Namibia: We Are Treated Like Dogs - Truckers

Some Namibian truck drivers say they feel like second-class citizens as they are limited to local truckports without proper sanitation facilities.

Truck driver Richardt Ortner says they are treated inhumanely with no access to safe parking spots or hygiene facilities.

"The Walvis Bay municipality has removed the sanitation facilities and restricted parking at Namport. There are no safe parking spots in the country, and no accommodation at all, since we are forced to sleep and eat in the trucks . . ," he says.

He says these conditions are to blame for the high accident rate among truck drivers.

"We don't rest enough, since we are drivers during the day and security guards at night - hence the high accident rate among truck drivers," Ortner says.

The trucker wants the authorities to investigate drivers' working conditions and salaries.

Silas Matuka (32), another long-distance driver, says since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Namibia, he and his colleagues have been treated like second-class citizens.

"Drivers are treated like dogs. We are not allowed to stop at towns, and they keep saying we bring the coronavirus," he says.

Walvis Bay has a truck port where truckers are allowed to stop, Keetmanshoop has two, and Windhoek one, he says.

"At Gobabis, we may only stop at the soccer field where there is no shop to buy food. There is a shower we have to pay for," Matuka says.

Matuka believes transport companies are simply following regulations, which means the government is allowing their dire circumstances to prevail.

Recently, scores of trucks were stranded at the border between Namibia and Zambia for days due to drivers failing to present negative Covid-19 test results, and were asked to drive back into Zambia to be tested.

The truck drivers claimed they were not required to present test results upon entering the country.

FP du Toit Transport's chief executive officer, Stephan Terblanche, says the company's drivers know exactly where to stop, but are restricted due to "security risks".

"They cannot go into a small town to the shopping mall, because who will look after the truck?" he says.

Terblanche says truckers are now also not allowed to stop at Okahandja after incidents of theft.

Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula says the requirements for truck drivers have never changed, meaning they are still required to provide negative Covid-19 test results of not older than seven days at borders.

Last year, drivers across the country also complained about the state of quarantine facilities where they are compelled to stay.

This resulted in the Ministry of Works and Transport assessing the facilities, noting some do not meet the required standards.

Jonas Sheelongo, the deputy executive director of works and transport, says truck drivers have designated areas where they may stop, however, regulations currently in place are set by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

"They come up with measures they see best to curb Covid-19," Sheelongo says.

Shangula says truck drivers should conduct themselves "like any other person".

During the state of emergency last year, they were restricted to truck ports, but this changed when the Public and Environmental Health Act was introduced on 18 September 2020, he says.

John Kwedhi, secretary general of the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union, yesterday said the union has not received any complaints from the drivers and encourages them to contact the office to assist them.

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