A lion cub crosses the gravel road in high pursuit of its mother – startled, it briefly stops to sense the intrusion – its fight or flight mode activated. As if in a time warp, the occupants of the game drive vehicle, behold the cub and its juvenile behaviour, and cell phones stealthily capture the moment. In the tall, long grass, the lioness stops, summons the cub to make its way. Lioness and cub re-joined; life continues apace. “They are used to human activity,” states Davis Kwenani our Gondwana Collection tour guide matter-of-factly. Sensing the apprehension on the faces of his tour group, he quickly retorts that we are not in any danger.
Kwenani continues his soliloquy of the fauna and flora found in the Etosha National Park, uninterrupted. He motions at the kori bustard taking flight: “That is the largest native flying bird. It spends most of its time on the ground, and only flies when it is disturbed.” Our drive takes us to a secluded watering hole. The area is teeming with wildlife. A viewing area or a hide has been built to allow closer viewing.
Kwenani: “The elephant you see coming is a bull, you can see by its size, and also its tasks are much longer and heavier than a female.” The bull approaches and gulps gallons of water, quenches its thirst, while seemingly spraying water all over its huge body to protect it from the scorching rays of the sun. In the foreground, kudus, and a tower of giraffes in their splendour strut their stuff gently to their oasis. Kwenani doesn’t catch his breath and the next spectacle is announced with the soundbites layered with facts and factoids about Etosha. On the way back to King Nehale Lodge, he finds time to reflect.
This young man hailing from the Zambezi is now a bona fide tour guide after earning his stripes as part of a Bank of Namibia sponsored apprenticeship programme administered by the National Training Authority (NTA). For a period of two years, Kwenani and his fellow apprentices were taken through the ropes by experienced guides at Gondwana-Collections, one of the employers which signed up on the ground-breaking programme. The programme entailed study periods at the Namibia Academy for Tourism and Hospitality for the academic foundation part, while most of their apprenticeship period was spent at many lodges countrywide owned by Gondwana-Collections. “We were exposed to other parts of Namibia that we did not know and got to learn the culture and traditions of the communities while also learning as much as possible in terms of the wildlife and vegetation and so on,” states Oshikoto region’s native - 25-year-old Fillemon Awene, another apprentice.
He continues: “tour guides are few and most are veterans who are in the sector for a long time. We really learned a lot from them. We are quite fortunate to have been given this opportunity to work with our natural treasure.”
Altogether, 16 apprentices were onboarded by Gondwana-Collections at the start of the programme in 2020, and most are on course to complete the intensive programme. The bank’s intervention made it possible for the would-be tour guides to receive remuneration per month while learning on the job. This provided an incentive to the employers to take in apprentices as they do not add an additional burden on their cost structure.
The few who remain like Victoria Amakali have one assessment left to complete the programme: “My assessment involves operating a vehicle while providing a tour, and I have not been doing well, but with a lot of training with the current vehicle, I have improved. I am confident I will pass the assessment.”
The programme has produced full-time employment for tour guides like Davis Kwenani. “I am very fortunate that when I completed my assessments, Gondwana decided to employ me. I now have a steady income to support myself and my family, all thanks to the exposure that Bank of Namibia made possible.”
Despite the tourism sector taking a nosedive because of Covid-19, there is an uptick in activities, confirms Kwenani, and that keeps him busy. Last year, he said it was gloomy as tourists including domestic ones disappeared because of the lockdowns.
Notwithstanding the challenges experienced, the programme is on course to graduate its first cohort. The apprentices look forward to their graduation slated for December 2021 after experiencing the world of work in this pristine and idyllic setting of Etosha.
BoN’s support to the apprenticeship programme totals N$4,5 million over a three-year period. 20 apprentices employed by Agribusdev are completing programmes in the agriculture sector which includes crop production, horticulture, animal husbandry, and machinery. Another 10 have chosen the automotive mechanics field under the wing of Pupkewitz Motor Division.
The BoN has long considered the TVET sector as an enabler of economic growth through skills development and employment creation. The bank’s 2018 Annual Symposium focused on the TVET sector and brought to light several shortcomings which constrain the sector from realising its full potential as envisioned in the Fifth National Development Plan (NDP5), and the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP).
Stakeholders at the symposium identified the need for relevance and responsiveness of training programmes as a critical undertaking, which requires a concerted effort from policymakers, regulatory bodies, training institutions, and industry role-players towards equipping the next generation of artisans with the requisite skills to spearhead Namibia’s industrialisation drive.
The bank’s involvement is a relevant response to this national undertaking that requires the full support of all stakeholders.
* Kazembire Zemburuka is Bank of Namibia’s Deputy Director for Corporate Communications