The fishing industry has been one of the largest contributors to Namibia’s economy and had been in existence prior to the country’s independence. The industry currently employs close to 15 000 people with the hake sector creating 10 000 of those working opportunities.
Although the sector has grown in leaps and bounds to become a billion-dollar industry, many are of the opinion that most natives hardly benefit from the industry, saying there was a need for local inclusivity.
A former mayor of Walvis Bay, King Mandume Muatunga, who has seen the industry evolving since the reintegration of Walvis Bay into Namibia in 1994, says there is a need for more local beneficiation especially for Walvis Bay residents, who hardly reap the fruits of this lucrative sector. Thus, he says, the fishing industry needs to change its social responsibility approach so that it empowers Namibians.
According to Muatunga, Namibians overall mostly only read about the operations of the industry but do not entirely understand or know how it contributes to the country’s economy and to the community it operates in.
“If they were well organised and contribute to development in certain areas, Namibia would flourish more than only focusing on a selected few individuals,” he says.
He added that decisions to donate to a certain community are made at board meetings to please the ministry, instead of looking at the real needs that can uplift a community.
According to Muatunga, the people of Walvis Bay normally don’t even see what is contributed, while those working in the industry hardly benefit apart from salaries and they fish they get. “The industry should rather look at issues such as housing, health facilities, bursaries and training, especially for the children of those that work in the industry rather than donating to a selected few. Those are the real benefits Namibia needs,” he explained.
Local activist Knowledge Ipinge, on his part, says that the Walvis Bay community before its reintegration into Namibia in 1994 heavily relied on fishing, both in terms of daily meals and income to sustain livelihoods.
“Every household had a family member employed full-time in a fishing factory, on a vessel, or spent time selling snoek heads, harders or dassies as a source of income. Today the majority of the industry’s workers are employed on fixed-term contracts, earning peanuts and fishing is now also considered as a luxury,” Ipinge added.
Ipinge says little to no value-added processing is also occurring in the industry despite the existence of the Growth at Home Industrial Policy, National Development Plans, Vision 2030 and the Harambee Prosperity Plan.
“This fact is backed by trade statistics that indicate that in terms of total export products, raw materials represent a staggering 67% of exports, of which fisheries contribute a total export of 17% (over one quarter) leaving Namibia unprocessed or without any value addition taking place.”
According to him, some companies’ social responsibility initiatives listed in fishing rights and quota application documents are not a true reflection of the real facts on the ground.
“This can be proven by the number of youth who have received bursaries from fishing rights or quota holders, senior citizen benefits besides annual food parcels, dilapidated condition of sports facilities and employees who have never benefited from the employees’ share schemes and housing schemes,” Ipinge said.
He, however, believes a selected few fishing companies can be applauded for their contribution towards the development of Walvis Bay and Namibia at large through the investments that they have made to prioritise employment and distribution of wealth for the real benefit of locals.
Fishing sector employee Aina Shilongo says that working in a fishing factory is hard work, judging from the fact that you spend most of your days on your feet.
“Our salaries are not that great but we have no choice but to work as it covers our basic needs,” says the mother of three. She added that she was lucky to inherit a house from her father, who was a fisherman for years. “I would have probably lived in a shack if it wasn’t for him.”
Shilongo hopes that fishing companies will create an educational fund that will help give children of the fishing factory workers an opportunity to study
Fisheries minister Albert Kawana during a consultation meeting with the industry indicated that the long overdue scorecard system to rate fishing companies will be implemented soon and will be used to determine quota allocations.
He said a benchmark would be set for the various sectors in terms of their levels, whereby they will further score marks in terms of social responsibility, value addition, among others.
“Companies will be rated based on how they empower and contribute to their employees, such as living conditions, social responsibility overall and how they also assist the government in addressing unemployment and poverty,” he said.
“On top of all that, the industry is required to make sure that employees get decent housing and wages as most of their employees live in shacks. Government can no longer accept these disparities,” he said.