& Paheja Siririka
The closure of Witvlei Abattoir in 2015 left many workers in a state of despair and with serious concerns on how to pay their bills and put food on the table.
The abattoir was the main employer at the small settlement, which enjoys village status. However, operations ended abruptly after the company’s Norway beef quota was drastically reduced, leading to the unemployment of over 200 workers.
One of the former workers of the abattoir Mara Kahorere, who has now become a meat vendor, said the closure of the slaughterhouse left many at the village in hopeless despair.
Kahorere told New Era she owed the local village council a staggering N$34 178, an amount which accumulated before she occupied the company house.
Kahorere said she still lives in the company house with her seven children despite having no access to water since the closure of the business in 2015.
She said because she could not afford electricity, she had no choice but to install an electricity box which cost her N$1 600.
“We were thrown out like dogs with no benefit payout, with an assumption that the company may reopen. That is why they didn’t pay us, but my business is doing well especially if you have enough stock. I can make up to N$6 000 per month,” she said.
Kahorere sells meat at the side of the Witvlei main road, with her former colleague at the abattoir, Uetuesapi Kaetee.
Kaetee, who worked at the abattoir between 2007 and 2015, said she earns far better income from her meat business.
“In a good month, I earn between N$5 000 to N$6 000 from the sale of meat compared to N$2 700 that I used to get from the abattoir,” she told New Era. She lost her husband in 2015 after the closure. He also used to work with her at the slaughterhouse. Like many other former employees, she is still to receive any financial support from the company.
Kaetee said she is not planning to go back to work even if the company reopens.
She is a mother to two children and the oldest is a student at the University of Namibia (Unam) who is pursuing studies in education.
“I pay my oldest daughter’s tuition fees and rent from the sale of this meat, so going back is a waste of time which I am not considering at the moment. Maybe if they promise to pay the money they owe us,” she said.
A former butcher and an occasional floor manager at the abattoir Simon !Uri-Khob said he worked at the place from 2004 until it closed in 2015. “The last conversation we had was that Agribank took over the place and that heavily touched us that we were jobless. But we can’t even go to them now and ask for our money because they allegedly do not have money,” recalled !Uri-Khob.
Another excuse some workers were given is that the company forked out a lot of money on legal fees. “The case has dragged on for long and to date, we have not received anything. This [the abattoir] is the only place which slightly elevated Witvlei. There was a little bit of development in the place because of the job opportunities the abattoir created but ever since it closed, Witvlei looks like those weird deserted villages or something like a ghost village,” he said. !Uri-Khob added that alcohol abuse at the village was rampant.
“There are now alcohol places, a lot of unfair treatment from the whites here, thievery has taken over and those who were once breadwinners are now in jail with rape allegations levelled against them,” he said.
The former butcher said his means of survival is doing small jobs occasionally.
He said his only wish is that the government finds ways to open the abattoir because of its long-term benefits.
“It doesn’t only affect Witvlei, it affects the entire Omaheke region and ultimately the country because it was not only Witvlei residents who used to work here, it is people from all over. We would appreciate it if the government considers this. Keep us in their thoughts and find ways to reopen the abattoir or work with those who owned it to have it operational again,” added !Uri-Khob.
In mid-2006, Witvlei Meat started operations at the abattoir by renting it from Agribank with an option to buy the plant for N$15 million. This, however, never happened and both parties were entangled in bitter disputes and legal battles in the highest courts of the country.