New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: White Farmers Victimise Black Workers

Gobabis — Some white commercial farmers in the Steinhausen Constituency reportedly continue to ill-treat their farm workers, depriving them of wages among others.

Steinhausen Constituency Councillor, Kilus Nguvauva, who is also the Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources described the situation as "alarming". He cited a lot of unreported ill- treatment of farm workers at the hands of unrepentant white commercial farmers, which include physical assaults, regular insults, being fired from work without valid reasons and not being paid.

One such victim of assault, Paul Tjihape, who has been working on Welmoed farm belonging to John van Zyl, narrated his account to New Era.

He said the incident occurred early in September this year. "We were busy fencing his camp. Then Mr Van Zyl sent for me while I was holding a wire fence. I then told my colleague, Joseph Kamati, to attend to him because I was holding the wire fence. He asked me who I was to delegate work to others. He hit me with the fist and pulled my jacket and it tore," he said.

According to Tjihape, Van Zyl told him that even if he reported the case to the police or the councillor, nothing would ever happen to him.

"I am not happy with my dismissal because he gave us no reason. He also used to insult our mothers. He said if we report the cases to our councillor, it would not help because he used to 'bribe' Nguvauva with kudu meat. When he assaults us we are not allowed to go to the hospital for treatment. But rather we are kept working and told if we report to the police, we will lose our jobs," he said.

Following the incident, the farm owner allegedly had been ignoring the two employees until he finally fired them on November 2. Tjihape and Kamati were allegedly fired without pay until Steinhausen councillor Nguvauva assisted them by referring their case to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in Gobabis for investigation.

Labour inspector, Linus Kabuku, worked out the workers' wages for November, including their leave days and their notice money because they were dismissed without prior notice. Kabuku contacted Van Zyl and he agreed to pay the workers. Kabuku said both parties had agreed that they were happy with their payment on November 9.

"It is however very difficult for them to say whether they are happy with their packages because they don't understand the labour laws. Hence it is difficult to know whether they were robbed or not," remarked Nguvauva. Last week, he wanted to have a meeting with the remaining workers on Van Zyl's farm but was denied entry.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you don't follow up, a lot is happening on these commercial farms. People are afraid to report because they fear losing their jobs," Nguvauva said.

"If I can be refused entry to his farm because apparently I am a politician, then how does he treat his workers? I even asked for a police escort but Omaheke Police Regional Commander (Commissioner) Josephat Abel refused. He said I should not investigate police cases. But I just wanted to go and talk with the farm workers who continue to be ill-treated," he said.

Subsequently, Nguvauva called the Minister of Safety and Security, Nangolo Mbumba who promised to take up the issue with the Inspector General of the Namibian Police, Sebastian Ndeitunga.

"I am still waiting for a response. I still want to go to Van Zyl's farm and talk to the workers, otherwise I will end up receiving a salary for doing nothing, while our people continue to be assaulted on farms," he said.

Attempts to get comment from Van Zyl proved futile.

Another farm worker, Paulus Shihepo, said he has been working on Farm Cordova for the past 14 years as a casual.

He said for the last eight months he has not received any payment for the backbreaking work he did to clear an 11-hectare piece of land, which he de-bushed single-handedly.

"We agreed that I would get paid N$2 000 for every hectare. Since March this year, I never received any wages, but he continues to assign work to me. It is hard for me to survive, because I have a family to care for in the north. I want my money so I can go home for Christmas," said Shihepo.

Cordova farm owner, Etien Jooste, assured the councillor that he would pay Shihepo's outstanding wages. About 4 000 mostly white commercial farmers own almost half of Namibia's arable land.

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