Road trips and labour laws
Apologies for the delay in updating my blog; I was on the road for 2 weeks and have been busy collecting and processing data since getting back. I finished my time at the previous livestock and trophy hunting farm and went on a 1,200 km roadtrip around the country visiting various places for interviews and data collection. I was pretty nervous about driving all that way by myself – worried about running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, getting a flat tyre in the bush and not having the strength to undo the bolts to get the tyre off, hitting an animal, getting lost, crashing into another car whilst parking in multi-story car parks in Windhoek, and so on.
|Driving in Namibia means spending a lot of your time on dusty roads and opening gates|
Fortunately the whole trip went by without any major catastrophes, except very nearly hitting a kudu on the way home! Kudus are very large antelope who live in groups and browse on bushes. They are pretty flighty animals, but sometimes will just stand there staring at you as you drive past, whereas other times they’ll run away, or towards you – you can never really tell! I know of many people who’ve accidentally hit kudus on the road because they sometimes have a habit of running TOWARDS the car rather than away from it, and then trying to jump over the car but landing on the bonnet or top of the car. So suffice to say, I’m quite nervous when driving near kudus! I saw a group of around 8 ahead of me on the road and slowed down to see what they would do. It seemed that they would all just stand at the side of the road watching me as I drove past, but at the last minute, one jumped out from behind a bush and dashed across the road. Fortunately I was only going around 40 km/hr by that point, but even so, still had trouble to slam on the brakes fast enough so that I didn’t hit it. I think I managed to stop a few centimetres away from it before it ran past – phew!
Besides from learning about livestock farming here, something that I am inadvertently exposed to on a daily basis is the employment environment of the farm workers – who are all, without exception, black. I understand that each country has its own rules, regulations, norms and customs when it comes to the labour force, but I still cannot help feeling uneasy about the inequalities still present here, despite huge efforts to remove such things from the apartheid era. I read on a Namibian newspaper last week that two-thirds of farm workers in this country are paid less than US $100 per month. Often they are put in metal shacks as their accommodation, which would not even be used as someone’s garden shed in Europe; sometimes a whole family can live there. A normal day for them is starting work at 7 am and finishing at 5 pm, plus working a half day on Saturdays (or more if they want overtime). They are stuck on the farm without transport (almost none can afford to buy cars) and therefore at the mercy of the farm owner, who can dictate whether they are allowed to go to town to see their family, buy additional food other than the rations provided, go to the doctors, the bank, or anything else. However, as unemployment rates in Namibia are almost 50%, people will do anything to get a job, even if it means having to live and work in these conditions. That means that the managers have the power to dictate rather harsh regulations to the workers as they know that they need the work more than the manager needs the employers. Plus as there are so many other unemployed people out there, if they step out of line, they can fire them on the spot (they are meant to have contracts by law but most don’t) and go find a replacement easily enough. I actually heard that if people do pay their workers more than the usual rate, this can cause conflict amongst neighbours, who are told by their workers that the guys on the farm over there get paid double what they do.
Thus farm workers are slaves to their jobs; having to resort to uncomfortable and sometimes inhumane treatment as they do not have the skills or education to get anything better. This cycle perpetuates, as they bring their children up on the farms too, who are too far away from all the good schools. Plus the best schools are the private ones that only the white (and very rich) black people can afford to go to. So their children are destined to stay at the bottom of the employment barrel too. When I asked one farm owner whether there was talk of increasing the minimum wage of farm workers here, this was not received well. Despite admitting that the managers get paid many times the salary of the workers, there was no talk of reducing their own income to ensure the workers receive a liveable wage. Much of the blame was placed upon the government (some white people tend to suggest here that things were better before the government changed skin colour), along with “foreigners” coming and demanding higher salaries in the country, skewing the income distribution (without seeing the irony that they too are foreigners in this country and also demand high salaries).
Another thing I have noticed recently is the hypocrisy spoken amongst some with regards to “foreigners” who come and take the jobs of local people and do not fit in with the local culture. This is despite the fact that many white colonialists here still speak their European language rather than that of the natives, still dress in European ways, still listen to European music, still eat European food, still go to European cafes and shops, still socialise mostly with only Europeans and still berate the natives for being lazy alcoholics, even though apartheid technically ended 23 years ago. It is difficult to remain quiet in this situation, as I feel so strongly about empowerment of those previously denied equal rights. However, the job of a PhD student is to remain as neutral as possible so as not to incite conflict amongst those involved in the study.
|A sign outside the Refugee camp near to where I live|