Waiting for Tom

By By Confidence Musariri
April 2011
Women in Business
Helena Ndapandula Haishonga is a 36-year old entrepreneur who has made a positive contribution to the lives of a whole community through her business.

The business began four years ago as a youth project, recruiting and training housekeepers, baby sitters and cleaners, before advertising their availability on radio and through word of mouth.

In 1996, she was among the 200 students sent to Malaysia by the Government of Namibia for training in hospitality. Upon her return, those hospitality aspirations took a hiatus when she joined the police force three years later.

In 2002, she quit the force to further her studies in hospitality in England.

It was there where she learnt the British way of tackling unemployment, and on her return in 2007, she decided to help her former school mates and friends who were roaming the streets jobless.

Today, the same project has thrived into a full blown business and ranks among top employers in northern Namibia.

Crossline House Keeping employs more than a thousand people and at the time of going to press her story had attracted a visit by National Planning Commission (NPC) Director General Tom Alweendo.

Like many others in this region, Haishonga is accorded very little recognition beyond her immediate circle of friends.

While a large number of businesses regard success as generating profit, Haishonga’s cravings border around work satisfaction that people find jobs and are employed.
She is walking the talk on employment.

Haishonga today, is involved in a programme in which she is helping to develop skills and create jobs for the people.

“No more boys in bars and the fact that they work and get money, we are curbing criminal activities around here,” she says.

The company employs people from the Caprivi, Kavango, Kunene regions, Opuwo and other far away areas.

The company is involved in hospitality, food processing and packaging.

Courses are given at the former Ongwediva College, now University of Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba Campus.

Applicants either pay a N$310.00 registration fee, get one week training in food processing and packaging, go for a two month fully paid on- job-training period, before getting the job fulltime or they choose to register for the hospitality industry, where they are trained and a job is sourced for them in the market.

And for job seekers, being spoilt for choice is a plus.

“Some of these people have never worked in their whole lives, some arrive here for registration as early as 04h00, others travel on foot for kilometres and days to get here,” she explains.

Close to 600 people per day surround the building before sunrise for a job and some queue up with their luggage, personal belongings while others are breastfeeding.

The company became a fully fledged entity in 2007, although processing and packaging began in September 2010 and the more the people get recruited in processing and packaging, the more the business grows.

“We are training Government officials and departments, town councils, the Namibia Police and other public offices on how to handle food. I am particularly thrilled that for the past years, I have marched on without any external funding. The people here work for their money and it is the one that has grown us. The same way we started when I came back from UK where we would go and clean a house and share the money is the same way we have been operating to grow this company.”

Currently, Crossline has 1392 people on its payroll where salaries range from N$4.69 per hour, approximately N$1100 per month, if one works eight hours a day in the processing and packaging factories up to N$2500 for the senior managers.

There are 32 supervisors in the organisation, nine managers, 18 factory supervisors and three training officers.

Training officers are the highest paid, earning N$2500 a month while factory supervisors receive around N$1500 a month.

“All our workers have a group scheme with Old Mutual as well Social Security benefits,” she says.

There are people from as young as 18 to as old as 50, both men and women.

Like any area where people queue for jobs, a huge stench of sweat and dirt engulfs the room where registration takes place, her office.

“I do not know how Tom Alweendo heard about us, but when they called me to Windhoek, he told me that it is impossible to employ 1000 people. He was shocked. Who is supporting me? Who is behind me? Alweendo asked,’” she says with a speech which bears a strong trace of her Ruacana roots.

From her office the factory is just a 5 minute drive within Ongwediva. There, close to a hundred people are working weaving baskets, preparing omahangu, some are pounding mahangu, and others inside the factory are salting the Omakunde (beans) and doing the packaging.

Everything is done manually. Another group of 30 people sings freedom songs, and the mood is very jovial. Standing in a circle, they burst into different liberation songs mostly at the praise of the Swapo Party, pretending to be oblivious of Prime Focus cameras.

“This is the afternoon shift,” explains Ndapandula. “The singers are from this shift but on a break and providing entertainment to those working, so as to keep spirits high,” she adds.

Behind the factory, which would pass for a two bed roomed house in Katutura suburb, if it was in Windhoek, another group, this time only women, is also in song.

Theirs are religious songs and it does not need a rocket scientist to observe that those on guard during the shift are spoiled for a choice of motivation; gospel or liberation songs.

Everyone is clad in blue Crossline work suits and despite the jovial undertone; there is a standard seriousness from those working on the omahangu and omarula products.

