She saw it all at GIPF

By Tirivangani Masawi and Shasimana Uugulu
June 2011
Women in Business
It is often said that ordinary people that have big ideas and pursue them with zest are never satisfied with their achievements and situation even though others may envy that little success.

In the midst of the Government Institute Pensions Fund (GIPF) scandal, where N$600 million of bad loans were allegedly made that robbed civil servants of pension earnings, one aging woman has seen it all.

For the past 20 years, Desidelia Nanghambe has known and seen every face passing through the giant doors of the pensions institute.

She has loaded her work station into taxis every morning, destination-GIPF. This is an unusual woman in business by all means.

A house was recently bought by money from this ‘GIPF business’. When the GIPF saga broke out, she was not at work but far in the North and all she could tell her mother and a few relatives, as they listened to the news on radio, was that, she knew Primus Hango, GIPF Managing Director personally.

“I talk to him every day. Primus is my friend,” she would boast to anyone who dared listen, even to those in the North following the GIPF mayhem on radio or on television.

“How can such large sums of money be stolen without us seeing it. I sit and work at GIPF everyday? I saw it all at GIPF, but cannot tell you anything about that money. Everyone at GIPF is my child,” she still says today in her vernacular.

Her business requires neither laptop, telephone nor the worldly trends of facebook, twitter or other forms of internet.

She does have a calendar and a diary though.

The calendar is marked mainly with end of the month dates, circled in a filthy writing scribbled GIPF payday, another week circled Tourism (presumably for Ministry of Tourism) and the other Trustco, the list goes on.

Old, rugged and with nothing close to being a business professional, the only accounting Meme Ndeshi knows is making money.

Her main business principle is making sure that she provides affordable food services to her clientele and maintaining good relationships, all this under a tree.

Born Desidelia Nanghambe, Meme Ndeshi has sat under a eucalyptus tree by the road side next to GIPF selling kapana (roasted meat), mopani worms, oshikundu, cooked potatoes, ground nuts, fat cakes, fried fish, porridge, goat heads and cigarettes to mention but a few, for the past two decades.

Her clientele base includes the who’s who of GIPF, Trustco, Informante, officials from the newly constructed Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Trustco, Nampower and the whole Government Park.

She says the recent construction at the new tourism ministry building opposite Trustco has been beneficial to her business as construction workers always come to have their lunch at her stall, buying porridge and soup.

Most of her customers have developed personal attachment to her over the years, hence referrals and word-of mouth has been her best marketing tools as old customers bring someone new each day.

And they come for her products in droves.

Barely a minute passes with no sight of clients passing by, some for smoke-breaks, others for fat-cakes, some for breath-refreshning mints.

She seems to have struck the right recipe.

The 48 year old has become her own celebrity, employing only herself and boasting of children born and raised through this business, few of whom are headed towards tertiary education.

But life on the side of the streets next to ‘Government Park’ has never been easy and she has held her ground.

She cannot recall how many times she defied municipal by-laws and got kicked away several times, before she was eventually allowed by the city fathers to go-ahead with her business in 2004 on condition that the place is well maintained.

“Municipality once asked me to go and sell in the muramba (river bed) behind the Trustco building.

“But Hango is a good man who always understands the plight of the poor because he never chased me from these trees,” she says.

Outspoken, Meme Ndeshi or Meme Kapana as her clients now numbering into their hundreds call her, has no clue of the millions waiting at the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN).

“Who is that?” she asks when quizzed on whether she has thought of asking for money from DBN to boost her business, due to the large clientele she has, and the profits that can be envisaged from it.

The Development Bank of Namibia avails loans and grants to aspirant business people to grow their trade and recently disbursed more than N$700 million to businesses for growth and improvement.

In fact, the DBN headquarters were once situated a stone’s throw from her trees and some of their members ate from her pot.

Yet, the closest she can come to referring to DBN is President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who she casually refers to as Government and identifying it as ‘He’.

“If I was to meet President Hifikepunye Pohamba, I would call for him to avail funds and opportunities for the marginalised to grow our small businesses.

“Since I started this business, very little has changed in terms of empowering us and creating opportunities equal to everyone.

“Pohamba must support people like me as we are the mothers of this country and we provide for most people who cannot afford restaurants.

“People of Namibia and those who do not have jobs sell kapana and take care of their children because if they do not do that no one will do it for them. This is who we are; we need to make sense of business with our identity. Kapana is a Namibian identity. If you are a woman and you do not feed or provide for your own children, they will starve and might end up in the streets and become thieves,” she says.

It has become a routine, waking up at one o’clock in the morning everyday to prepare her delicacies and by the start of business; she is already sitting at her stall.

Interestingly, when President Pohamba is attending functions at the NamPower Convention Centre, Meme Ndeshi’s business is never affected.

“Those men with dark glasses come to remove cars and other people when the President or his motorcade is here but they always leave me alone. Some even buy from me,” she chuckles.

But she has mastered good PR for her line of work. Ever-smiling and customer friendly, Meme Ndeshi takes home a good N$500 a day. Her bad day is when she nets N$300, meaning on average, she takes home around N$8000 a month.

And she has deep secrets too.

“I know a lot about a lot of people here. I know bad bosses, I confide in some of the employees, I know who is stealing what and where. I see a lot from here, a lot,” she says, with a chuckle as she goes on with cleaning her dishes for the next customers.

Ambitious and daring, she does not hide the fact that three of her children have failed Grade 10 and she takes the blame for being too preoccupied with her business to the extent of neglecting the educational welfare of her kids and at times involving them in the business.

“If I make enough money I would want to venture into the taxi business to supplement my kapana business. It would be easy transporting my things from home to my market place,” she says.

Her definition of ‘enough money’ is something not more than N$20 000.

She has hired a taxi that is transporting her everyday paying N$70 from her Ombili home in Katutura to work.

“I have to pay this much because my equipment is a lot and it cannot fit in the boot. I will be paying for the three other non-existent passengers as well,” she says.

When it comes to keeping her food warm, the whole day Meme Ndeshi has a paraffin stove but she also uses traditional methods of firewood to save the cost on oil.

Like any other business lady, Sundays are reserved for rest and supplication. She attends church at Immanuel ELCIN church, but like any business minded person, upon her return from church, a stall for fruit and vegetables outside her house starts operating.

Hailing from Ongha in northern Namibia, meme Ndeshi reserves special mention of her aging mother in the village. She sends her money every month for basic necessities.

Such is the audacity of an ordinary woman with extraordinary business tendencies. PF