A number of Air Namibia employees claim they have given their lives to the national airline and have been left devastated after the government's announcement that it is enforcing a 2020 decision to liquidate the company.
The airline has ceased operations after cancelling all flights as of yesterday, and has ordered all its aircraft to return to base.
The reservation system for new bookings, the check-in system and company emails have also been suspended.
As a result of the approved liquidation about 636 staff members stand to lose their jobs, as well as 4 500 other employees indirectly.
Most Air Namibia employees are thought not to be entirely shocked by the decision as they feel it has been a long time coming, however, they are disappointed about how things unfolded.
The employees found out at the same time as the public when a short statement was released by the state-owned company late on Wednesday evening.
One staff member, Isabella Hamukwaya, said she felt hopeless after the news was confirmed yesterday. Her daughter's school fees cost her N$2 600 per month. She also has monthly rent of N$5 000 to pay.
"We don't know what the future holds. I hope I get a job soon because if this lingers on, we don't know how we will survive," she said.
Employees who went to the airline's office at Ondangwa yesterday morning found the office locked with the same notice on the door.
By 14h00 yesterday, the internet connectivity was cut at the head office in Windhoek.
Cabin controller Kimber le Roux (51), who has been at the airline for the past 29 years, says she gave her life to the airline.
Because of her age, she says she is unemployable, adding that the medical aid she has been enjoying will now also come to an end.
"Where am I going to find a job? How am I going to fund my medical aid? Many years of flying will take a toll on my body and I will not have a medical aid to foot those bills," she says.
Le Roux says she is not sure whether a severance package and the 12-month salary would be enough for her to take care of herself and her family.
"We have not been told how the severance package would be paid out, we are still in the dark," she says.
Senior cabin controller Foibe Lukas (54) says her future is uncertain because aviation was her passion.
She has been working for the airline for 30 years and says she may be too old to find work elsewhere in the hospitality industry.
Another cabin controller, Laurencia Endjala, says she has been a breadwinner since she was 16 years old, and has no idea where to from here.
An employee who wanted to remain anonymous says he now has no other choice but to go back to his family in the north of the country.
"I am renting and taking care of three students, of which two are orphans, and now this has to happen to me [...] I feel extremely bad that the government has allowed this company to be mismanaged for too long, and now the poor workers are suffering," he says.
He blames the government for appointing incompetent board members and a lack of accountability at the national airline.
"They appointed a useless and inexperienced board of directors without aviation experience, and then the board appoints yet another useless CEO and executive management [...] This company has not produced financial statements, and the government has ignored this. The reason why Challenge Air is suing Air Namibia is because Andreas Guibeb, the former board chairperson, signed that agreement without even checking the defective aircraft," he says.
Another employee who does not want to be named added: "It's a sad state of affairs. Some of us just finished having dinner then boom, we saw a post on the internet."
STICKING TO GUNS
Minister of finance Iipumbu Shiimi, who also doubles up as the chairperson of the Cabinet committee on treasury, has maintained that the airline would be liquidated, but as a shareholder, the welfare of its employees remains a priority for the government.
He yesterday said the government commits to an ex-gratia payment to the value of 12 months' salary for each employee.
"We will continue with consultations with the interim board and the management to work out detailed ways of winding up the operations of the current Air Namibia, and that includes the schedule of payments to the employees and the protection of the assets in the possession of the company. The nation will be informed in this regard," Shiimi said.
The president of the Namibian Cabin Crew Union (NCCU), Reginald Kock, yesterday said the union rejects the voluntary liquidation of Air Namibia with the strongest contempt.
"This was a sustained, covert and concerted effort by a few individuals to collapse the airline for quick personal gain. Monopoly capital will not win the day. It is only the Namibian people, through a referendum, who can close Air Namibia," he said.
He further said Namibian public enterprises need to be saved from the "clutches" of "self-serving and conflicted politicians".
Kock accused politicians of going to any length for self-enrichment, including "throwing a national airline to the vultures with 636 workers to have their way".
"They did it to SME Bank, they did it to the fishermen, they tried to do it with Meatco, and now they are doing it with Air Namibia. It's only a matter of time before they come for other SOEs as they suffer from an insatiable lust for money," he said.
The NCCU president further accused minister of public enterprises Leon Jooste of constantly sidelining Air Namibia's board and management from all important talks about the airline.
"People like Leon Jooste have already made up their minds about Air Namibia - that it must be closed down - long before the Cabinet committee on treasury was entrusted to deliberate on its future," he said.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Namibian Workers' secretary general, Job Muniaro, who also condemned the liquidation, gave Jooste until today to resign, saying he failed to fulfil his mandate and is therefore in violation of the Constitution's article 95, on the promotion of the welfare of Namibians.
"Jooste made himself untrustable and therefore unfit to hold public office. In this instance, he has betrayed the mandate bestowed upon him to oversee the profitability of the state-owned commercial enterprises, which he is now busy riding off instead," he said.
Muniaro said Jooste continued to drive the liquidation narrative regardless of the multiple proposals submitted by the committee chaired by Shiimi.
"There were viable proposals presented to him to turn Air Namibia into a profitable entity, which he chose not to present to Cabinet for consideration, including professional reports by experts which were procured at a cost, which he further failed to present," he said.
The NUNW has given the government until the end of today to reverse the liquidation, or it will take "mass national action to regain sovereignty".
Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) secretary general Petrus Nevonga said Shiimi and Jooste at the end of last year promised a discussion on solutions other than liquidation for Air Namibia would continue.
"In January, they were supposed to engage, but consultation was not done, and then we heard Air Namibia will be liquidated. Jooste has a vested interest in the liquidation of the airline," he charged.