Economic hardships in Angola expose young people to cheap labour in Namibia

Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Economic hardships in Angola have force many youths to skip the border into Namibia in search of better conditions.

Most end up as cattle herders and house keepers in northern Namibia, while others travel as far as Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, to look for opportunities.

But instead of better conditions, Angolan teenagers have become victims of human trafficking with the majority being exploited as street vendors in big towns like Windhoek, an illegal practice that has landed many of them in custody, waiting to be deported.

About 22 Angolan teenagers have been arrested over the past week during a Windhoek municipal police crackdown on illegal street vending in Katutura, a high-density suburb in Windhoek.

City Police senior superintendent Gerry Shikesho said: “Some of the vendors have become a hazard to road users because they are a serious obstruction. They endanger their own lives too. Others are involved in criminal activities.”

John Kleopas (19) is one of many Angolan illegal immigrants who have been making a living through street vending. For the past 10 years, he has been traversing Katutura pushing a wheelbarrow containing 50 kilogrammes of cooked maize cobs that he sells for R8 (N$8).

Kleopas sells the maize for someone, a certain Namibian businesswoman who owns agricultural irrigation projects in northern Namibia and a home shop in Katutura.

His home village is near the town of Ondjiva in Cunene Province, southern Angola. He was 14 years when his employer, who is known to his mother, made a request to his mother to send two of her sons to go and work for her in Namibia.

She promised to pay them lots of money, but Kleopas only earns R300 per month.

“Upon arrival in Namibia, we worked for two months without pay, as a payback for her money she spent for our bus fare from Ondjiva to Windhoek,” he said.

Clad in tattered jeans, an oversized jacket and Caterpillar workman boots, Kleopas said since his parents were unemployed and there was no money to send them to school and feed them, he embraced the offer to come work in Namibia.

But he never imagined the situation would be as much harder. He is unable to send money home because he is left empty handed after paying R150 rent for his ramshackle shack he stays in Babylon informal settlement.

“Business is good, people in Namibia like maize and we make lots of money per day, but my salary is too little to sustain myself and to send money back home,” he mourned.

However, these days, he and his friends are on constant lookout for the City Police that is currently arresting illegal street vendors and deploying them back to Angola.

His friend Domingus (19) has been selling fresh hake for many years. He also looked deshelled, like Kleopas, in tattered blue jeans, while embracing in his arms a white container full of fish and a plastic of old newspapers.

Domi, as friends prefer to call him, has been living in Namibia for more than 15 years that have been spent in street vending.

“I and my four village friends were brought to Windhoek from Omafo in Angola by a businessman who owned a number of business outlets in Windhoek. In Windhoek, we were all staying at the backyard shack behind his house and we used to sell for him different goods in the street such as airtime, eggs and sweets and take the money to his shop,” he narrated.

Although they make lots of money per day in most cases, the man refuses to pay them, saying that the money would be used to buy food and pay bills “for the place we are staying”.

“After a few months I and another guy decided to move out and start our own business.

“Business is good, especially the one I am doing (selling fish). There are few people that are selling fish on the streets and it is in demand especially in the informal settlement where there are no shops,” he said.

Domingus, who sells one fish for R2.50, said he has to cover long distances and suffer constant harassment from the City Police.

Holding a large polony sausage in one hand, and a stainless knife, Shitaleni (17) has been in street vending since coming to Windhoek in 2009 from Ondjiva.

“I came here in search of food and money because there is nothing to eat at home,” he said.

“My mother spends most of the time at the shebeens, leaving me and my siblings alone at home. Although my elder brother used to sell stuff at the border so that he could buy us food, at times he would return home with nothing if he did not get someone to buy his goods because there were many people selling goods,” Sitaleni said.

After they were evicted from a one-roomed shack in Okahandja Park Informal settlement in 2014, Shitaleni and his friends made Monte Christo Service station their base – selling their goods day and night.

This was until January this year, when they decided to put money together so that they could build their own shacks at Goreangab informal settlement on the outskirts of Katutura.

Sitaleni, like his compatriots, does not have identity documents, or papers to legalise his stay in Namibia. Despite that, arresting and deporting them would not really address the influx of Angolan youths, because it is easy for them to skip the border back into Namibia, they say.

They say they want to stay in Namibia and continue selling their wares on the streets of Windhoek so that they can start sending money back home to feed their poverty stricken families back in Angola.

City Police chief Abraham Kanime said although Angolan teenagers were among the majority that were arrested during the crackdown, there were other nationals such as Zimbabweans and Zambians that were into street vending.

He, however, said the campaign to remove street vendors from the streets was targeting everybody, local and foreigner, involved in illegal street vending in Windhoek, especially those that endangered themselves and others as well as contravening City of Windhoek by-laws.

Kanime said local illegal street vendors that were arrested would be charged according to the Street Vending Act while the foreigners would be place in hands of the Immigration Department which dealt with them.

Although a majority of Angolans street vendors seemed to get through to Namibia in a form of human trafficking for cheap labour and other forms of exploitation, Namibia Police could neither deny nor confirm this as there was no tangible evidence.

Namibia Police public relations officer Deputy Commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi said the Namibia police were aware of the influx of illegal Angolan youths who took up street vending and other economic refugees that were fleeing to Windhoek and other towns for greener pastures and that efforts were being done to address the issue.

Under instruction from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, the police has been removing the minors begging for money and selling goods from the street and place them in the safe homes while searching for their families before deporting them while those that are 18 years and above have been arrested and deported.

“However we don’t have evidence of human trafficking, even though complaints from the public are that there are Namibians who are trafficking young people from Angola for domestic servitude, prostitution and other exploitative practices. Without proper evidence this can be viewed as assumption,” he said.

Kanime said he has also not come across the element of human trafficking on the origin of the foreigners due to lack of evidence and the absence of cases reported to the police. He said in most cases, the street vendors claimed to be the owners of the goods they were selling.

In 2016 Namibia, with assistance from the International Organisation for Migration, a UN immigration agency, launched a three-year initiative to combat human trafficking.

The project is funded by the United States’ Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and focuses on creating a better understanding of trafficking in persons, its definitions, causes, consequences, including elements that differentiate trafficking from other crimes.

June 2017
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