WALVIS BAY – Namibian businessman Gabriel Uahengo claims he was sidelined and kept in the dark by his two partners, who sold their stake in the Seal Products factory at Henties Bay last month.
A disappointed Uahengo this week told New Era the company was 100% Namibian owned, however his two partners, Gys Cilliers and Josea Swart sold their stake to a Chinese businessman despite him offering to buy them out.
The Chinese businessman now owns 55%, with Uahengo owning 45% of the company.
The Seal Products company was started in 1999 with Cilliers being in charge of running the factory and Uahengo being responsible for marketing, quota negotiations, while Swart was a silent partner.
However, internal squabbles, as well as financial constraints resulted in them not exploiting their quota this year.
“My partners kept me out of the deal and sold their shares despite me offering to buy them out. The new shareholder apparently paid them cash while I made them a higher offer that I would have paid in two instalments,” Uahengo said.
According to him, the last two years have not been favourable to the company and as a result, he has been servicing the company’s bank loans with his personal funds.
“We also have been pleading for a new quota for many years but have been unsuccessful. We currently have approximately N$2 million in overdrafts at the bank, which I am currently paying,” he explained.
They receive 3 000 bulls and 35 000 pups annually but ideally need 20 000 bulls.
During the last seal harvesting season, the total allowable catch for seal pups was set at 80 000, while bulls were limited to 6 000.
Despite this, Uahengo said, he wanted to continue operating and keep the company afloat instead of selling it to a foreigner.
“I wanted to continue and that was the only reason why I am keeping it afloat. However, my partners felt otherwise. It has been a struggle but I wanted it to be a fully Namibian company,” Uahengo added.
He is now seeking legal advice, as he also cannot access the factory despite being a shareholder.
He added he would have to physically destroy the property if he wants to access it since he does not have keys to the building despite continuously asking for them.
He explained he offered Cilliers N$5.2 million although he was selling his shares for N$4.9 million to the Chinese businessman in cash.
However, Uahengo was willing to pay N$5.2 million in two instalments.
Swart was apparently selling his stake for N$2.8 million but offered it to him in May for N$2.2 million.
“They both were willing to sell to me, but changed their minds later saying they wanted to sell their shares together,” Uahengo said.
According to him, he has reached out to his new business partner but his calls have not been answered.
“He either won’t pick up my calls or says he does not understand English. I am still in the dark,” he said.
Cilliers could not be reached this week, however, Swart confirmed to New Era the sale was concluded about four weeks ago and that they indeed sold their shares to the Chinese businessman.
“The sale was finalised four weeks ago and we had to sell as we are running at a loss. We also could not afford it any longer,” Swart said.
He added that it was a cash sale and that they both sold to the same person. He, however, did not want to reveal how much they made from the sale but indicated that it was less than N$10 million.
According to Swart, he did offer his shares to both Cilliers and Uahengo but the latter could apparently not afford it while Cilliers, who is 81 years old, opted out.
“All in all, we offered to Uahengo our shares and he could not pay.
He even took us to the High Court where he lost the case with costs. There was no point in keeping a loss making business. If we had not sold, we would’ve had to declare bankruptcy,” Swart said.
The company has been facing challenges for the past two years, seeing that its markets have depleted.
Manager of the factory Stiaan Cloete earlier during a ministerial visit, said that their markets are almost non-existent.
He said their main client is based in Turkey, however, cannot buy the skins anymore due to the financial downturn.
“Last year, we lost N$1 million. We will need at least 20 000 bulls to keep the operations going. There was nonetheless a huge market to sell the genitals of bulls. However, they have been doing it through a South African middleman, who again takes it to the Chinese market. That is why we have appealed to the government to assist us in fostering better trade relations with Asia as there is a market for our products, unlike in Europe and America where seal products are banned. This will enable us to directly sell to Asia,” Cloete said during the ministerial visit.
They also make a supplement from seal oil that comes in powder and capsule form, which is quite popular amongst locals.
Despite receiving major backlash for the activity, government has defended its annual seal hunt exercise, citing that no harm is being caused to the sustainability of the seal population in the country.