The economic hardships fueled by the skyrocketing food, fuel and housing prices remain the loudest cries from civil servants, who yesterday turned up in large numbers to vote countrywide on whether to strike.
The majority of civil servants, most of whom are teachers, indicated that they are in favour of the strike. In fact, some vowed that the ball is in the hands of the government as they are left with no choice but to down tools due to the economic hardships they face.
The polling ends today.
Education minister Anna Nghipondoka on Wednesday granted permission for deviation from the approved school calendar to allow teachers and staff to cast their votes.
Otjozondjupa’s six fixed and three mobile polling stations were a hive of activity, as public workers turned up in huge numbers to cast their votes. Indications by midday yesterday showed the majority are in favour of the imminent national strike.
Voting was prompted by an unresolved dispute on salary and other benefits’ negotiations for the financial years 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 between the government negotiating team (GNT) and the 100 000 civil servants’ two bargaining unions the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) and the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu).
Otjozondjupa Nantu chairperson Job Nambili confirmed while overseeing regional elections yesterday that the balloting process was going smoothly, and no security issues were reported since polling started at 08h00.
“There was not much delay in balloting. Before 11h00, over 100 voters cast their votes in Otjiwarongo, Okahandja and Grootfontein. It shows people are eager to vote. It was good the minister released teachers to vote. Teachers are the majority in the region, and they used the morning hours well,” he said.
Hiccups that Nambili mentioned include some names of voters not appearing on the voter verification register.
New Era spoke to some of the affected employees at the Okahandja constituency office’s polling station.
“We are about four staff members from the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED), who were turned away because our names are not appearing on the list. We are frustrated. We complied with the rules, but the administration is a challenge. We are not new staff members. We are about to retire, but even new members are on the list,” vented NIED CEO Rochester Mushabati.
Nambili assured all those whose names are not appearing now that they will vote before polling closes today at 17h00.
Others who were turned away include the Namibian Defence Force (NDF)’s cleaners stationed at the Osona military base, whose names are similarly not on the list.
“The issue came to my attention. We are going to sort it out today (Thursday), and they will vote tomorrow (Friday). Since they are from a directorate, that shouldn’t be difficult to trace them and verify so that they cast their votes,” he added.
Protasius Simpire, a teacher at JG van der Wath Secondary School, stressed the importance of the strike, saying food and fuel prices are too high.
“Sometimes we are ashamed as teachers because we can’t even assist our immediate families on payday when they need help. Most of us see our children walk to school as teachers because we can’t afford it. We are facing stigma in the community. We are called names, and our children are victimised that ‘your father is a teacher, but you walk to school,” Simpire narrated.
Civil servant Elise Nakangombe said after casting her vote “we can’t afford to buy houses. Renting is very expensive. We can’t keep up with the food and fuel prices that are ever-increasing. We can’t support our immediate families. It’s shameful to us”.
In Erongo, teachers said they voted for the strike, but they were worried of the impact a nationwide strike could have on the children. However, they said government has the power to stop the looming strike if they respond favourably to the demands of civil servants.
“Our nation is educated because of teachers. We have produced engineers, ministers and even presidents… yet today, we are struggling to pay rent, let alone cope with high food and fuel prices,” said Volker Sikongo, who has been a teacher for the past 18 years in Walvis Bay.
Sikongo told New Era shortly after casting his vote that he is worried the strike will have disastrous implications for education, especially for those learners who are about to write their grades 10 and 11 examinations.
Meanwhile, Napwu regional coordinator for the western region Richard Kayimbi indicated that they are happy with the turnout of civil servants overall in Erongo.
“The turnout is good, and we are hoping that they will give us a good result. As a union, we are hoping that they will vote in favour of the strike, but that will be determined when we count the votes tomorrow,” he stated.
Over 1 000 civil servants had voted by yesterday lunchtime in the region, while more are expected to cast their votes today before closing at 17h00.
In Windhoek, Frazer Sinvula at the Government Office Park polling station said the process was slow but was going well. He reported no hiccups.
There have been a large number of people who were voting. Long queues were observed, and workers were eager to vote.
Sinvula was delighted that not only teachers turned up, as he observed colleagues from various ministries casting their ballots.
The Katutura Library polling station was quiet. Polling officer Fremantle Kuhanga said only around 200 people voted when this publication visited after lunchtime yesterday.
He was, however, positive that more people would turn up “because the masses want their voices to be heard.”
Kuhanga added that the polling station will again be open today from 08h00 to 17h00, but if there are voters remaining in the line, they’ll be allowed to vote.
A few nurses were in the line, waiting to vote yesterday.
Meanwhile, voting started off slowly in the Zambezi region, as people only started casting their votes around 13h00.
According to Elvis Puteho, presiding officer at the Katima Mulilo State Hospital’s polling station, the voting process was delayed because they were still sorting out logistics.
“People have started queuing up, and I am confident things are going to go well,” he observed.
Voters indicated that they were in favour of the strike. “My vote is going to be yes. Why yes? Because I need money. I need the salary to be increased. Things are getting expensive every day, so I cannot come here to waste my time voting for nothing,” said Ben Luhakano, a teacher at Isize Combined School.
Janet Sibeso said it has been long since civil servants got an increment. She stressed that due to the effect of Covid-19, everything is going up, but salaries are just stagnant.
Caprivi Senior Secondary School principal Richard Musilizo stated that “we need money. We are hungry, and we need to be appreciated for the work we are doing.”
In Rundu, New Era spoke to several public servants who expressed excitement to vote in favour of the strike. They argue that it’s about time government gives civil servants what they are fighting for. Many said the cost of living has gone through the roof, and that they merely work to buy food and can’t afford other things.
“The current situation is not fine if you look at the economic situation we are facing, and yet there are no better salaries. We just want something to improve our living standards. Look at the food prices; fuel and everything is up, and our salaries are not,” said a Rundu public servant, who only identified himself as Maseka.
Although Selma Musheshe is happy to have cast her vote, she questioned the fairness of the voting process over the use of a pencil. “I’m concerned. Why are we using a pencil to vote? They can erase and mark ‘no’. It’s very questionable. I prefer we used a pen or a permanent marker,’’ she reiterated.
Rundu teacher Christine Simasiku said this is the right time for civil servants to decide whether to go on strike or not, as “maybe our government will hear us.”
In northern Namibia, civil servants in Oshakati turned up in large numbers at the Oshana regional library polling station. Although some voters had shown up at various polling stations as early as 06h00, the voting process only started at 10h00.
A 59-year-old teacher, Simeon Martin, said although there’s only a year before his retirement, he is casting his vote to support the strike in solidarity with especially young government workers to get a salary increase. He said no pay rise for seven years has negatively impacted them and their families.
Poling officer Absalom Amushila said there was a delay with the voting machine’s delivery, but they were expected to start the voting process soon in the Okalongo constituency.
Another civil servant said they are eager to vote as they want an increment. They were patiently waiting, although some came as early as 08h00.
“Most of the public servants left for lunch, but I am sure they will come back,” she said.
-With additional reporting from Eveline de Klerk, Aletta Shikololo, John Muyamba, Emmency Nuukala and Aron Mushaukwa (MICT).