The National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) is in dire financial straights which has forced it to cancel its scheduled congress to elect new leaders since its leadership expired in May this year.
NUNW president, Phillipus Munenguni confessed to the Windhoek Observer that the federation was having financial difficulties due to non-compliance by some of its affiliates to pay the monthly 10 percent membership fees from earnings, making it difficult for the federation to keep head above water.
“The federation should have a congress to elect new leaders, but (affiliate) leaders are not paying (the federation). When we want to have structural meetings, we don’t have enough funds,” said the NUNW president.
He added that the affiliates were legally obliged to pay and that when they eventually hold a congress this year, they will come up with a resolution to take steps against those who are not paying.
“The federation has consulted them many times, but some are not paying while others have increased their contributions,” he added.
Munenguni did not want to reveal names of the non-paying affiliates, but said that some affiliates were also struggling financially due to a loss of members who have been retrenched at their jobs as a result of the domestic economic crisis.
Evalistus Kaaronda, a long-serving unionist and a former secretary-general of the NUNW said it was a legal obligation for affiliates to pay the NUNW and that it was hypocritical of them not to pay NUNW and then question the legitimacy of the federation.
“If affiliates do not pay the NUNW, it makes the federation an empty shell. The NUNW has not held congress possibly because of financial constraints,” he pointed out.
Labour expert and unionist Herbert Jauch said that it is required of the NUNW to hold an elective congress every four years and because of their current position, those holding office are technically, no longer elected leaders.
Jauch maintained that the NUNW must hold congress every four years and register with the Labour Commission. In the absence of that, the leaders cannot claim to be legally in those positions.
Of the unions who could be reached for comment, the Metal and Allied Namibia Workers Union (MANWU) and the Namibia National Teachers Union (NANTU) were the only ones that confirmed that they pay the NUNW on a monthly basis.
MANWU’s secretary-general, Eben Zarondo said that they fully pay their dues to the federation, but added that it was not because some federations are refusing to pay the federation, but there have been retrenchments of workers and economic problems. “How we will solve problems, I don’t know. I can’t point fingers. We will wait for congress,” he said.
NANTU’s secretary-general, Basilius Haingura, said they were fully paid up, “in the absence of any data saying otherwise,” unless the payments do not tally up with the number of workers.
Inferences and assertions have been made that the current union leadership cannot claim any legal standing in their positions and therefore hold no mandate to send their members to the Swapo party elective congress next month for consideration for The Pot.
But leaders of unions affiliated to Swapo maintain that their leadership status in the unions has no bearing on their qualification to the party’s Electoral College (The Pot) to be held on 2-3 September.
The NUNW is designated to send six candidates to the Electoral College.
Munenguni dismissed claims that their qualification to the Electoral College is based on having new leadership if the old one has expired and maintained that they are not legally bound or mandated to have a new leadership before qualifying to the Pot.
“Swapo and the federation have an accord where the NUNW as an ‘affiliate’ are not a wing of Swapo,” he explained.
Kaaronda shared Munenguni’s sentiments, saying that it was peculiar that the unions affiliated to Swapo were now being questioned about their legitimacy before the Electoral College when previously it has never been an issue at The Pot.
“Because of political intolerance and opportunism, you see these issues being raised - it’s not the first time that unionists went to the Electoral College even when they have not elected new leadership,” reckoned Kaaronda.
He added that it was not within the responsibility of Swapo to question the leadership of the unions as the workers are the ones who carry the cloud of legitimacy to question the leadership.
“The accepted norm is that you will be seen as a legitimate leader - we have not seen workers question leadership of unions. If workers questioned that then, it can be used as a reference. If no one complains, then Swapo must accept that,” he argued.
Some sources further claimed that there were political rifts in the federation as the majority of NUNW members apparently supported Team Swapo, stemming from the 2017 Swapo Congress where slates ‘Team Swapo’ and ‘Team Harambee’ emerged, causing a degree of continued animosity and polarisation.
However, the NUNW president pleaded ignorance about the infightings and divisions within the federation due to political differences, saying, “I don’t know if there is truth to that there are rifts. I am not into ‘team’ issues - labelling whether the federation supported a certain camp. The Swapo party must do away once and for all with teams”.
Kaaronda said that he could not tell if there were factions or infighting within the unions, “but within Swapo there is unrelenting heavy-handedness in dealing with opponents and divisiveness remains.”
But Jauch insisted that there was political in-fighting, which has left the federation in big financial trouble with unpaid salaries and rising municipal bills.
He said that while all affiliates, including Namibia Public Workers’ Union (Napwu) which has an investment arm from which it derives profit, are constitutionally obliged to pay 10 percent of their monthly earnings to NUNW and only a few of the affiliates do so due to the rifts in the federation.
Napwu’s secretary-general Peter Nevonga could not be reached for comment to establish if the union pays its part to the federation or why Napwu has not held a congress since its leadership term expired in 2012.