Thursday, November 01, 2012

Namibia has a history and a future

TEACHERS' picket in Swakopmund

 BACK in the 1970s I was keenly following news from Namibia, with the rising struggle against South African rule, and in its forefront the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO). Neighbouring Angola gained independence in 1975, with the MPLA coming to power, and it looked like Namibia could be next, though it would take time. A woman I knew from activity on Palestine, a member of Socialist Action, became a full-time professional with the Namibian Support Committee some time in the 1980s.  Unfortunately we lost touch.

It was not till much later that I heard , from comrades who had been in contact with left-wing activity here before returning to Namibia, that all was not well with SWAPO,in its leadership's attitude to democratic.rights or in its likely attitude to the workers' movement after independence. I met former SWAPO fighters who had fallen foul of the organisation's Stalinist-trained security apparatus, and spent time in its primitive detention pits.  Fortunately we had gone through enough upheaval on the Left here to realise they deserved an audience. But not everyone wanted to listen.

We also learned a little from the comrades about their people's history, the brutal impact of colonialism, and the memories of heroic struggles in which their grandparents had been involved, and of which we, even those of us with our History A-levels and degrees, knew next to nothing. I am starting to make up some of that gap with a book called "The Kaiser's Holocaust", by David Olusoga and Casper W.Erichsen, which not only describes what people in Namibia were put through but adds a dimension to our understanding of history in Europe. It is sub-titled "Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism".  I would defititely recommend it.   . 

Meanwhile, the class(room) struggle is alive and well in Namibia today, a country that exports uramium and diamonds but apparently can't pay a decent wage to teachers. Here is a report  (extract):


Jade McClune and Otis Finck: The simmering crisis within the teaching profession reached boiling point yesterday when teachers resolved at two separate mass meetings in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund that, star-ting tomorrow morning, they will undertake strike action in solidarity with their colleagues in the Khomas and Hardap regions.

The entire teaching profession in Namibia has been thrown into disarray over the past week as thousands of teachers in the Khomas region went on strike last Friday to demand a 40 percent increase in their wages. Teachers in the Erongo are also no longer prepared to wait in silence and have decided to join their colleagues in the rest of the country, by going on strike tomorrow.

Negotiations over teachers' wages and terms of employment have been dragging on since April and the educators in the Erongo region have held their silence for several months while awaiting the outcome of the closed-door negotiations, but the matter has now spilt over onto the streets. The Erongo Regional Chairperson, Jonathan Tsuseb found himself in a tight corner yesterday when a mass of unhappy teachers confronted him with questions about the state of the salary negotiations during their meeting at Coastal High School in Swakopmund.

“Why can't they give us feedback on the negotiation process? Just wait until 31 October then we will take action,” said one female teacher yesterday. “We are professionals, they must treat us with professionalism,” another remarked. “If you want to strike, you must do it on your own, don't get NANTU involved,” Tsuseb fumed, and went on to say that he is not obliged to address public meetings: “Please don't call me to address public meetings, I am not elected by you!”

“You are a leader of NANTU and we are concerned about what is happening in the teaching fraternity. We are in darkness. We don't know what is going on. We want you to shed light on these issues,” one leading member of the assembled teachers asked, “What happened at the National Teachers Council (NTC) meeting this weekend?” Tsuseb revealed that the entire leadership of the Khomas regional branch of NANTU and the vice-chairperson of the Hardap regional branch were dismissed by the NTC over the weekend for organising the teachers' action, but he said that he could not convey any further information about the content of the negotiations, because of conditions of secrecy.

Tsuseb promised though that the negotiations would be concluded by 1 November and that the teachers would only then be informed of the out-come. “NANTU is negotiating for salary re-grading. There will be an improvement in your salary, but I cannot tell you by how much,” Tsuseb said, “I just don't know.” In mid-September Tsuseb had explained to The Namib Times that formal negotiations had started already on 20 June and that the outstanding issues under negotiation would be concluded by the end of September.


Teachers meeting in Narraville yesterday also accused the na-tional leadership of NANTU of negotiating without their informed consent and called on all civil servants to join them in their solidarity action. Teachers are also unhappy about the government's decision to unilaterally increase the cost of their medical aid scheme by 100%, as this was an issue still under negotiation. NANTU had put several options on the table. The first option was for a 10% increase for managers from director's level upwards, as well as a 14% increase for those at the level of school inspectors and downwards.

The second option was for a sliding scale of wages, linked to the rate of inflation, so that teachers' salaries would be automatically adjusted in line with inflation. The third option was for a job evaluation and wholesale regrading of posts. Tsuseb said yesterday that that government has set aside N$1.6 billion for the re-grading, but if the salary re-grading process was not completed by Thurs-day, the teachers could expect an adjustment in line with inflation. It has meanwhile been reported that teachers in the Otjozondjupa and Hardap regions have already forwarded petitions outlining their demands to the union leadership and that teachers in the Hardap Region are also demanding salary increases of be-tween 20% and 40%, as well as tax concessions to reduce the tax burden on teachers.

Teachers in the Khomas Region are demanding that their pensions not be taxed and are calling for their transport allowances to be in-creased from N$520 to N$1 000 per month. Teachers in the Hardap region are also adamant that if their demands are not met by October 31, they would resort to strike action. The Swakopmund group of concerned teachers expressed support yesterday for the demand for a 40% wage increase as a starting-point for further negotiations and are also demanding N$2000 housing allowance, an increase in their transport allowance and that their annual bonus cheque should not be taxed.

The teachers who assembled at Coastal High yesterday said that they are prepared to lay down their tools, but noted that it would be unprofessional to go on strike immediately.

“Therefore, as concerned teachers, we will go to school tomorrow (Tuesday) and let all the parents and teachers know of our decision. We must let them know that if they send their kids to school on Wednesday there will be nobody to take care of them. We will march to NANTU offices on Wednesday morning and from there will take further action,” the meeting agreed. The aggrieved teachers will meet again at Coastal High School in Swakopmund at 14:00 today to decide on the way forward.

In Walvis Bay about two hundred teachers also attended an urgent meeting to obtain teachers views and discuss concerns pertaining to delayed salary negations and information being withheld in this regard at Narraville Primary School. Those in attendance expressed solidarity and called for a unified approach with the teachers on strike in the Khomas region. They expressed support for their striking colleagues and resolved to join them by drawing up a petition in support of the demands from the teachers of the Khomas region and by going slow.

(full report see: 

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