Albertina NakaleLoide Jason
The unfolding political unrest in neighbouring South Africa should serve as a wake-up call for Namibians to stop their economic reliance on that country and start producing basic essentials locally, President Hage Geingob said yesterday. “This is a wake-up call for our people to start producing. We are worried we are not going to have enough food because it comes from South Africa. Why don’t we make coffins here? Coffins are coming from South Africa.
We have to delay certain burials because coffins are being manufactured and coming from South Africa,” said the head of state during the Covid-19 response briefing at State House.
The ongoing violence in that country has been triggered by protests against the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma that began last week, shortly after he handed himself over to the police. Stores and warehouses in the Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces have been ransacked, devastating supply chains on which food, fuel and medicines depend in Africa’s most industrialised economy. According to official figures, 72 people have died, and more than 1 200 people have been arrested, while it is estimated that over 800 shops have been ransacked.
Despite the notable achievements the Namibian government has realised over the past three decades such as infrastructural development, the country still imports the bulk of its food, medication, machinery, equipment, chemicals, expertise and much more from South Africa.
Namibia spent billions of dollars on imports from the neighbouring country, including prepared foodstuffs. The mounting Covid-19 deaths have also seen Namibia running short of coffins, and such caskets are being imported from South Africa – a situation that is overwhelming mortuaries and funeral undertakers, which ultimately gravely affects families as they have to delay the burials of their loved ones.
Geingob said anticipated disruptions to the supply chain of essential goods and services in South Africa may present an opportunity to bolster Namibia’s domestic capacity. To remedy the situation, he noted that accelerated efforts are underway to, amongst others, increase local oxygen-generating capacity through an investment by the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF), and to fast-track the manufacturing of coffins locally through the industrialisation ministry and the National Planning Commission.
Such renewed investments, Geingob said, should remain viable beyond this particular crisis, thereby creating new opportunities for young people. He added that the two countries share a lot in common due to their colonial past, and it is difficult to separate them.
“We depend on them. We didn’t try to be independent from them. We are still getting basics… foodstuffs and small stuff we can plough ourselves such as potatoes and small things we can plant ourselves,” said Geingob.
“It [unrest] is going to teach us the things we ought to produce. State House is guilty. We kept on saying let us buy Namibian water. Water is simple. We can produce water here. Some people are ordering water from South Africa.”
The Namibia Statistics Agency in May this year said the country imported bottled water worth N$39.8 million from South Africa. Geingob asked where the businesses and unemployed people are to grab this opportunity. He also fears Namibian trucks transporting essential supplies such as food and medicine could be stranded or delayed in South Africa due to the unrest. The President then reported that Namibians are safe in areas such as Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng, the major centres of the unrest.
Transport corridors ‘protected’
Meanwhile, visiting South African international relations minister Naledi Pandor assured Namibia that the situation in that country will not affect the delivery of essential services. She emphasised that transport corridors would continue operating uninterrupted to deliver goods and services, particularly essentials, needed to fight Covid-19.
Pandor was speaking during a media briefing after diplomatic and political consultations with her counterpart Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah yesterday, where they discussed convening a long-overdue meeting of the heads of state of the two neighbours.
Pandor explained that although the violence and destruction of property is a general concern, the situation had gone out of control. However, she hoped that with the deployment of the South African National Defence Force, the situation will return to normal.
“Our economy was just recovering well from the Covid-19 pandemic that caused severe damage last year. I can admit that we are reverting. Our economy is damaged by these irresponsible actions caused by our communities,” she stated.
On Wednesday, the South African government said it would call out around 25 000 troops to tackle the emergency - 10 times the number that it initially deployed. The visiting minister added that the country’s leaders will engage the business fraternity to make sure that they transport goods to Namibia in exactly the same way they did during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.
“Any action of destroying properties and loss of lives is a criminal activity, hence there are many people arrested in this regard,” Pandor said, adding that the country is working
around the clock to make sure that the economy recovers. She furthermore urged Africans to learn a lesson that such conduct will have a negative impact on their economies.
“Many residents have lost their jobs. The situation is really bad. People lost their lives and properties in the process. With the deployment of the defence force, calm and stability will be restored”, she reiterated.