The impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on the local tourism industry has left a number of artisans in Swakopmund destitute. The craft sellers, whose target market consisted predominantly of tourists, said the sale and production of their products has halted since the nationwide lockdown in April last year, which has left them appealing for food, alternative employment or income grants to pursue other business opportunities.
The artisans added that they feel neglected and abandoned by government. “The government helped different sectors during the lockdown but the craft industry was not recognised,” said one of the artisans, Kawaya Kabongo. “We want to be considered as a tourism sector because our customers were tourists and our crafts formed part of the tourist attractions,” Kabongo added.
He has been selling arts and handcrafted goods in Swakopmund for 10 years and is one of the 62 vendors who signed a lease agreement with the town’s municipality to operate at Kavita Arts and Craft Market at Kavita Park, for a monthly rental fee of N$120.
The municipality’s community development services manager, Vilho Kaulinge, said the council’s ordinary meeting agreed in August last year for the vendors to be relieved of rental payment for a period of nine months, which started from April 2020 and ended in December 2020.
This, according to Kaulinge, “is one of the municipality’s interventions to assist the vendors during this pandemic”, adding that they also distributed food to the vendors during the lockdown.
However, the vendors said apart from the three tins of fish and the packet of maize meal they received at the beginning of the lockdown, they still require monthly intervention as they have neither food for daily consumption nor income for other crucial expenses.
“There are no customers, but I can’t stay home, I come here to beg locals to at least buy out of pity. Please support me. I want to buy bread,” narrated 54-year-old Valerie Shimwooshili, one of the craftswomen who has been making a living selling handmade baskets, bracelets, and mineral stones for the last 25 years. She now survives from mahangu that her family sends from the north.
Another vendor, Ngoija Rutjindo, one of the Ovahimba traders operating at the Kavita Park, said all they want now is food as all hope has been lost. “I didn’t have a customer for over a month but I walk from DRC informal settlement every morning to come to the market. I walk back in the evening, hungry and tired,” Rutjindo bemoaned.
Many of the vendors have now moved from their once cosy stalls at the market to the main road opposite the Strand Hotel, in hope that increased visibility will pique interest from potential buyers
The vendors added they have reduced their prices to fit local market realities and are appealing to the public and private organisations and individuals to come to their aid.
*Uaripi Katjiukua is an Information Officer at the Ministry of Information & Communication Technology’s Erongo office.