Oarsmen fight while the ship sinks

In case anyone is mistaken, Namibia is in serious trouble right now. The ship’s engines are dead and we are taking on water fast. All the oarsmen in the boat must bail water and row to get us to the closest patch of dry land. Instead, the bickering has begun. Each side will be righteous in their points of view and all of us (including them) will drown.

Minister of Defence Peter Hafeni Vilho has again placed himself in the spotlight. Defence Ministers with the mandate to represent the elected government in administering and guiding the military should be less visible on internal civilian socio-economic issues.

While we have not seen a transcript of his statements, it has been reported that he blames the collapse of the economy on the business community. Members of the business community have stated their disagreement. And so it goes.

The Defence Minister’s statements seem to run counter to the ‘Let’s hold hands’ anthem repeated by the usually business-friendly Geingob Administration. And yet, no Cabinet member who wishes to keep his/her job would dare to make such strident comments unless there was approval at the top.

The Namibian economy is tanking, COVID is raging, foreign direct investment is only a memory, and resources are scarce. In times of scarcity, conflicts usually increase.

For business to blame government or government to blame business for the current state of affairs is pointless.

Government exacerbates the conflict at times, as it seems to not understand Business 101.

Businesses operate to make a profit. No one takes a loan from the bank to start a business that does nothing other than pay salaries. There must be services sold or products produced that delivers expected returns on investment.

Employees are needed to provide the service or product that is being sold for profit. Employment is not an entitlement. People are employed in the private sector sell their labour in order to earn returns for the company. In return, they receive remuneration. If there are no sales, then there is no business – if there is no business, there are no jobs.

Any one deluded enough to think that businesses will ever act against their financial interests needs to wake up. It is how capitalism works; that is the system independent Namibia has embraced.

In these tough times, profit making for many existing businesses in the short term is up in smoke. Those in trouble are grasping for survival praying to turn things around in the longer term. If a business cannot survive with 1,000 jobs, but believes it can survive with 300 jobs, then they will reduce to 300 jobs. Profit margins are reduced and decisions are made about whether it makes sense to stay in business at all. These choices are not personal, racial, sexist or emotional; it is business.

That said, some investors see only the short term; they are fatally risk-adverse as is their right. If they cannot see their profits today, they close their eyes to future possibilities and cut bait. Others see the longer game and push ahead. Government has to manage this delicately.

One of the businesses reacting badly to the Minister of Defence’s generalized criticisms is Gondwana Desert Collection, a company well-known and recognized for doing all the right things for two decades to support, uplift, train, and promote their largely previously disadvantaged workforce. To see the unfortunate frustration embodied in the clap back from their MD shows the strain.

Nevertheless, we chide business leaders who delude themselves into thinking that white supremacy in Namibia is consigned to the dust bin. The minister is accurate when he said there are whites who cheer anything that goes wrong in Namibia due to their racist belief that things were ‘better’ when they ran things. Many of us have heard and witnessed such sentiments throughout our lives.

We weary of complaints about someone “pulling a race card” is if it is not already on the table; there is nothing to ‘pull.’ Whites, liberal or conservative, knowingly or unknowingly, accept white privilege as a given and they act accordingly. It will always be a flashpoint.

Irate whites always throw the myth of ‘white flight’ into their flustered arguments about race in Namibia. That is particularly hilarious in this pandemic-ridden, high unemployment, anti-immigration world. So, good luck with that.

Let us focus on getting the crippled Namibian boat ashore without slinging more useless mud. Let the Minister of Defence stay in his lane and concentrate on his remit.

Businesses must continue to fight like hell to stay afloat even if it means reductions; we need them later to help revive the economy. Until then, we all must row at the same time. If not, then we must prepare to go under.

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