AUSSENKEHR – Swapo Party coordinator in the //Kharas Region, Matheus Mumbala has reminded the grape companies that they will be judged not on the number of jobs they provide but on the overall well-being of their workers, the majority of whom live in reed houses without toilets.
Mumbala expressed his disappointment that grape workers’ conditions have not improved that much, even when the grape industry is booming from year to year, with companies making millions in profits in the export-driven sector expected to blossom into a billion-dollar industry.
Mumbala told New Era that it is a pity that after almost 27 years, grape workers still live in cramped areas and in fire prone reed houses, without electricity or ablution facilities, and still use the bush to relieve themselves, while potable water also remains a pipe-dream among grape workers. “I think in general its bad, we should not only look at the job creation, but we must look at the general living conditions of the workers, where are they living? How do they live? They live in unhuman conditions,” he said of the workers’ poor living conditions that were also previously lamented by former president Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Mumbala further said although he understands the job creation element, with grape companies providing thousands of job opportunities especially during the harvest season, it is also the responsibility of the companies to improve the living conditions of their workers, and he called on government and the companies to meet each other half way to address improve workers’ living conditions specifically the provision of decent housing, provision of water and sanitation.
“No company or investor who is giving jobs here can proudly stand and say I have constructed houses for my workers, no one! But managers are living in good houses built by the companies, while the productive unit is living in worst conditions. You are just happy for their productivity, but what are you rewarding them with? They must construct houses for their workers,” he said.
He was referring to the luxury airconditioned farmhouses boosting swimming pools and all the modern amenities compared to the second-class reed houses where grape-workers are cramped.
One of the grape workers said although their living conditions were unfavourable, she has no choice but to stay and get the little income and be able to support her extended family.
Ester Marius said she has been living at the grape valley (Aussenkehr) for over ten years now, and although living conditions have not really improved, except for basic services that are now available compared to before, she is happy to make a living saying it is tough for her to get a job somewhere else as she is not educated.
“Conditions are still the same, we live in reed houses, we do not have toilets or electricity, but what can we do? We need the little money we get to take care of our families, but we wish things will get better one day,” she said.
Caption (Reeds): Second-class housing…Reed houses at Aussenkehr where the majority of black grape-workers live because their employers have failed to construct decent houses for them
Photo: Matheus Hamutenya