LOCAL manufacturers said the government should implement policies that protect the local manufacturing industry from the influx of cheap imports, especially goods which are similar to those being produced locally.
Speaking to The Namibian in interviews, the manufacturers said the sector has proven to be the backbone of strong economies all over the world, and countries with high levels of manufacturing have shown to be the leading economies, with low unemployment rates.
They said should manufacturing in Namibia be given priority and be properly nurtured, the country can become an industrialised nation, further reducing unemployment.
The manufacturers who spoke to The Namibian said they believe it is time that the government realised that uncontrolled imports are one of the main reasons that small and medium enterprises are being stifled. Adeleid Shikongo, one of the manufacturers who spoke to The Namibian said the above trend is demoralising people, and discouraging them from becoming innovative. Shikongo runs her company called Oshinge Manufacturers, which makes hair extensions and skin care products. She said after 29 years of independence, local producers are still struggling to find their feet as their products are rejected in many shops run by foreigners in Namibia. She thus urged the government to conduct in-depth investigations into this.
To make matters worse, foreign shops import millions of dollars' worth of products that can be made locally.
Shikongo said: "The company may be the only business in Southern Africa, or most likely the only manufacturer producing hair extensions in Africa."
The business currently employs 20 people, 98% of whom are women. When she started the business, Shikongo was convinced there was a niche in the market, and was aware of the potential of the business.
She noted that by rejecting locally produced items, some foreign businesses and chain stores are sabotaging the government's plans to make Namibia an industrialised nation.
This was also contributing to the stagnant economy and high unemployment rate in the country, especially among the youth.
"Such an attitude shows greed and selfishness of people who are here not to advance the standard of living of the communities and economy in which their businesses operate," Shikongo stressed.
"Namibian communities, especially black people, should decolonise their minds. As long as we continue to prefer foreign products over our own, we are encouraging high unemployment and poverty among ourselves," she said.
She suggested that in order to reduce unemployment and become a prosperous nation, there is a need for people to be innovative, and to consume local products.
Naomi Kefas, the managing director of Eco-Sanitary Trading, said the government should implement policies that protect local manufacturers.
She said although Namibia is not economically independent of other economies, it is imperative that stringent policies are put in place to control the imports of goods which are similar to those manufactured locally.
Kefas said economics of scale play a significant role in manufacturing because South African manufacturers already cater for their population, and also for Namibia.
"The government should, therefore, ensure that a certain percentage of goods produced locally is sold in all the retail shops in Namibia. The government should provide incentives for local manufacturers, for instance reduce taxes on raw materials, to allow them to be more productive and competitive," she added.
David Namalenga, managing director of Dinapama Manufacturing and Services, believes manufacturing creates capacity for people, further developing a product which creates more employment opportunities.
He stressed that although the government wants to ensure capacity-building and product development, it will not be done without local support.
"If Namibians buy elsewhere around the world, when will they grow their own?" Namalenga asked.
He said Namibians should be true to themselves, and not seek remedies in the law as nobody forces them to buy imported goods or buy elsewhere.
The problem is that people are very ignorant, even though there are policies such as the national development plans and Vision 2030 to help Namibians grow the economy, he continued.
"Namibians should change their mindsets, and most importantly, whatever they speak in public should be implemented," Namalenga added.
Danny Meyer, managing director of SMEs Compete, said it is a fact that Namibia is import-driven, with few products such as furniture, clothing and apparel, footwear, foodstuffs, beverages and processed meat among those produced locally.
Namibia has a small manufacturing base, which is why things such as equipment, farming tools and even building materials like window and door frames, roofing and flooring materials, doors and gutters are imported.
"Yes, the domestic market is small, but local manufacturing of an ever-increasing number of the mentioned items is possible. These can then even be exported into the region," Meyer reasoned.
He added that to expand the country's manufacturing sector, the government introduced a Growth-at-Home programme as a strategy to broaden Namibia's industrial base.
"Namibia should focus on searching for ways to help fledgling entrepreneurs in the small-scale business sector to address challenges such as access to funding for plant and equipment to grow production capacity, and working capital to expand productivity.
"SMEs need affordable workspace so that an entrepreneur can grow the business beyond the backyard venture into a proper factory, where the rent is not crippling," he stressed.
The government, he added, should furthermore create a more conducive environment for businesses, starting with a review of the plethora of rules, regulations and municipal by-laws with the aim of discarding those that serve no purpose, or are redundant.
The government should also train civil servants to become more customer-friendly and service delivery-driven, Meyer said.