“Government is having two cars and two bottles of oil. It places the good oil in the wrong car, and this car moves but for a little while. The other car has to move without any oil because its oil has been wasted in the wrong car. In the end it has to struggle to keep running. That is the situation we are currently in when it comes to empowering people,” she says, before cutting herself short of venting her anguish about the GIPF saga.

Pig and chicken feeds come out of this factory. And so are the processed packets of beans, mahangu, omarula oil bottles, all packed into different boxes and plastics waiting to be sold to hotels, hospitals and other public places around northern Namibia, for consumption.

Another shift of 144 people is expected to start from 14h00 to 22h00 at the second factory, which is within 10 minutes’ walking distance from Factory 1 and some people walk from as far as Ongwediva, Prime Focus is told.

“Government should give us a proper place to operate from. We need a bigger factory and a few pieces of machinery. I am against a lot of machinery because it will take the people’s jobs. My prayer is for a warehouse and I hope, Alweendo will come here with good news.”

Top tourism players in the north, Etuna Guesthouse and Hotel Destiny recently took some of the graduates from this organisation, she says. These are trained at the Northern Unam Campus where Food Processing and Packaging, as well as hospitality courses are taken.

Some of the trained staff is now working in shops, hotels, catering companies, B&B around the northern regions. The Namibia Wildlife Resorts recently became a client of this huge conveyor belt of hospitality industry skills and staff.

Her fame has spread to as far as Windhoek where trained cleaners from Crossline are employed in several Windhoek hospitals.

There are over 2000 cleaners and baby-sitters who have gone to make their mark across Namibia, within the last five months alone while those trained in packaging, get to work at the two Crossline factories.

She is very particular about the National Planning Commission.

“How can Tom sit in the city and say he is planning the nation. He must come here or go to Opuwo, himself and not send people, to see the situation on the ground. The places we get these people are in dire need of Government solution. I am a full bloodied Swapo member and we are happy with the progress the country is making, but it’s always two steps back as long as unemployment is not addressed from its roots.”

A child of exile, Ndapandula blast children born or raised in exile for the Government-owes-me mentality and challenges them to take up different initiatives to earn a living.

Her offices are not air conditioned and there is just but two bathrooms shared by all these factory workers and both factory buildings are rentals, hence she insist on Government building a warehouse for her.

“Besides, meat processors in Windhoek, we are the only Namibian company as far as I know who process and package Namibian farm products from different farms. Our aim is to make Namibian money circulate.

“We are not into farming but we buy from local farmers, then process and package their products. No more omahangu from India. Yet, I cannot go to a bank and ask for money because they ask for collateral. I am my own collateral and these foreign owned banks do not recognise that, so it’s up to Government to bail us out, since we have gone an extra mile on our own. Government does not owe me anything, but it must be my bank when I need it.”

Perhaps it is true that all women are sisters underneath the skin for whilst standing in the factory, a young lady, assumably pregnant at three months comes up with a Social Security form. A few interrogations and consultations, Theopolina Mvula’s maternity leave form is endorsed. (see photo on page 31)

As we walk out, another elderly lady follows and whispers something in vernacular.

As much as we could tell this was a social problem for Haishonga’s attention, we could equally tell, Haishonga endures this line of work, everyday.

“I would like them to remember me as a strong family woman who gave them jobs and somewhere to start.”

I am tempted to ask, as we close our interview, what she would define as the real differentiating thing between the sexes beyond the physical aspect and she takes an obvious aim: “The pain of childbirth tempers a woman into a human being who is responsible from all angles of life. A woman will bend over backwards to achieve something in a situation that most men would give up on. Just because she cares and would not want to see her product suffers. Who would give birth and let those children wander?”

Her cell phone rings. Tom Alweendo will not make it on the 8th due to the national budget being present by the Finance Minister in parliament, the person on the line (Iipumbu Sakaria, Alweendo’s PA) tells her.

The NPC DG will only make it on the 15th.

“I will wait. He has to see what we are doing here. I have waited for years; I can still wait for days. It is good he is coming after the budget announcement, and then he will know what is in his pocket to finish this unemployment headache, by the time he gets here,” she soliloquises with self assurance, oblivious of our presence.

Elsewhere, Etuna Guesthouse is busy preparing for a VIP treatment of Alweendo and his team when he arrives, “the next day.”

Dinner tables, placards of Alweendo and Oshana Regional Governor, Clemens Kashuupulwa are visible as most of the staff here, are from Crossline and serving Tom Alweendo seems a dream come true not to them only but to Crossline as well.

Little do they know Tom is not coming anymore. PF

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