Namibia: 'Esau Killed Us...'

Fishermen have blamed former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau for having cost them their jobs four years ago during a demonstration they held at Walvis Bay yesterday.

The group also protested against the granting of bail to Esau and former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, who are implicated in the 'Fishrot' scandal.

The chairman of the Namibian Fisherman United Association (NFUA), Mathew Lungameni, who led a group comprising close to 1 000 former fishermen, told The Namibian yesterday that besides being responsible for the job losses, "Esau killed us".

According to him, 25 fishermen allegedly died since they lost their jobs. He claimed the deaths were due to high blood pressure, as well as suicide.

Lungameni said while they were suffering because they had unfairly lost their jobs in the fishing industry, Esau was using the industry for his own gain, suggesting that he manipulated operations which led to job losses.

The former fishermen have been gathering at an open space near the Kuisebmond stadium since they were fired - their meetings becoming a silent protest to what they claim were unfair dismissals.

"We tried to talk to Esau and Shanghala, but got no solution and no response. No bail for them until this trial is finalised," charged Lungameni.

The workers have called for the government's intervention since they were dismissed from their jobs over a strike - which they claim was not illegal.

While their plight may have fallen on deaf ears when it came to Esau, they said they also did not get far with president Hage Geingob during a regional consultation at Swakopmund earlier this year.

The president stated that the fishermen were supposed to negotiate a labour dispute in order to reach a mutual understanding, instead of striking illegally.

In 2015, about 1 200 seamen at Walvis Bay and Lüderitz participated in a strike, which eventually resulted in hundreds of them losing their jobs. That strike was in protest against certain conditions within the Labour Act which they deemed unfair.

The companies they worked for obtained an interdict from the High Court in which the striking workers, the Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction Union, and the Namibia National Labour Organisation were all prohibited from inciting workers to take part in an unlawful strike.

The court also ordered that the fishermen should not engage in strike action near the companies' premises until they complied with the Labour Act's requirements in respect of the procedures to be followed before a lawful strike may be instituted.

Unions recognised by the fishing industry advised the seamen against the strike. Many heeded the warning and returned to work, but some stood their ground, hoping their demands would be met.

Lungameni said since they lost their jobs, they have suffered "untold hardships" as they cannot provide for their families.

In the meantime, UK-based 'Unite the Union' London branch has called on workers' organisations in the UK and internationally to support NFUA in their struggle against what they termed an "injustice, and for a Namibia where there is the rule of law for the workers."

The secretary of the London branch, Bronwen Handyaide, threatened in a letter on 1 November addressed to president Geingob, the Office of the Ombudsman and the judge president, the minister of justice as well as the labour commissioner, to publicise the injustice.

"Our branch will publicise as far and wide as possible within the United Kingdom the terrible injustice that those supposed to uphold the law in Namibia are perpetrating against Namibian fishermen, all in order for them to continue to profit from their shares and involvement in the Namibian fishing industry," threatened Handyaide.

The letter by Unite the Union follows hot on the heels of a letter from aspiring Walvis Bay Urban constituency councillor Know ledge Ipinge to acting minister of fisheries Albert Kawana to come up with strategic interventions to secure jobs for the fishermen by 21 March 2020.

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