3 December 2012

Namibia: Lessons From Marikana for Namibia


THERE is a saying, 'a hungry man is an angry man,' and in the case of workers of the Lonmin mine outside the modest town of Marikana in the North West province of South Africa, that phrase was certainly true.

Although the much publicised strike at Marikana, that caused close to 50 preventable deaths was about salary increase demands, it certainly once again highlighted the widespread poverty and inequality that exists in the new South Africa where unemployment figures stand at around 25 percent and this despite being the world's biggest producer of platinum and gold, while it's also the world's fourth largest producer of diamonds. Inequality and poverty are specifically fueled by the fact that most of the companies exploring the mineral reserves are foreign owned and billions of dollars leave the shores of South Africa annually for the stock exchanges of Toronto, New York and London.

For Namibia, with an unemployment figure that stands at a reported 51 percent, on analysis, the picture of poverty and inequality will seem far more widespread in some of the 107 constituencies of the land of the brave than our southern neighbour, yet with a mere population of 2 million people as per the 2011 census compared to that of South Africa of 50.5 million people registered during the census in the same year. That we find ourselves with an unemployment figure of 51 percent, despite moving up as being one of the world's biggest producers of uranium, while our diamonds have for years dominated international markets since independence to go along with large deposits of zinc and recently cement, is unforgivable and a total injustice to the post-independence generations to have such a high unemployment rate, while billions of dollars continue to flow out of the country as mining dividends to Toronto, Perth and London .

If I had to make a critical analysis on Namibia, as a post-independence educated young Namibian and having schooled with many fellow young people in Swakopmund, Walvis bay, Lüderitz and Windhoek who were not as lucky as me to progress in life, I am in a better position to comment that instead of grooming future economic leaders, what we are grooming is a ticking time bomb of joblessness and frustrations amongst young people that can escalate into another Marikana if urgent measures are not implemented to create job opportunities and improve the living conditions of our people.

But how we found ourselves with an ever-escalating unemployment figure for the past 22 years only a few will answer but the bottom line is the future looks scary, and whether we would like to admit it or not, the case of the hundreds of struggle kids camping annually at government ministries and state agencies has already shown us the potential causes of joblessness and frustrations in our backyard.

However, what is more frightening is that our education system continues to dump thousands of grades 10 and 12 dropouts into the jobless market annually across Namibia. The recent Swapo Party Policy Conference was a great breakthrough by the leaders of our government.

One will hope that conferences like that should give us a regular platform to re-visit our existing economic policies and laws. Amongst others, it is time we looked at doing away with the current Grade 10 system and put back our kids to schools to develop their strategic thinking and social skills up until the final grades, instead of creating more and more unemployable young people to roam the streets from sunrise to sunset.

In addition, let national platforms such as the Swapo Party Policy Conference develop strategies to reduce the flow of mining income to foreign shores. Otherwise as His Excellency Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba recently commented to Al Jazeera International News Network "Inequality exists ... people are not happy and when you talk about people not being happy what do you expect? They can react. And when they react, then those who have the land will not have land, people will take over the land."

The message of the president I am sure is not isolated to land and is experienced in the job market, housing and other basic conditions of life and as the president concluded, "I think something has to be done to amend the Constitution so that the government is allowed to buy land [and create job and training opportunities] for the people. Otherwise, if we don't do that we will face a revolution. And if the revolution comes, land [and the economy including mines] will be taken over by the revolutionaries."

Because creating jobs and providing decent wages means improving peoples' lives so they can afford homes, and better education and chances for their kids to succeed in life and move out of the poverty circle that cripples certain households for generation to generation.

Ndemufayo Mbwaalala is a Masters in Labour Law candidate at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

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