After copious complaints from the local business community on the influx of the Chinese businesses, The Patriot this week took a drive through the northern towns to see how the Chinese business has entangled Namibian businesses in a stranglehold – all in the name of the free enterprise economy.
The first stop was in Ondangwa. From Chinese malls, retail shops and a predominance of building supply stores from one corner to another, the Chinese have fast become the people’s favorite. Here, the team visited a shop that sells building supplies with the owner of the shop running the tellers while three local black employees attend to enquiries.
The team asks for a quotation of zinc sheets and the Chinese man takes out a rough looking booklet on a Chinese letterhead. On this piece of paper, he writes the quotation by hand and no mention of VAT. The team moves on the next shop, which from the outside looks like a clothing shop but sells almost everything. The team asks for the same thing and the shop owner presents another piece of paper that surely is not sourced locally.
Local businesses on ICU
We drove to Oshikango, a town 60km from Ondangwa. Oshikango used to be the northern business haven and here the Chinese shops are everywhere, especially on both sides of the main road. The building structure of their business in term of infrastructure development remains questionable as it becomes the face of the town, but this does not seem to be priority for Chinese. As long as there is a roof.
At the very beginning is one that sells iron sheets, gates, poles, tiles, and cement from the new Chinese manufacturing company [Cheetah Cement]. They do their own welding with steel that is shipped from China.
Next to it are local ladies selling their traditional ‘Odelela’ seated outside while the shop next door is owned by another Chinese lady who sells the same clothing, just cheaper.
The shock of the day was seeing a completely empty Build-It shop in the morning hours of 11h00. The team drove past the building and while the doors were open, there were no clients at all. However, on the other side, the Chinese are on their feet with cars parked outside their premises loading building material.
“We are in deep trouble with these Chinese. If shops like Build-It do not have clients because the Chinese have taken over, then you know that these big shops will close down soon. The guys have everything we have here and you can clearly see that they are not interested in buying anything from here. They manufacture the same things as we do but sell it at a cheaper price. In no time, our local businesses will close down and our people who used to get paid decent salaries will have to work for the Chinese,” said a worried local businessman.
Robby Amadhila who runs Roama Gate Manufacturing in Ondangwa and a main supplier of building material to local businesses in the northern region says the Chinese are doing anything they want because there are no regulations.
Low salaries with no benefits
Amadhila made reference to the low salaries paid to local employees which do not exceed anything more than N$500. This excludes benefits such as pension, medical aid and social security.
“If Cashbuild who pays their workers reasonable salaries with benefits closes down, our people will have nowhere else to go but to work for the Chinese who will pay them peanuts. These guys [Chinese] do not care because we are desperate. But what does this mean when all our people start working for a mere N$500 from the Chinese man? These guys [Chinese] are busy burying us in poverty and our leaders ignore this.”
By now, the team has established that the tax evasion by the Chinese is no secret, but what speaks even louder are the low salaries.
“You need not to wonder why our people are just building shacks. People are building shacks because it is all they can afford. People do not have decent salaries so they cannot escape poverty,” he said.
The team drives off to Outapi situated 105km from Oshikango. Here the situation is even worse. As we enter the town, we see an empty Cashbuild.
Just like in Oshikango, there are no clients for these guys. Instead, all roads lead to the Chinese businesses. With roofing sheets painted in blue red and green on display outside, one can clearly see how busy these shops are.
Here, we meet with Patrick Haihambo who works in one of the Chinese retail stores. While in the shop, communicating in his vernacular making sure his boss does not recognize us, Haihambo shares his story of working for the ‘China-man’ for over a year.
“I only get N$300 monthly here and even though it little, it is better than becoming a thief. With that money, I can at least buy my toiletries, a shirt this month and pants the other.
There are no other jobs here so you will just have to take what you get,” said Haihambo.
Haihambo, just like many have no others here have no alternative than to work for the Chinese, whom he says has no regard for holidays or working hours.
Unleveled playing field
As the team drives through the Chinese crowded town, we drive past Kambwa Trading, another northern business feeling the pinch. What is rather disturbing is the sight of a Chinese shop, selling the exact building supplies just next to the doors of Kambwa Trading.
“When we say the Chinese are doing everything they want, this is what I’m talking about. How do you expect Kambwa to continue doing business when his competitor, who pays his workers peanuts, does not pay tax and sells his products cheap is just next door from his shop selling freely?” queried a concerned Amadhila.
“Chinese are rolling it for their system. The more things they can get from China, the better – as their aim is to keep the Chinese working.
The Chinese are coming all the way from China to come and be a cashier of their own business. Here, our people do not even trust us that much; they only trust us to cast that vote.”
The team heads to Okahao, another town alleged to have been captured by Chinese enterprises. Here too, the Chinese have made their presence felt. Again, it is building supplies shops and retail businesses everywhere. In the heart of the town is a huge building, the hub of all building materials. Next to the building mark-off plot for construction is situated as we see heaps of sand and the ubiquitous Chinese red brick.
The locals here have walked away from the usual businesses as the Chinese prices are affordable. These reality is the same all other the northern towns as well as the entire country.
Bone of contention
Amadhila argues that while the Chinese are operating in a free market, Namibians play a big role in the downfall of their own businesses.
Amadhila notes that there are entities created to stop the referenced fiasco but play toothless when it comes to protecting local business interests.
He says Namibians at large need a mind shift as they are all on their own. “Chinese work as a unit. Everything they have comes from China, even the toilet paper.
That says a lot that they are not willing to spend anything here, including paying tax. But a guy like Kambwa creates jobs for Namibians and will spend his profits to build in Namibia.” The Chinese government has over the years entrenched itself in business agreements with Namibia; a stance Amadhila says does not benefit all Namibians but only a handful.
“We are simply doing the wrong deals with people who do not care about our growth. For example, how do you invest so much in Ohorongo Cement and then later allow a Chinese competitor to come into the market? What is even worse is seeing our leaders supporting Chinese businesses.” During a drive through a Chinese mall in Ondangwa, The Patriot spotted a government pickup parked in reverse at a Chinese shop with shop attendants ready to load gates and tiles. What is even worse, he says, is that the President was on record defending the Chinese.
The Chinese are creating a market for themselves because they are not being regulated. They will not care if they pay our people low salaries because no one enforces them to do so. The type of jobs that they are creating determines the future of our young people.
It is no longer a thing that we should emulate them. We simply need to regulate the industry. Certain industries must be reserved for locals only.
We own the government so we have to change things but we just need to unite. In China, if a Chinese loses a job, they cry. Here, if a Namibian loses a job, we laugh at them. So we need to unite because it will be too late by the time Namibians wake up.”