The retail colonization of Namibia

21 April 2017
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

I went to Grove Mall over the holiday and I was sickened to see a bust of an Afrikaner historical figure and one of brick makers of apartheid, proudly displayed in the front window of The South African Gold Coin Exchange store called Scoin.

I must ask, what is going on here in Namibia that something like that can be so boldly displayed as if there is nothing wrong with it? We should never let revisionism and apologists gloss over what historical figures in power (in their time) did to human beings who suffered en mass due to their actions. With South Africans throwing buckets of paint on statues of this man and demanding their removal, we cannot have busts of Paul Kruger donning shop windows in Namibia as if he was one of the good guys for black Africans. It is an anathema. We have our own Namibian heroes, let’s use their busts instead.

As a veteran of the successful US boycott campaign against the sale of South African gold coins back in the day, I ‘get it’ that this is a gold coin shop and they sell Krugerrands, which are named after Kruger. But, Scoin claims to sell a range of gold coins including those celebrating the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, why is that not in the window as we are a commonwealth country? No, there has been a decision made to put that man’s bust in the window of their shop in Namibia and I resent the subliminal message that Kruger was a historical good guy for black people in Africa.

Coins sporting Mandela’s face are available at Scoin, but this great African leader’s bust is relegated to a side window en route to the toilets, while the white supremacist Kruger gets top billing front and center. There is a wrong message being sent here about who is acceptable. Kruger is not a part of Namibian history anyway. His story for some whites with Boer ancestry may inspire a longing for the bad ol’ days of apartheid, but for many others, his face means something else entirely and let us not pretend otherwise.

What would be the reaction if a Namibian store put a bust of the white British commander of the concentration camps that held the Boers during the Boer Wars in a front window? Or what about Lothar von Trotha? Or what about Adolph Hitler? Or maybe one of the white governor-general’s of South-West Africa during colonial days? We can do better in a black African country than quietly accept an attempt to rehabilitate one of the many monsters of history who did so much to hurt so many.

Have we fought for independence in Namibia only to sell our economy to the South Africans and continue to happily live under their economic dominance? Seeing that bust in the window snapped something inside my conscience. I realized that our malls are totally dominated by South African stores, bars, and restaurants. Even companies selling biltong are from South Africa. Seriously? May I ask how we ever hope to build a stronger Namibia when we prostrate ourselves to the god of retail as we give our alms to the South African economy every time we patronize their businesses? Each shopper should make it a habit to look for Namibian products EACH time they are in any store. Buy local as a first choice (where there is a local option), ask the store manager where the Namibian products are, and complain about so many foreign products when local suppliers are equally available. Spend the little bit extra to buy the Namibian product where you can. We must fight a retail war of liberation a little at a time and me
asure our success with a lower bar, but we need to do something.

We have a Ministry of Trade, Industrialization and SME Development. I am forced to ask the colleagues making decisions there, what is blocking them from doing their jobs better?

Where are government subsidies for local restaurants to help them have competitively priced, attractive, modern facilities available as a buying option for the tens of thousands who patronize the various malls in the larger markets of Windhoek and Swakopmund. Even in the new malls in the North in Ondangwa and Ongwediva have only South African store outlets. We even have Chinese and Israeli shops selling their wares, but no space for our own?

I am talking about meeting a viable, established local product provider HALF-WAY, in terms of rent for the malls, municipal bills, tax exemptions, grants to cover overheads for a fixed period of time and other innovative and daring offers to get our own businesses in our own malls. I am saying no licenses to Malls and airports that don’t have a reasonable percentage of floor space set aside in prime locations for acceptable, up-to-standard, local businesses.

Right now, we are the retail and banking colony of South Africa and we need to struggle for our independence with a plan that involves a slow capture of market share bit-by-bit, by local product providers so that profits continue to be made by ALL while more local, hands-on business people get a chance to work even harder to sell their products in prime locations.

Let me make myself clear: I am a democratic capitalist and a small business owner as well as a writer and editor. I fully respect making profits and understand at least some aspects of supply and demand and the consumer demand that drives sales. I am a realist as well. I know that our small economy, with our Namibia dollar pegged to the South African Rand (and I agree with this) will always be connected to that of our big brother next door. I am not arguing for separation, complete self-sufficiency, isolation or disinvestment. I am arguing that we must begin to build our Namibian production circle stronger. Too often we speak blah-blah about SME development and then fail to consistently follow-through on existing programs set up to do just that. The speechmakers about local product promotion need to stop talking and take action to make that happen.

Be innovative and daring! We can support the few local Namibian stores in the malls to cut their overheads and increase their ability to pay back their start up bank loans. We can assign regular mentors to SMEs and start-ups to get the horrid paperwork, bookkeeping and regulatory burdens managed. We can get the Ministry of Trade to actually do its job to support SMEs by hiring more staff for their own SME department, honouring funding commitments already made and aggressively partnering with the private sector to teach SMEs about sales and marketing opportunities.

Down with the Kruger bust! Ministry of Trade – Do your job!
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The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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