Kalenga: Oranjemund’s Godfather bares it all

The proclamation of Oranjemund has been met with mixed feelings in the mining town; some with trepidation over the unknown, others with mistrust over those taking over.

Oranjemund has been a closed town following the discovery of rich ore deposits of diamonds on the northern bank of the Orange River.

Diamond mining regulations were introduced in the Sperrgebiet National Park in which Oranjemund lies.

The company (NamDeb) owns almost all the infrastructure and property in the town and residents have been provided with free housing, water and electricity from the beginning.

However, for the town’s most well-known businessman and long-time advocate for proclamation, Israel Uushona Dax Kalenga (initial IUD), proclamation is a dream-come-true.

Having been expelled from Ongwediva College in 1970 for being a political activist at the age of 21 and expelled again from Augustinium Colleage during September 1971, Kalenga sought haven 1600km away in Oranjemund in October 1973. He was among the first group of youths to trek down south from the north, with the likes of Wilbard Uusiku (current Employment Equity Commissioner), John Shaetonhodi, late Walter Kemba and other youths.

Having spent much of his youthful days inspired and influenced by his namesake, Patrick Lunganda Yalombweleni Israel Iyambo, before his relocation, it was difficult for Kalenga to dump politics.

“When I arrived here in 1973, I found that the Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) had restricted people from talking about politics, because of the nationwide labour strikes that had occurred in 1971 and 1972. I could not live without politics and I had to work out a strategy to re-establish the movement,” he recounts.

He began working for CDM as a clerk in the department of Labour and Recruitment Department. In 1974, Kalenga doubled as an Adult Education Instructor, teaching basic Mathematics and English to mine workers; an opportunity he used to spread liberation movement ideologies to his students and anyone who dared to listen.

“I worked with Toivo Nambala. We taught a lot of the workers to sign their names. They were used to just putting an x as a signature. We even encouraged workers to start banking their money instead of keeping it in their houses and this pleased CDM, although the company had no idea of our other secret operations. By 1975, my room became an office for the movement and the office became a darling to CDM,” he beams.

Soon, the Oranjemund Workers’ Committee was set up to pressure the already functioning but biased CDM Workers’ Committee.

Kalenga also became the Swapo party Oranjemund branch secretary, as word of his prowess reached the liberation movement’s top brass.

In 1979, the Swapo of Namibia, Oranjemund branch forced the integration of the Oranjemund Private School (OPS) into the community, following the arrival of the late Ambrosius Amutenya from Ongwediva College who became the first black to teach at Oranjemund and more blacks became integrated into the system with time. Late Ambrosius Amutenya obtained his BA Hons. degree at the University of Turfloop – Pietrmarsburg and specialised in Sociology.

However, that same year, Kalenga was arrested under the AG-26 law and spent 10 months in prison in Gobabis, without trial.

When he was released, he was arrested again within days and served another two months at Tsandi, Uukwaluudhi, at the South Africa racist military base.

“Today, OPS is now for everyone,” is all he can say with a smile.

Upon his release, CDM paid him for the time he was away as he was found not guilty. He used the money to expand his education in the Transport field and CDM promoted him to Transport Controller in charge of the mine fleet.

Between 1980 and 1984, a political ban had been imposed on Kalenga in any part of Ovamboland that was declared a war zone but through the guidance of Irishman, Rudi Ivan at the mine, Kalenga used the time to acquire an Advanced Certicate in the Road Transportation and a Diploma in Business ManagementBusiness Management (Dip. IBM).

“By 1986, as one of the founding members of the union in Oranjemund, we transformed the Oranjemund Workers Committee into the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), with the assistance of Anton Lubowski, Bernard Esau, Ben Ulenga, late Eino Ntinda and Jason Angula, among others who managed the labour movement in Windhoek. I became the secretary to the union but the challenge for me was to anchor the labour movement into the Swapo Liberation Movement. Fortunately, I got John Pandeni and Ben Ulenga Axel Johannes, Frans Kambangula, and many others, to help,” he smiles.

Swapo of Namibia, the Liberation Movement under the leadership of Cde. Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma, in May 1984 invited some of the prominent Swapo leaders from Namibia to Zambia, to attend the talks between Swapo of Namibia and the racist regime of South Africa. Kalenga was in the group in the 1988, October in Kambwe, Zambia as well, for the briefing of the Implementation of Resolution 435, as his profile rose.

In 1990, Kalenga was elected as the National Union of Namibian Workers’ (NUNW) second vice president; he would then serve as a member of the Southern Africa Trade Union Unity (SATUU), travelling across the globe on labour-related issues.

CDM transformed into the modern company; NamDeb in 1994 when a Comprehensive Accord was signed between the Government and De Beers Centenary AG, thus restructuring the latter’s diamond operations in the country.

“Because of the Business Management classes I had taken, I became interested in business. In the early ‘90s, Namdeb began outsourcing to local businesses and I won the the mine’s bakery outsourcing. In 1995, I applied for funding from the Ministry of Finance but they didn’t respond for eight months.

“One day when I had lost hope, they called to say they had bought for me my N$300 000 bakery equipment under NDC and all I needed to pay was an extra N$19 000.

“I was over the moon. I approached NamDeb (where I was still working during the day and for the bakery by night), to get me people who could back me up and they gave me their former bakery staff on condition that I would be paying them the same salary they had been getting at the bakery before I took over.

“After finishing off the payment in 2000, I resigned from NamDeb to concentrate on supplying bread to the whole of Oranjemund. That same year, NamDeb began outsourcing the Spar supermarket for N$1.2m in stock and N$800 000 in fittings. I approached a white couple to join me in bidding for the shop. We won the bid but I could sense that the union was hesitant about my move and they thought the 112 workers at Spar would lose their jobs if I took over.

