Windhoek — The opposition Congress of Democrats (CoD) says the way government handled the nationwide strike involving teachers indicates serious "fault lines" exist between the Swapo Party and the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW).
Speaking to the media yesterday, CoD president Ben Ulenga said there is confusion on the side of trade union negotiators, since the negotiators did not know whether their bosses are the union members or the Swapo Party-led government. "We are outraged, angry and concerned about government and the ruling Swapo Party's handling and manipulation of the recently ended teachers' strike," said Ulenga.
He said fault lines in the leadership of the ruling party and the NUNW have now been thoroughly exposed. "This [underlying] relationship is not only debilitating and destabilizing in terms of the maintenance of peace and tranquillity and the delivery of quality public service, it is also seriously fatal when it comes to the short, medium and long term interests of the vast majority of both organized and unorganized working people in the country," Ulenga said.
"We condemn the subjection of teachers and other public workers to such an amount of harassment, intimidation and threats. We also condemn the manipulation of trade union officials and the pressure they were subjected to by the Swapo Party, leading to union officials negotiating in bad faith and signing an agreement without obtaining the necessary mandate to do so from their members," he added.
Furthermore, Ulenga read article 21 of the Namibian Constitution, which states that "all person shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms"; "freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions and political parties"; and "withhold their labour without being exposed to criminal penalties."
"Working people in this country have the right to withhold their labour," he reiterated. The entire country witnessed the intimidation of teachers, including an unnecessary high court order and threats of arrest and imprisonment of so-called instigators of the strike, said Ulenga, he himself being a veteran leader of the labour movement.
In addition, Ulenga claimed the recent firing of Evilastus Kaaronda as NUNW secretary general is the work of the firm hand of control and manipulation exercised by the "government" through the ruling party on their puppets in the union federation.
He claims this is to punish and sideline Kaaronda for taking a critical stance against corruption with regard to the GIPF saga.
"It is shocking to note that fully employed teachers cannot afford to own a house, and some cannot have their own children complete secondary school due to insufficient wages. It is also saddening to learn that some teachers and other public workers walk to work in order to save on bus and taxi money and that some live in hostels," said Ulenga.
"A docile trade union movement will not help to bridge the income disparity. It is high time that workers act to end this [underlying] relationship with Swapo," emphasized Ulenga.