of teachers.

In the latest order of the Labour Court, an interdict with immediate effect was issued to restrain Kaaronda from unlawfully instigating any government employees to stay away from work without complying with procedures set out in the Labour Act.

Kaaronda, Kavihuha, Katjiuanjo, Mwagbo and Katjingisiua are also being required to show to the court tomorrow why they should not be held in contempt of court, and then sentenced to a period of imprisonment or fined.

The prison term or fine could be suspended on condition that Katjiuanjo, Mwagbo and Katjingisiua immediately comply with the previous order of the Labour Court, in which teachers were restrained from unlawfully engaging in any strike.

The sentences of Kaaronda, who was discharged from his position as secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers two weeks ago, and Kavihuha, who is the president of the Teachers Union of Namibia, could be suspended on condition that they stop doing anything calculated to have the effect, or likely to have the effect, of instigating or encouraging the disobedience of the order which was issued in the Labour Court on November 2.

None of the mentioned trade union leaders or strike ringleaders attended the court proceedings before Acting Judge Parker on Friday.

The only explanation for his absence came from Kaaronda, who informed the court in an affidavit that he was also involved in a defamation case against him in the High Court on the same day.

With his rights fully reserved, he would abide by the court’s decision, Kaaronda stated. He added that if he was held in contempt of court, he would accept being ordered to pay a fine, which would be suspended on condition that he does not do anything to instigate or encourage the disobedience of the court’s order of November 2.

Kaaronda came under fire from Prime Minister Nahas Angula in another affidavit filed with the court.

Angula charged that Kaaronda has “opportunistically and carelessly” taken advantage of the situation by instigating teachers not to return to work, in spite of the court interdict against their continued strike action, and by further reportedly calling on other government employees to also go on a strike that should cripple the government.

Kaaronda has been reckless by instigating teachers to disobey a court order, Angula said in his affidavit.

While Kaaronda enjoys freedom of expression and speech and has the tight to organise employees in the way recognised in terms of Namibia’s labour laws, he does not have the right to unlawfully interfere with public servants’ contractual obligations to carry out their duties as government employees, unless they have followed recognised procedures to strike, Angula stated.

Lawyer Sisa Namandje represented Government and the Minister of Education in court, on instructions from the Government Attorney. Steve Rukoro acted on behalf of the Interim Khomas Teachers Strategic Committee, which has been representing the striking teachers.

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