“The condition of my take-over was then complemented by having to take all the workers on board and ensure that they received the same amount of salaries they used to get from NamDeb and that all the supervisors became shareholders. By that time, I was already the first vice president of the NUNW, so I had to lead by example and accept the conditions. I then decided to resign from the Union to avoid conflict of interest. It was painful because I had orchestrated the roots of the Union,” narrates Kalenga.

With that experience, Kalenga does his own wage negotiations for the only supermarket in Oranjemund and trains his own staff.

In 2008/9 when the financial crisis hit NamDeb, he was forced to retrench 15 workers as Oranjemund nearly came to a standstill and his shop crumbled as workers lost their buying power.

Of the 15, six have since returned to work.

“The biggest challenge in this retail business is that, I have to have everything for everyone, yet not everyone buys everything and that’s where losses come in. I order many things to satisfy customers, yet they don’t buy all the time. The other challenge is in paying revenue and maintaining the salary bill, yet the shelves are always full,” he stresses.

As a result, he welcomes the proclamation and prefers competition to being a monopoly.

Shoprite should come in, so should all the other investors and then the market can be fair, he says.

“Proclamation of Oranjemund has been my long-time dream. I spoke about it before Independence. If proclamation had not been done by now, Oranjemund would have risked being another Kolmanskop, (a previous bustling diamond town, now a ghost town) just outside Luderitz. I was involved in the formation of the Oranjemund Town Management Company (OTM Co.) as vice chairperson; but as the chairperson from NamDeb’s side.

“My concern has always been to create activities that involve future sustainability of Oranjemund. Till when was NamDeb going to continue with these non-core services of running the town, something not linked to diamond extraction? It was the OTM Co. that supported the coming in of Pep stores, Furnmart, Lewis, etc, in Oranjemund while protecting and supervising the small businesses, liquor outlets included.

Through OTM Co., we influenced number of ministries such as Home Affairs, Gender Equality, Labour, Health and Social Services, Enviroment and Tourism as well as Finance, to open up branch offices here, which was a tough one. The whole idea was to bring Government to the people; bringing Government closer is bringing service,” he says.

The OTM Co. was established in 2004 as a registered company and will be disbanded in the near future, following last month’s local authority elections.

Kalenga says not only the people of Oranjemund but also some of Government houses were resistant to the proclamation.

“We had to engage the Prime Minister and the President. I even brought business partners from Belgium so that the need to invest would be dictated,” adds Kalenga.

He says the newly elected council will not be a fully-fledged municipality for now and the councillors should decide on how to improve the town into a municipal status.

“Residents will not accept change because the rates have been free. Some people are afraid of increase in crime but there won’t be an answer to crime until the local authority is at work. We are faced with two things, will we wait until the town is deserted and NamDeb has moved on; when the diamonds are depleted; or will we prepare ourselves for a better future? I choose the latter.

“The diamond is depleting. De Beers is now owned by Anglo-American. Will the Local Authority Council and the Anglo-American company gel? Time will tell but Government, the local authority and the mines have to all agree because everyone has a great interest in this area and they must agree by pumping money into the town. There’s hope,” he emphasises.

From this month, the land which has been private for over a century and belonged to NamDeb will now belong to the local authority.

A real-estate boom and rapid urbanisation added to the list of sustainable work opportunities are expected to provide tremendous economic spin-offs for the town.

A father of two and married to a retired nurse, Esther, who served the mine for 25 years, Kalenga believes the future for Oranjemund has never been this brighter.

“We are the only town in Namibian within a national park, therefore we are unique.”

He defends the access to the area that is strictly controlled under Namibian Diamond Mining laws, while the Sperregebiet (forbidden territory) is only open to those travelling with a Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) concessionaire saying: “Before you come into any national park in the world, there are gates manned by environment and parks officials, ours are manned by NamPol and NamDeb as well as the Ministry of Environment. There is nothing strange about this; it only becomes more unique in that there are diamonds in the area. You don’t expect to be in Oranjemund as if you are in Otjiwarongo. You cannot camp anywhere in a national park.

“The only thing that needs to be done with the coming of this proclamation is that the Diamond Act that is in place needs to be amended because it says, you need a permit to enter Oranjemund, yet the Local Authorities Act calls for freedom of movement and access. So there is a conflict there. If you are stopped at the gate and banned from entering Oranjemund now, you can go to court and win. The Diamond Act is now Government’s baby to sort out.”

Kalenga’s Spar supermarket has been paying rent to NamDeb but sooner or later, they shall be paying to the local authority that will now own the land.

“NamDeb gave us a destiny. We should forever thank them for that, now we should shape our destiny. With regards to the new rates that people will be paying, the council should keep communication channels open to the residents.

“I am willing to assist if called upon. My life ends in Okahao where it began but it is built around Oranjemund. I am proud of a dream fulfilled. Proclamation does not mean that Oranjemund will be a better town; it could also be a ghost town. It is up to the authorities to ensure that the normalisation of this town is a responsibility of everyone. All stakeholders should pull in one direction. There are people who have the idea that the opening up of Oranjemund means that they will be closer to diamonds but that is not the case.

“There have been people staying here for more than 20 years but they have never seen a diamond with their naked eyes,” Kalenga says also bemoaning the lax attitude being adopted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy as well Environment and Tourism as far as the opening up of the town is concerned.

According to Government legislations, a concessionaire is required to enter the Sperregebiet (forbidden territory) and a permit for Oranjemund. “The Ministry of Mines is sitting with the Diamonds Act that needs to be amended. The concessions are also yet been advertised by the Ministry of Environment. We can no longer live under restrictions,” he stresses.

With the proclamation, Kalenga is already concentrating on his next project; the Oranjemund Aquaculture Project where he is the Chairman. PF