12 February 2013

Namibia: Silk Project Workers At Leonardville Shortchanged

Windhoek — Employees of the now defunct Kalahari Wild Silk Manufacturers, the majority of them women, accuse the company of financial mismanagement and allege that is precisely the reason why the company folded.

Kalahari Wild Silk Manufacturers was established in 2010 and produced unique naturally woven products at Leornardville, 130km southeast of Gobabis in the Omaheke Region. The group of 48 women and three men approached New Era last Thursday to vent their frustration over the fact that they have been ordered to vacate company premises, because the company does not have money to pay them or to continue the venture any longer.

Petra Witbooi the leader of the aggrieved employees said they relied on the project, which was sposored by the Spanish government since 2010 and which has so far injected close to N$1 million into its operations. Leornardville is a small farming community on the fringes of the Kalahari desert and employment is not easy to come by. The employees told New Era that the collection of wild silk and its processing into silk yarn and silk products provided much needed employment and income to many women and households in Leonardville.

According to them, they sold on average 100 silk products per month, and 90 percent of their clients were from overseas. Kalahari silk items are available in almost every colour. The substances used in their dyes are not as harmful as mainstream products, and they are trying to source more natural dyes, which are not harmful to the environment. Witbooi said since October 2011, the management of the donor-supported project reduced their salaries claiming that the project is no longer in a position to sustain their income.

"We decided to work hard without salaries from 2011 until last year October when we were told by our project manager, Junias Hamalua, that the company is short of money and that it will close until 2013," Witbooi told this newspaper. She was adamant that the reasons provided by management are unconvincing since they, as employees, have agreed to pay-cuts and despite that they have continued to work hard and to produce even more.

The products of Kalahari Wild Silk Manufacturers include a wide range of scarves, shawls, neck ties, bed covers, pillow cases, cushion covers and many more.

The project uses mainly the moth Gonometa Postiga that was seen as a threat to livestock and game farming on the fringes of the Karahari desert in the Omaheke and Hardap regions, to produce its products. The species has become notable for producing a fine quality silk in the form of cocoons. The cocoons are harvested commercially in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya and South Africa, and the species also occurs in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

"We are the ones who are doing all the dirty and hard work but now it has been almost two years without getting any salaries. We have families to sustain. This project belongs to us (the community) and we want our money," said Witbooi.

"The project aims to contribute to the reduction in poverty and enhance a secure livelihood amongst the community, but now the management have disappointed us, they mismanage the project's sponsorships," an angry Witbooi charged. She further noted that the overall objective of the project was in line with Vision 2030, which is to reduce poverty to manageable levels. "We want to know what the money [generated by the project] was used for, because Hamalua is not telling us the truth. He only told us there is no money, but offered no reasons why the project doesn't have money."

"We want our salaries! We want to continue working. We want our project back without management, so that we can manage it ourselves," the angry group demanded. Efforts to reach Hamalua proved futile, because his number was unreachable.

Moreover, the employees have no clue as to the whereabouts of their manager since the silk project closed down.

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